As I promised yesterday, I’m back today with the winter squash, orange, and sage dessert. I initially liked the idea of using these ingredients in a dessert because it seemed like more of a challenge. Sage, in particular, is not usually used in sweets and I thought I could do something interesting with it.
The squash part was easy. Winter squash-based sweets abound: pumpkin pies, cheesecakes, muffins, and even pancakes feature on menus everywhere this time of year (well, not in the southern Hemisphere, I guess). In my first restaurant job I was given a recipe for butternut squash flan. I thought it was a great idea, but the stupid thing never worked right. My theory was that if we had just put a thin layer of caramel in the bottom of the molds, like you’re suppposed to when you’re making flan aka crème caramel, they would have come out beautifully every time.
So I did just that. I also reduced the amount of cream in favor of milk (not something you’ll hear me say very often), because traditionally, crème caramel is the lightest of the baked custards and made using only milk and whole eggs. Plus, I wanted that lighter texture. I think it balances the richness of the caramel and helps to make more of that delicious sauce you get when you finally unmold the dessert. I snuck some of the orange butter into the caramel to play up the orange flavor in the squash (I reserved some from the lasagna and puréed it using my beloved immersion blender).
After a short spell in the oven, their custards were ready. I prefer mine just-set, by which I mean barely holding together. Feeling pleased with my success so far, I left the custards in the fridge to chill overnight.
“But what about the sage?” You must be wondering. In one of those flashes of inspiration, it came to me.
Pine nut-sage brittle!
Tweaking an old favorite recipe for peanut brittle took the guesswork out of the candy-making process… well, some of it. I had to reduce the recipe by a lot (not needing to end up with five full sheet pans of brittle), convert it into metric, and figure out how and when to incorporate the sage.
I decided that I wanted to maintain as much fresh sage flavor as possible, so I stirred in a chiffonade of sage leaves at the very end, right before pouring it out onto an oiled sheet pan. (Silpat, I miss you.) Wearing two pairs of latex gloves, I pulled and stretched the brittle into elegant, ethereal shapes before it hardened.
And the flavor? Ohmygod. If you make no other recipe from this blog ever, make this one! The spicy, warm flavor of the sage makes for an unforgettable confection when combined with the buttery crunch of the pine nuts and the crispy, bittersweet caramel. Just try it.
Taken all together, the brittle offered a nice textural contrast to the silky, delicate flan. I think we have a winner! (Seriously, though, if you want to help me out in that regard, head over to the Leftover Queen‘s Royal Foodie Joust and vote for me starting November 2nd. I’m submitting both this and the lasagna.)
Winter Squash Flan with Orange Caramel
For the caramel:
160 g/5½ oz. sugar
A few drops of apple cider vinegar
2 tsp. orange butter (see recipe for Winter Vegetable Lasagna)
- Combine the sugar in a medium saucepan with enough water to make a wet sand consistency. Add the vinegar and cook over medium-high heat until a deep amber caramel forms. This is generally just after it starts to smoke a bit. If it smokes a lot and turns black, start over.
- Immediately remove the pan from heat and stir in the butter to stop the cooking. Pour a thin layer of caramel into each of six ramekins (150 ml/5 oz. capacity or thereabouts).
For the custard:
240 g/8½ oz. puréed winter squash (preferably roasted)
490 ml/2 cups milk
60 ml/2 oz. cream
60 g/2 oz. brown sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
- Preheat oven to 175 C/350 F, and bring a kettle of water to a boil.
- Combine squash, milk, cream, and brown sugar in a saucepan. Heat over medium heat, stirring frequently, until it comes to a simmer. Remove from heat and let the mixture cool a bit.
- Pour a small amount of the hot milk mixture into the eggs, whisking constantly. When all is combined, slowly whisk in the rest of the milk. Strain the custard into a measuring jug or something with a pouring spout (this will make your life a lot easier).
- Set the caramel-lined ramekins on a rimmed sheet pan and evenly distribute the custard between them. Place the pan into the oven and pour boiling water into the sheet pan so that it comes a little way up the sides of the ramekins.
- Bake about 20 minutes until the tops of the custards are just beginning to color. They should jiggle slightly in the center and a thin-bladed knife inserted in between the center and the edge should come out clean.
- Remove the ramekins from the water bath and cool to room temperature. Chill completely.
- To plate, run a thin-bladed knife around the outer edge of the custard. Invert a serving plate over the ramekin and flip over so the plate is on the bottom. If the custard hasn’t already slid out, gently shake or tap the ramekin until it does. Serve alone or accompanied by pine nut-sage brittle.
* * *
Pine Nut-Sage Brittle
100 g/3½ oz. sugar
45 ml/1½ oz. water
70 g/2½ oz. honey
115 g/4 oz. pine nuts
A pinch of sea salt
½ Tbsp. butter (use orange butter if you have some on hand)
15 g/½ oz. fresh sage, chiffonnade (sliced into very thin strips)
¼ tsp. baking soda
- In a small saucepan, combine sugar, water, and honey. Cook over medium-high heat until it reaches 129 C/264 F.
- Add the pine nuts and salt and cook, stirring frequently, to 159 C/318 F.
- Remove from heat and stir in the butter, then the sage, and finally the baking soda. The candy will foam up, so be careful.
- Pour onto an oiled sheet pan (or a Silpat, if you’re lucky enough to have one), and spread into an even layer. Let cool a few minutes. At this point, you could just leave the brittle to harden completely, but it looks a lot sexier if you take the time to pull it into elegant shapes. Wearing protective gloves (I use 2 pair of rubber or latex gloves) pick up a small portion of the edge of the brittle. Carefully work your fingers underneath and when you have a big enough piece, pull it away from the mass and stretch it a bit. Place the piece of brittle on a sheet of foil to harden. Repeat until all the brittle has been stretched.
- Try not to eat it all in one sitting.
Makes enough to garnish 6 flans, with leftovers for snacking.
Originally published on Croque-Camille.