One weird trick to make pumpkin death-defyingly delicious

IMG_7296Just think—what is pumpkin, but a combination of excrutiatingly delicious orange pumpkin matter, and water. Water is water. It’s great. Stuff of life, 90% of the body, et cetera, et cetera. But it isn’t where the deliciousness lives. In fact, it mingles with the deliciousness of pumpkin flesh and—waters it down.

Who wants something that is watered down? No—one seeks the emphatic, the bold, the pure. Right?

So the trick to making delicious pumpkin and other winter squash is to remove the water. How to do that. Let’s see…there’s this thing that water does…I know, don’t tell me…it requires heat, but not center-of-the-sun heat…just normal, household-appliance-level heat…starts with ‘e’, ends with ‘e’…yes! It evaporates. Water evaporates when applied heat. Pumpkin flesh, on the other hand, does not.

Therein lies the secret. You’re welcome. Water just ups and leaves when things get hot enough. Pumpkin stays for the long haul.

Here’s what I’m trying to say. Imagine you roast a pumpkin (or other winter squash) so the flesh is easy to scoop off the peel. Then, you cook the pumpkin flesh in a pan for a good long time, stirring, stirring; till the steam rises and keeps rising and rising and eventually most of the water becomes the steam and leaves; and what you are left with is an increasingly pasty, gummy, reduced, deeply orange mass.

This takes only a couple ingredients to become one of India’s famed concoctions, to be had as dessert, or as a side with roti, or snuck in between meals from the fridge. Midnight snack? You wouldn’t dare? Done. Pumpkin halwa is great in all these ways.

Pumpkin halwa

Halwa is a general name for Indian desserts that are pastes. Sorry. What that description lacks in glamour it makes up in accuracy. It can be made of a number of widely disparate foods; wheat farina, whole wheat flour, carrot; and pumpkin. When I say ‘pumpkin’ of course I’m using it as a term of endearment for all winter squashes, those with the hard shell and sweet orange flesh. I used kabocha, which is known by foodies to out-pumpkin even the standard autumn pumpkins in terms of taste.

Made sweeter, it is a nice finish to a meal, served in tiny confection bowls; made a little less sweet, goes great as a side with deep-fried puffed breads, i.e. pooris.

Pumpkin halwa

Ingredients:
  • One medium sized kabocha squash or sugar pumpkin
  • 2 tablespoons ghee or butter
  • Seeds of 6 green cardamoms
  • 1 teaspoon sugar or to taste
  • Pinch of salt
Method:

Preheat the oven to 425ºF. Slice the kabocha/pumpkin through the equator and scoop out the seeds with a sharp-sided spoon. I have found it really helps to pick a spoon that matches the curve of the hollow where the seeds are.

Lay the halves cut side down on a foil-lined cookie sheet along with 2 tablespoons water. Bake in oven for 45 minutes.

At that point the squash should be completely soft and easy to prick through with a knife. Bring them out and scoop out all the flesh.

Heat the ghee or butter in a non-stick, thick-bottomed pan. When melted, add the squash and cook on medium-high, mashing it down into the fat and stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile, grind the black inner seeds of the cardamom in a mortar and pestle.

In about 30 to 45 minutes, the flesh should be much drier and also look smoother, as the rough grain disappears with the water content. At this point, add a pinch of salt, the sugar, and the cardamom. Add more sugar after tasting if it is not sweet enough.

Garnish with ground pistachios, slivered almonds, roasted cashews, raisins or any combination.


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I’m no pastry chef, but look, chocolate cake!

Eggless chocolate cake

Eggless chocolate cake

Situation:

Husband: Has a birthday. Chocolate fan. Not a spring chicken, worries about sugar and fat. But wants cake. Needs cake.

Me: Not a fan of chocolate. Don’t have a sweet tooth. Not much of a pastry chef either. But cake must be had!

Daughter: wants to ‘help’!

I think I did decently. My husband thought so, even though he spent the whole time worrying if I was making the frosting rich enough and covering all the gaps and the rest of the time worrying about how much fat he would be consuming.

In any case, this is about the simplest cake one can make and it turns out great. I got the recipe from the King Arthur site, but just to show how simple the cake and frosting are to make, I will put down the recipe in a sort of telegraphese.

Kiddo helping with the mixing

Kiddo helping with the mixing

 

One layer

One layer

 

Slathering

Slathering

 

Slice

Slice

Cake

In a bowl, stir together the dry ingredients: 1.5 cups all purpose flour, 2/3 cups brown sugar, 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa, 1 teaspoon baking soda, 1/2 teaspoon salt.

Pour in the wet ingredients: 1/3 cup almond oil, 1 tablespoon vinegar, 1 teaspoon vanilla, 1 cup milk.

Stir it all together.

Pour half into one 8-inch round cake pan, half into another. Bake at 350°F for 20 minutes. If you pour it all together into a single cake pan, let it bake for about 30-35 minutes.

Frosting

In a bowl, microwave 1 cup cream for 1 minute. Put in 8 ounces bittersweet chocolate and stir, microwave again for 1 minute. Keep stirring, if the chocolate still refuses to melt, give it 30 second whirls at a time and stir, stir, stir. Eventually, it will become luscious and smooth. Allow it to cool slightly, then slather it over one layer of the cake, lay the other layer over it, and slather over it some more, and slather over the sides.

Recipe source: 

King Arthur Flour’s original cake-pan cake

Chocolate ganache

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Daughter’s chocolate

Today is a special treat — a guest post from my eight-year-old daughter. She made this chocolate a week ago for us. Here is her writing, unadorned.

Suraiya’s Chocolate

First put cocoa butter in a pot and melt it.

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After that is done, mix powdered milk, icing sugar and cocoa powder in a different bowl.

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Add the cocoa butter you melted to your mixture. Then add a little bit of vanilla. After you’re done with that mix it well.

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Then pour it into moulds and put it in the fridge. Wait for 2 hours before you take it out.

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She learned this recipe from watching this lady called Karma on YouTube.

What is this ‘sinfully delicious’ you speak of?

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Bear with me please, I certainly understand ‘delicious’ but am struggling to understand why something delicious should be sinful. Yes, even dessert! This rustic pie makes a few healthy choices along the way and ends up with as close to a tonic as you would find in the dessert kingdom. At the risk of chasing away my readers with shear tedium, I will give little sidebars on the healthy choices I made and why.

This recipe makes two tarts.

Rustic Strawberry Tart

Ingredients for pie crust:

  • 2.5 cups stone-ground white whole wheat
    Whole wheat flour includes the germ and the bran and that’s where the nutrients generally hide. “White” whole wheat is made from a softer, albino wheat, that lacks the tannins of the red bran of the regular wheat. That is why it has a milder flavor and is more appropriate for the non-bread uses of flour: what I call the flakey-cakey family. Stone-grinding ensures that the flour does not heat up excessively while grinding and lose nutrients.
  • One and quarter teaspoon salt
  • One cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
    I recently read that — yes, I did a double-take too — there is no evidence that fat is fattening. Also that all those decades of advice telling us to avoid saturated fat were based on very flimsy evidence. So let us rejoice in butter and lard, people. And please do not scorn the wondrous coconut. As a matter of fact the supposedly heart-healthy butter substitutes are way worse for you than butter itself, while also (coincidentally?) needing more processing than good old fashioned butter, and so just happen to line various pockets more.
  • I did not sweeten the crust at all.
    Most pie crust recipes ask for a tablespoon or more of sugar. I desist. I don’t see the point: the filling is sweet, and I like the contrast with the crust. Sugar is metabolized by the liver and this makes it especially bad — worse than an equal amount of any other type of calories — for reasons I only dimly understand. Yes, worse than fat, the bogeyman from the last generation (Us Gen-X’ers would like our own bogeymen, please). But watch this or read this if you want to delve into it more.

Ingredients for filling:

  • 2 – 3 cups stemmed and chopped strawberries
  • 2 tablespoons raw organic demerera sugar
    In general, with sugar, the less refined the better. This kind of sugar has some of the molasses left in it. Clearly this is dessert so it is bound to have some sugar in it, but everything in moderation!
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 1 teaspoon butter

Method for the pie crust:

First, let us make the crust. A good flaky pie crust uses the following principles: First, you handle the flour as little as possible to avoid gluten from building up. Second, you keep things cold, for a similar reason; so you avoid touching with flour with your hands and their warmth. Third, you ‘cut’ the fat in, rather than knead it in, and leave it in little pea-sized bits till the end, because while cooking those bits will melt and leave holes in the pastry, and your client will go — mmm, flaky!

So bread-making is all about developing the gluten while pie crust is all about NOT developing the gluten. One is spongy and the other is flaky. This is how a single word can hide whole reams of tradition and science.

Start with all the flour and the salt generally mixed in in a large bowl. Get your stick of butter out of the fridge, and unwrap it only partially, so that you are holding it by means of the waxed paper wrapping, and keeping things cool. Using a paring knife, slice off bits of butter into the flour until the entire stick has been sliced off. Stir the butter bits around to coat with the flour. Then start cutting at the butter bits with a knife. This process can take about 10 minutes, but when you are done, the flour should all be touching butter or touching flour that is touching butter. Sorry that is the best way to describe it. It certainly does not look wet nor gathered together at all. The largest butter piece should be about the size of a pea.

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Now add 2 tablespoons of refrigerated water sprinkled over the top. Using a spatula start moistening the flour and pressing it together into a mass. Remember, no touching and no kneading! The flour will readily press together as soon as it is moistened, but will remain rather shaggy. Collect it all in a sheet of plastic wrap or waxed paper, and using those flaps, press it together some more, until you can wrap it up into a parcel and put it into the fridge to chill.

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Great. Now the dough is chilled and hard and impossible to roll, now what? Before rolling, leave it out for about half hour. Cleanly slice it into two halves, then start rolling each into a rough circle.

The major, major problem with rolling this type dough is that it is sticky and squelchy with the butter bits. Two techniques come to our rescue: one, try rolling it between two sheets of waxed paper or plastic wrap. Two, sprinkle dry flour on the surface where necessary but do this sparingly.

All right, now you have two rough circles. Lay them out on a cookie sheet.

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Method for assembling the pie:

Rinse, de-stem and slice the strawberries.

Since I am doing a strawberry pie I clearly didn’t exactly ‘choose’ strawberries. But strawberries are an incredibly healthy fruit with a number of antioxidants, second only to other berries and walnuts.

Gently mix with the sugar and the flour. Now pile them in the rough center of each of the pie crusts. Fold the edges over the pile of strawberries to partially cover them. Dot each open center with a dab of butter.

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Now bake as they are in a 400 F oven for 25 minutes or until the edges are browned.

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