Sunday, November 12, 2006
A New Knife, A New Squash, A New Cookie
Every year about this time I get the urge to make pumpkin bread. It comes with sweaters and scarves, and the wind picking up (ahem, let's not mention that it was 84 degrees in LA this weekend). Something takes over me, and like clockwork, I pull out my recipe, tried and true, with lots of spices and a can of pumpkin puree plunked into the mix. It's fine, but this year changes were made.
For one, a new book came into my life. I got Elinor Klivans' Big Fat Cookies as a birthday gift this year, and there is a recipe for big fat pumpkin cookies in there. So, out with the bread, in with the cookies.
For another, I got ambitious. Whenever I look at recipes on Epicurious (an activity that takes way too much of my time, I'm afraid), I pore through the reader comments on the recipe. This is the most important part to me: not only do I learn how the recipe holds up in real home kitchens, but I also get to see what people have done with it. When it comes to pumpkin recipes, I'm always impressed with those people who snub the can and roast their own gourds. Something came over me this year and I decided I'm going to join the legions of too-cool-for-the-can roasters. Basically, it's because I'm an elitist.
For a third, the best produce stand I know is a short walk from my work. Marina Farms, on Centinela at Jefferson, is currently carrying a wide variety of winter squash, and there's a particular one I've been wanting to try. I first learned about red Kuri squash here, where the charming little guy is known by his French name, potimarron, the 'marron' in the name because it tastes like chestnuts. Marina Farms had them, and so I took one home with me to meet its fate as delicious cookies. I know it's not much, but to me it's kind of cool that I can learn about an ingredient on the internet that is prevalent in France (and Japan, apparently -- they are also known as Hokkaido squash), wonder to myself about the chestnut flavor, but give in to the fact that I probably won't be trying one anytime soon, then find one at the local market. I love instant gratification.
In making these cookies, I've decided that roasting a red Kuri squash is one of the most gratifying culinary experiences ever. For one, cutting one is much easier than last month's butternut hack-fest. Due to the spherical shape, no part of the squash is solid all the way through like the neck of the butternut (this also means they cook more evenly). The flesh is only about an inch thick. It also helps that I just got myself my first fancy chef's knife (a Wüsthof Grand Prix (that's right, my knife's got an umlaut), for those who care about these things), and it's pretty much changed my life. It's quite an improvement from the Ikea starter set knife I've been fumbling with until now.
The squash comes out of the oven with the skin glowing bright orange, and makes your home smell cozy and warm. The golden puree has a mellow seductive flavor, and because the cookie recipe only calls for a cup, I have a bowl of pureed squash happily waiting to be turned into something exciting. I fear I may just eat it straight from the bowl though -- it was that good. Will power, don't fail me now!
Roasted Red Kuri Squash Cookies With Chocolate Chips
Adapted from Elinor Klivans' Big Fat Cookies
These cookies have a light, cakey texture and aren't too sweet. You can substitute butter for some or all of the oil. And you can substitute canned pumpkin puree for the pureed roasted squash.
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 large eggs
1 cup dark brown sugar (I used Billington's molasses sugar)
1/2 cup vegetable, canola, or corn oil
1 cup pureed roasted red kuri squash
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Line 2 baking sheets with foil; butter the foil.
In a small bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In a large bowl, beat eggs and brown sugar together until smooth. Add oil, squash, and vanilla, and mix to thoroughly incorporate. Add dry ingredients; mix to incorporate. Mix in chocolate chips.
Drop batter onto prepared baking sheets in 1/4-cup scoops. Bake cookies until edges just begin to brown and a toothpick inserted into the center of a cookie comes out clean, about 19 minutes.
To roast the squash: Preheat oven to 375. Cut squash in half lengthwise, and scoop out seeds and stringy flesh. Bake cut-side down, on a foil-lined baking sheet, until flesh is soft, about 1 hour.
Makes 15 cookies