Friday, February 15, 2008

Thai Pumpkin Custard

From Darlene Schmidt,

This custard is spectacular to look at, and wonderful to eat. Makes a great Halloween or Thanksgiving dessert recipe, and a nice alternative to pumpkin pie. A small pumpkin (or squash) is hollowed out and then filled with an easy Thai custard (a healthier and lower calorie version than traditional custard, plus it's gluten-free). It is then baked in the oven for an hour. Serve warm or cold with a splash of maple syrup or brandy and a cup of strong tea or coffee.

* 1 small pumpkin or pumpkin-like squash, approx. 6-7 inches tall x 8-9 inches wide)
* 9 eggs
* 2 cups good-quality coconut milk
* 2 cups white sugar (or you can use brown sugar, which will make the custard a little darker and not so sweet)
* pinch salt
* 1 tsp. vanilla
* maple syrup to serve
* optional: brandy or other favorite liqueur

1. Wash and dry the outside of the pumpkin or squash. Preheat oven to 375 degrees Using a sharp knife (and being careful not to cut yourself), cut a "lid" in the top (as you would to carve a jack-o-lantern).
2. Remove the "lid" and slice off the seedy part, so that you're left with a clean lid or hat. Set aside.
3. Using an ice cream scoop (or large steel spoon), scoop out the seeds and "guts" of the pumpkin. You may have to get in there with your hands, which is always fun (!). Save seeds to roast in the oven later with a little oil and salt, or simply discard.
4. Break the eggs into a large mixing bowl. Using a fork or whisk, beat the eggs by hand until fluffy (or use an automatic mixer set to low or medium) - about 1 minute.
5. Add the coconut milk and vanilla. Beat again for 1 minute, or until well mixed.
6. Add the sugar 1/2 cup at a time, stirring as you go, until all sugar is added and has dissolved in the egg mixture. Note: This may seem like too much sugar, but the custard does need to be sweet in order to compensate for the slightly bitter taste of the pumpkin/squash.
7. Pour or ladle the egg mixture into the pumpkin. Tip: try not to spill any on the outside of the pumpkin, or it may burn. If you do spill some, wipe it away with a cloth. Don't overfill - leave about 1/2 inch of room room at the top, since the egg mixture will rise a little out of the hole (it is not runny, so this is fine).
8. Set the pumpkin plus the "lid" together in a roasting pan (a metal or stainless steel roasting pan works well). Pour a little water (1/8 to 1/4 inch) into the bottom of the pan.
9. Being careful not to spill the contents of the pumpkin, place dish in the oven to bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes at 375 degrees.
10. When the pumpkin on the lid is cooked (soft), remove from oven (about 1/2 hour).
11. After 1 hour and 15 minutes, you should see the custard rising like a bubble out of the pumpkin. Try inserting a long cake tester down into the custard (or use a wooden skewer/satay stick if you have one) - it should come out clean. You can also poke the top of the pumpkin itself (with a fork) to make sure it is soft enough to eat. If the custard hasn't set , or if the pumpkin/squash is still too firm to eat, return to oven and bake another 15 minutes to 1/2 hour.
12. Remove from oven and allow to cool for at least 30 minutes before attempting to move. The pumpkin can be sliced and eaten when cool enough. Or, place the pumpkin on a plate and refrigerate for a few hours (or overnight). This will help the custard firm up. Note: The custard may "drop" a little - this is normal.
13. To serve, replace the "lid" or "hat" of the pumpkin, or set it slightly askew so you can see the custard. Using a sharp serrated knife, cut the pumpkin into slices (see picture) and place them on serving plates. Eat as is, or serve warm (heat up in the oven or your microwave). Pour a little maple syrup, plus a little brandy or your favorite liqueur (if desired) over each piece. Pair with a cup of strong tea or coffee, and ENJOY!