Tag Archives: butternut squash

Butternut Squash Cake with Ginger Cream Cheese Frosting

14 Nov

Isn’t it fantastic how some foods just seem to match a certain season?  Though I would be loathe to turn down a slice of spice cake when it was hot and sunny outside, somehow that very same spice cake ends up feeling so much more right if offered up on a chilly fall afternoon.  Perhaps it is because we have been trained since birth to accept the familiarity of certain foods and flavors during specific seasons and holidays, developing the unwavering sense that gingerbread eaten during the summer is somehow less fitting than gingerbread eaten during the cold and wet months of fall and winter.

I have a different theory, though.  I think our predilection for eating certain types of foods during certain types of the year is based not on seasonal availability or a lifelong development of preference, but rather on something more obvious: color.

Just as the crimson fire of a ripe strawberry signals summer, the mellow orange of a squash speaks of autumn leaves turning and the sun setting low in the sky.  It’s ingrained within us, I think.  When the weather turns cold and the colors around us transform into amber and rust, we reach for ripened apples, golden pears, and the saffron-colored flesh of autumn squash.  Dark clouds call for deeply chocolaty cakes and spicy gingerbread.  The coolness of snow makes us crave a dollop of whipped cream on top of a cup of rich, warm cocoa.  Is it possible that nature is telling us what to eat?  Would nature ever really tell us to eat whipped cream?  I should hope so.

In keeping with my theory of seasonal color eating, I was struck last week by the desire to make a very autumnal cake.  Though most people would think to make a cake of pumpkin when looking for a perfect fall dessert, it just so happened that I had a bit of leftover butternut squash sitting in my refrigerator, courtesy of this dalliance with butternut squash for Portland Farmers Market.  Butternut squash and pumpkin are remarkably similar, and I had a hunch that, spiced up and sweetened, they would behave in a very similar manner.

As it turned out, I think butternut squash turns out even better in a cake than pumpkin, more well-rounded somehow, and with a fuller texture.  Lightly spread with this unbelievably creamy, gently gingery frosting, it’s a fitting dessert for any fall day, as evidenced (in keeping with my theory) not only by its color, but also (somewhat unrelated to my theory, but equally as important), by the fact that it lasted approximately two days in our house before we managed to eat the whole thing.  (We shared a little.  Emphasis on little.)

Butternut Squash Cake with Ginger Cream Cheese Frosting

Butternut Squash Cake

1 ½ cups cake flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

¼ teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground powdered ginger

½ teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/3 cup buttermilk or soured milk

½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature

2/3 cup white sugar

1/3 cup dark brown sugar

2 large eggs, at room temperature

1 cup butternut squash puree (here I have outlined a shortcut to cooking butternut squash in the microwave)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Grease and flour the bottoms and sides of a 9-inch round cake pan.  Line the bottom of the pan with a round of parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, combine the cake flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg.  Whisk to combine, then set aside.

In a small bowl or measuring cup, combine buttermilk or soured milk with the vanilla.  Mix to combine, and set aside.

In a large bowl, or in the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the butter until creamy, about 30-60 seconds.  Gradually add in both the white sugar and dark brown sugar, beating at high speed until the mixture is light and fluffy, about 3-4 minutes.  One at a time, beat in the eggs, mixing well after each addition.  Reduce the mixer speed to low, and add in the butternut squash puree.

Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl.  With the mixer on low speed, add in 1/3 of the flour mixture to the butter mixture, mixing until just combined.  Add in ½ of the milk mixture, and mix until just combined.  Continue adding the flour, then milk, in this manner, mixing after each addition until just combined.

Gently stir the batter one last time by hand, making sure to stir in the contents at the very bottom of the bowl.  Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan.  Bake in the center of the oven for 30-35 minutes, until a cake tester inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean, with just a few moist crumbs attached.

Cool the cake in its pan for 5 minutes, then invert onto a cooling rack to continue cooling completely.

Ginger Cream Cheese Frosting

3 ounces cream cheese (about 4 tablespoons), at room temperature

6 tablespoons powdered sugar

2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

3 tablespoons milk or heavy cream

¼ teaspoon grated fresh ginger

pinch of salt

In a small bowl, whisk together the cream cheese, powdered sugar, lemon juice, and milk or heavy cream.  Whisk continually, until the mixture is smooth and creamy, about 2 minutes.  Add in the fresh ginger and pinch of salt, then continue whisking until incorporated, about 30 seconds.

When cake has cooled completely, spread frosting over the top of the cake, coaxing the frosting ever-so-slightly down the sides of the cake.

Butternut Squash and Dry-Cured Olive Pizza with Ricotta and Chevre

27 Oct

In 2010, the San Francisco Giants won the World Series, and in the course of that happening I nearly lost my mind.

My father was a kid in the Bay Area when the Giants moved to San Francisco, so he’s been a fan since 1958. This means that when the Giants won the World Series, he had experienced 52 long years of fandom void of seeing the Giants win the World Series. I’ve been a Giants fan since birth. Being as though I was born many years after 1958, one might think that the level of suffering I’ve experienced as a long-term Giants fan could somehow be deemed less fraught with pain and melancholy than my father’s, due to the smaller number of years I have lived as a fan. This assumption would be false. It is important to remember that, before 1958, my father experienced many wonderful, innocent years as a child free from the woe and misery caused by a beloved sports team repeatedly jabbing him in the heart, whilst simultaneously punching him in the face. I, however, have been privy to that pain practically since birth, since my life as a Giants fan essentially began as soon as I was released from the calm, baseball-free confines of the womb.  While it’s true that my father has endured a period of suffering that happens to be markedly longer than mine, I, as I know no other life without said suffering, and he does, would have to declare a draw if called upon to quantify whose life was made more woeful by the oft-crushing presence of the San Francisco Giants.

By the time last year’s World Series rolled around, we’d seen the Giants work their way towards the World Series before, and, sadly, we’d seen them lose the World Series before. Before my husband and I were married, he was an unfortunate audience member in the tragic real life play entitled I Watched the Giants Blow the World Series in 2002 (this bit of theater exists on a similar level of horror as I Watched the Giants Get Absolutely Creamed in the World Series in 1989). As he once told someone, he knew I was a fan, but up until then he did not realize the sheer intensity of that fandom. When the Giants are losing, I tend to curse a lot. I also tend to violently turn off the television, leave the room while muttering about how much I hate those bums, then stomp back into the room, turn the television back on, and proceed to let loose with a string of exceptionally unladylike obscenities. This will happen several times in the course of a game. Sometimes the Giants don’t even have to be losing for me to reach that level of unpleasantness. Sometimes they are winning, but are threatening to lose, and that’s enough to set me off on a long tirade of Oh, my god, those lousy bums.

But now, as a mother and a person rapidly settling into my mid-30s, I try to tone things down a bit. I’ve cut out the salty language and the hurling of the remote control, but I seem to have replaced those two things with the type of obsessive superstitions ordinarily reserved for the sort of people who frequent Bingo halls or palm readers. Last year, when San Francisco had made their way through the playoffs and into the World Series, I began to wear an awful lot of black and orange, which happen to be the Giants’ signature colors. Halloween was coming up, so, if anyone asked, I could always fabricate a plausible excuse for my color choices. As time went on, however, and the Giants came closer and closer to winning the World Series, my will began to unravel. First and foremost, I stopped being able to talk about anything other than baseball. Rather than hiding the true reasons behind my sartorial leanings, I instead began to randomly point out to other people that they, too, were wearing the Giants colors. Whether or not I actually knew said people was not of concern to me.  By the end of October, when I would pick up my son from preschool and the other parents would casually ask about our afternoon plans, I had lost the ability to speak in a rational manner or utilize complete sentences.

“The Giants are in the World Series!” I would blurt out, quickly shuffling my son towards the car. “It’s an afternoon game. Early evening. East Coast time. Pregame coverage starts in an hour. Giants are up two games. Can’t talk. We have to go now.  I’MSORRYWEHAVETOGONOTIMETOTALK.”

Throughout the duration of the Series, I also started making game time meals for us that were entirely orange and black.  Things with poppy seeds and cheddar cheese, baby carrots and black beans. I was possessed with the spirit of Giants baseball, and I had sucked everyone else in with me. Sure, my dad was already along for the ride, but when my son began to wake up every day and make an immediate beeline for his Giants cap and baseball glove, I really began to understand what was happening. Much like my dad had passed on the Giants to me, I, too, was setting up my son for a lifetime of agony and despair as a Giants fan.

But not last year.  My son, that lucky little devil, got to see the Giants win the World Series before he had even started kindergarten.  On November 1st, 2010, we all watched the Giants’ Brian Wilson (and his beard) strike out the Texas Rangers’ Nelson Cruz to end Game 5 of the World Series and take home the crown.  As it was repeated by Giants fans all around the country, the torture was over.  My father’s 52 years as a fan, along with my 33, were finally rewarded with the biggest win in baseball.  85 cumulative years of fandom between us, and our souls were finally released from the clutches of sadness.

That was last year. Things, as you might know if you have spent any time around me since about April, did not go so well for the Giants this year. Plagued with injuries and softened by lackluster offense, my memories of the 2011 Giants will not be as filled with excitement as my memories of the fellows of 2010. Since the Texas Rangers are getting their second chance at the World Series title this year, it seems only fitting that I would revisit a little bit of 2010 and recall one of the many orange and black meals I made during the month of October (and one day in November). This pizza, textured and flavorful, was a definite highlight. Chunks of roasted butternut squash atop a layer of creamy, tangy chevre and ricotta cheese. Intense and salty dry-cured olives. It’s the essence of fall on a pizza, or, if you’re a fan of the boys in orange and black, it’s a tip of the cap to the excitement of 2010 and the greatest autumn of my baseball-loving life.

Butternut Squash and Dry-Cured Olive Pizza with Ricotta and Chevre

Pizza dough for 1 pizza (this is my favorite no-fail pizza dough)

1 small butternut squash

2 tablespoons olive oil

2/3 cup ricotta cheese

¼ cup chevre

1/3 cup dry-cured black olives, pits removed if not purchased already pitted

salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

Using a sturdy vegetable peeler or shaver, remove the peel from the squash, then cut it in half and remove the seeds.  Slice the squash into ½-inch chunks.  Place squash chunks on a heavy baking sheet, add the olive oil and salt and pepper to taste, then toss to combine.  Roast the squash until it is soft but not falling apart, and the bottoms have just begun to caramelize, about 20-25 minutes.  Remove squash from oven and allow to cool slightly while you prepare the other ingredients.

Turn the oven up to 500 degrees Fahrenheit and place an oven rack at the second-lowest level.  Place a heavy baking sheet or pizza stone on the rack while the oven preheats.

In a small bowl, combine ricotta and chevre and set aside.

Using your hands (not a rolling pin, which will force all the air out of the dough and make it tough), coax your pizza dough into an approximate circle of about 12 to 13 inches in diameter.  Place your dough round on a large piece of parchment paper.

Spread the ricotta and chevre mixture over the surface of the dough.  Add 2 cups of roasted butternut squash chunks to the top of the pizza (you can refrigerate any remaining butternut squash chunks).  Sprinkle with olives.

Slide the pizza, still on the parchment, onto a rimless baking sheet, or onto a baking sheet that has been overturned.  Using the rimless or overturned baking sheet, slide the pizza, still on the parchment, onto the baking sheet or pizza stone that has been heating in the oven.  Bake pizza for 8 to 10 minutes, until the edges are dark golden brown and the cheese is just beginning to turn brown in places.

Pizza can be eaten piping hot or slightly cooled.  Enjoyed best when accompanied by the sweet taste of victory.

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