Winter Squash and Sage Gougeres

Oh winter squash and cheese, will I ever get tired of combining you?

This morning, I set out to make gougeres, heavenly little puffs of pate a choux with loads of gruyere cheese folded in. Pate a choux, like most things with fancy French names, is deceptively easy to make. (Take a brunoise, for instance. Sounds tricksy, doesn’t it? Well it just means ‘a fine dice.’ Thanks, Frenchies, for constantly making us feel inadequate.)

Here in SF, gougeres seem to be the new scone, popping up at chic coffee shops, like Coffee Bar and Tartine, as a nourishing, portable, savory treat for any time of day. They are rather like the scone’s refined, city-dwelling cousin; lighter, crispier and with a name that makes you salivate just pronouncing it.

For my first trial, I added small cubes of roasted squash and some crumbles of goat cheese to the finished batter, but it made the dough overly moist and heavy. The goat cheese dried out in the oven and the dough tasted overly salty. That didn’t stop Jay from making them all disappear by the time I got home from work, though. For trial 2, I (sob!) omitted the goat cheese and added the squash with the other wet ingredients at the beginning, cooking off some of its liquid with the flour. These gougeres baked up light, tender and crisp. I reduced the salt by half, and found the balance of flavors to be just right.

These addictive little puffs would make an elegant and luxurious start to a fall cocktail party, or a bojon brunch. Try serving them with pomegranate mimosas or a simple glass of prosecco.

Other directions you could go with this recipe would be:
-smoked paprika or chipotle
-curry powder
-bacon!
-omit the gruyere topping, and shove some crumbles of blue cheese and a few toasted walnut pieces into the center of each unbaked gougere

If you live with a gougere hog, or are baking for guests, you might consider doubling this recipe as there never seem to be quite enough of these to go around. The batter can be made a day or two ahead and scooped just before baking, or you can scoop the dough onto a parchmented sheet pan, freeze, then save the frozen dough blobs in a ziploc baggie for instant gougere gratification whenever you please.

Winter Squash and Sage Gougeres

Makes 20 1 1/2″ puffs
Time: about 1 hour

1/2 cup whole milk
1/3 cup mashed roasted winter squash (such as butternut)
1/4 cup (2 oz.) unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons all purpose flour
2 large eggs
1 – 2 tablespoons minced fresh sage
4 oz. grated gruyere, divided

Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 425º. Line a 12×18″ baking sheet with parchment paper and place on top of another baking sheet (these tend to over-brown on their bottoms.)

Combine the milk, squash, butter, and salt in a medium saucepan over medium high heat. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Dump in the flour and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture forms a ball and a film forms on the bottom of the pan, a few minutes.

Dump the mixture in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle. Beat on medium speed for a minute or so to release some heat, then add the eggs one at a time, beating until combined and smooth after each addition. Add in the sage and three quarters of the cheese, beating to combine. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and the paddle and fold a few times to make sure the mixture is homogenous.

Using a #40 spring-loaded ice cream scoop (or a piping bag fitted with a #8 plain tip, or the old spoon-and-finger method) scoop out 20 balls of the mixture and place them, 4×5, on the parchmented pan.

Bake until puffed and golden, about 25 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 350º and bake for an additional 10 minutes or so, to dry out the centers slightly. (If underbaked, the gougeres will deflate as they cool.)

These are best served warm from the oven, but will keep for a couple days at room temp. You can re-toast them before enjoying, if you like.

Mac and Cheese with Winter Squash, Bacon and Collards

When you think of Italians, it is likely that several characteristics come to mind. Sylish, perhaps. Romantic, sophisticated, passionate. Unless you’ve spent a fair amount of time with them, I doubt you associate with them the words picky, stubborn or dogmatic.
Prepare to be disillusioned.
Italians don’t like eating things with too many flavors going on. They like simple, familiar, traditional dishes. Mention the words pizza, pesto and shrimp together in a single culinary creation and you will have earned yourself one condescending, Italian sneer. (I know this from firsthand experience.)

 The Italian phrase which sums up this gastronomical hegemony is ‘mettere un po’ di tutto,’ or ‘to put in a little of everything.’ While here in gli Stati Uniti chefs earn praise and notoriety for dreaming up creative concoctions, an Italian would shrink away, horrified, from foods we consider basic or mundane. Eggs for breakfast: disgustose. Barbequed chicken pizza: ma, dai! Salad dressing: Madonna, che paura! Mettere un po’ di tutto is not a good thing to an Italian. In fact, it is a very bad thing. If you proffer a dish to an Italian and they ask what’s in it (notice the look of suspicion) and if, after you’ve told them, they smile sardonically, cock an eyebrow, give little nod and say, ‘Ah, hai messo un po’ di tutto!’ you can bet you will be dining alone.

Of all the things Italians hold sacred, pasta, and of course someone’s mamma, are probably the two most inflammatory topics you could pick if looking to be cursed and gesticulated at in Italiano. Forget to salt your pasta water? Inexcusable. Too much sauce? You may as well have doused it in gelato by the look of horror you will receive. And Santa Maria forbid you use the wrong shape of pasta. Everyone knows that pasta alla carbonara gets bucatini while pasta in brodo needs, nay, demands orecchiette. Open any Italian’s cupboard and you will find at the very least a dozen different blue boxes containing varying shapes and sizes of pasta; not just because they eat a lot of it, they will tell you matter-of-factly, but because it is essential to have a variety of shapes at the ready at all times. Since an Italian will never reheat pasta the next day, every Italian owns a little scale on which the pasta is weighed before cooking. Go out for chinese with a few Italians and they will each order two courses: a pasta dish and a meat dish. They will eat their pasta first, and the meat second. So while the Mafia may have invented ‘family business,’ Italians don’t do ‘family style;’ at least, not in Chinese.

This mac and cheese makes a perfect one dish meal, another thing that Italians don’t do, as it contains the four basic food groups: veggies, grains, dairy and bacon. I clipped the original recipe from an old Martha Stewart, in an article on lightening up traditionally rich dishes. It did not call for bacon, rather for nonfat milk and ricotta cheese. I did away with those immediately in favor of whole milk and aged cheddar, but appreciated the basic theory of the dish. The squash gets cooked and mashed into the milk, thickening into a sauce and eliminating the need to make a roux. I did reduce the amount of pasta called for, and add in some roasted chunks of squash, ribbons of collard greens, and caramelized onions. (You may think I did this for health reasons, but when I asked my dieting housemate, Luisa, why she didn’t add any veggies to her risotto bianco she frowningly replied, ‘troppo pesante,’ or ‘too heavy.’ The phrase was accompanied by a gesture similar to that used to connote the male reproductive center. So there you go.)And, because it makes everything better, crisp lardons of bacon. (How could you not love something called ‘lardons?’)
Buon Appetito!


Baked Mac and Cheese
with Roasted Squash, Collard Greens, Bacon and Sage
Makes one 9x13x2″ casserole, 8ish main-course servings
1 medium winter squash, such as butternut, about 2 lbs, sliced lengthwise
6-8 strips of bacon, such as Niman Ranch cured applewood smoked
3 medium red onions (10 oz.), sliced thinly
1 cup breadcrumbs from 1-2 slices crusty boule
2 1/2 cups whole milk
8 oz. grated cheese, such as extra sharp white cheddar, gruyere or goat gouda
1 oz. grated parmesean
2 tablespoons minced fresh sage leaves
10 oz. penne
1 bunch collard greens, stems removed, leaves halved lengthwise and sliced into 1/2″ ribbons
salt
Preheat the oven to 400º.
Place the squash halves cut side down on a lightly oiled sheet pan and roast until soft and collapsed in places, about 1 hour. Remove and let cool enough to handle. Scoop out and discard the strings and seeds, and remove the flesh from the skin. Set 1 cup of flesh aside, and chop the rest into approximately 1″ chunks. You should have about 2 cups.
Reduce the oven temperature to 350º.
Fry the bacon in a skillet over medium heat until browned and crispy, turning once or twice. Remove to a paper towel to drain, then slice into 1″ squares, or lardons.
Pour off all but a tablespoon or two of the rendered fat. Saute the onions over medium-low heat until golden, soft and caramelized, about 20 minutes, stirring and scraping the pan with a metal spatula. Remove the onions to a large bowl and set aside.
Add another tablespoon of the fat to the pan, and fry the breadcrumbs, with a few pinches of salt, until crisp. Scrape out of the pan and set aside.
Place the 1 cup of squash in the skillet with the milk and simmer for a few minutes, then mash or puree smooth. Season with 3/4 teaspoon salt.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil. Add the collards and cook until crisp-tender, a few minutes. Fish out with tongs or a slotted spoon or skimmer, cool enough to squeeze out excess moisture, and add to the the bowl with the onions. Dump in the penne and cook, stirring occasionally, until al dente. Strain and toss with the onions and collards.
Add the squash chunks, milk mixture, cheeses, sage and bacon and toss to combine. Taste and add more salt or what have you if necessary.
Brush a 9x13x2″ casserole with some of the you-know-what fat. Spread the pasta in the pan and scatter the breadcrumbs evenly over.
Bake at 350º until bubbling and golden, about 30 minutes.

Cuckoo for Curry Powder: Curried-Coconut Sweet Potato Tea Cake

I’ve never exactly been a trendsetter. All too often I find myself clambering onto the bandwagon just as all the cool passengers have already transfered. Take fourth grade, for instance. My best friend and I spent weeks choreographing a dance to our favorite song, Ice Ice Baby, for our school’s talent show. When you’re 9, that seems like a really long time. While we looked great in matching black bike shorts, oversized t-shirts, slouch socks and Converse, the performance got off to a rocky start when the sound came on too low and we couldn’t really stick our dramatic and suspenseful opening. We did our best, though, jumping, spinning, popping, locking, and finishing in breathless exhilaration. Afterwards, riding a stellar performance high, a fifth grader sauntered up and, rolling her eyes, notified us that Vanilla Ice was totally last year.

Which, to be fair, he totally was.

Similarly, while many conoscenti have been touting the gustatory pleasures of curry powder for years, I have only just begun to feel the craze. I have sprinkled it on popcorn covered in butter, olive oil, salt and nutritional yeast. I have eaten Humphry Slocombe’s Peanut Curry ice cream and liked it. I have taken multiple swipes of the curry flavored, coconut milk enriched sweet potato shiitake goo that comprises the veggie empanadas where I work.
Inspired by that combo, I decided to bake these flavors into a rich, moist, and satisfying tea cake. I had sweet potatoes and coconut milk left over from last week’s canela buns, and decided to use coconut oil rather than butter in the batter. A happy amount of curry powder, some eggs, sugar, flour and leavening made a simple batter which I spread in a loaf pan and sprinkled with a salted, curried sugar.
If you want to be even more badass, and if you can find it, use coconut palm sugar in the batter. Toss in half a cup of dried fruit if you like (golden raisins plumped in coconut rum would be sweet; chopped dates or prunes would be good, too), or some toasted pecans or shredded coconut. This tea cake works any time of day; breakfast, lunch, or, well, tea time. Enjoy plain, or with a smear of cream cheese, creme fraiche or greek yogurt.
This recipe could be easily veganized by using egg substitute or 2 tablespoons flaxseed blended with 6 tablespoons of water until smooth. But, honestly, vegans are so last year…
Curried-Coconut Sweet Potato Tea Cake
Makes one 8 x 4″ loaf, 8 – 10 servings
1 cup (8 oz.) sweet potato puree
6 tablespoons (3 oz.) virgin coconut oil, melted
1/2 cup canned coconut milk
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
2 eggs
1 cup whole wheat or spelt flour
3/4 cup all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/4 teaspoons curry powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
Topping:
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon curry powder
pinch salt
Preheat the oven to 350º. Line an 8×4″ loaf pan with parchment paper, and brush lightly with a bit of coconut oil.
Combine the sweet potato puree, coconut oil and milk, sugars and eggs in a medium bowl and whisk until smooth. Sift together the flour, baking powder, curry powder and salt. Add the dries to the wets and fold gently until thoroughly combined. Spread evenly in the pan.
Combine the topping ingredients in a small bowl and sprinkle evenly over the top.
Bake the loaf for about an hour, until a toothpick inserted comes out mostly dry with a few clinging crumbs. Cool 10 minutes, then remove the bread from the pan and let cool completely before slicing.

Sourdough apple-oat pancakes with aged cheddar… and bacon!

A vegan’s worst nightmare, and not diet food by any stretch of the imagination, you would be hard pressed to find a better cure for a hangover than these deliciously satisfying cakes, other than a bit of the old ‘hair of the dog.’ I made this discovery the first time I made the original recipe, from Deborah Madison’s Local Flavors, on New Year’s Day of this year. But this makes a satisfying breakfast even when your liver is not chastising you for the uncouth way you treated it the night before.
In my un-ending quest to find more ways of using up sourdough starter, I adapted this recipe yesterday morning, subbing starter for the flour and buttermilk originally called for. I’ve never been a huge bacon fan (I like the smell of it better than the taste) but I sampled my first bacon ice cream a couple weeks ago and it brought on the bacon lust of which so many have already fallen victim. I purchased some cured, applewood smoked Niman Ranch bacon to use for a future post (spoiler alert: butternut squash mac and cheese with sage, collard greens and the ‘b’ word), and was anxious to test it out. I couldn’t think of a better accompaniment to these cakes. The cured bacon crisped up beautifully in a hot skillet in just a few minutes. I toyed with putting the bacon IN the pancakes, but had mercy on Jay, a ‘vegetarian’ (or ‘environmentally responsible eater,’ he just corrected indignantly, reading over my shoulder), but you sure could. I did, however, cook the cakes in the rendered bacon fat, which may make you feel obese just reading about it but, really, it’s pretty much the same as using butter. And it would be a shame to let those flavorful oils go to waste. (If you want to go the veg route, you won’t be any worse off using butter to fry the cakes. You might try using a smoked cheddar on top, such as Meyenburg’s smoked goat cheddar.)
A couple things make this recipe unique. First, the eggs get separated, the yolks whisked into the batter and the whites whipped to soft peaks and folded in. Secondly, the acidity in the starter reacts with the baking soda, causing the batter to foam up, as per usual in sourdough cakes. Last but not least, slices of extra sharp cheddar are laid over the cooked side of one cake, melting and giving the cakes a deliciously unexpected bite. Oats and grated apples give the cakes texture and earthy, tart flavor; a drizzle of maple syrup brings it all together, and the side of smokey, crisp bacon- well, it just makes everything that much better.
Don’t just save this for hungover mornings-after; these tasty cakes are the perfect way to start any crisp, fall, bojon day. If you are nursing a hangover, try sipping a bit of Calvados along side.
You’re welcome.
Sourdough apple-oat pancakes with aged cheddar and bacon
Makes 8 4″ cakes, 2-4 servings
3 strips of bacon per bacon-eater (I recommend Niman Ranch, cured, applewood smoked)
8 oz. (1 cup flat, 2 cups or more bubbly) liquid sourdough starter
2 large eggs, separated
3 tablespoons melted butter (or try bacon fat!)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup rolled oats
1 large, crisp apple (such as granny smith, pink lady, or cameo), 7 – 8 oz, grated (about 1 cup)
2 oz. aged, extra-sharp cheddar, thinly sliced
maple syrup, for serving
Fry the bacon in a cast iron skillet (or a griddle if you are so fortunate) over medium heat, turning a couple times, until done to your liking, 5 minutes or so. Remove the bacon to paper towels to drain. Pour the fat into a ramekin and reserve.
Measure the starter into a medium bowl. Whisk in the yolks, butter, baking soda, spices and salt to combine. Stir in the grated apple and oats.
Put the egg whites in a clean, large bowl and whip until soft peaks form. Gently fold into the batter.
Heat a bit of bacon fat in the skillet (or a griddle) over medium heat. Pour in 1/3 cup of batter and cook until deeply browned, about 2 minutes, adjusting the heat as necessary. Flip the cake over, and place a couple slices of cheese on top. Cook until browned on the second side. Continue with the rest of the cakes.
Serve with the bacon alongside, and pass a pitcher of warm maple syrup.

Rum and Sweet Potato Cinnamon Buns

And this one time? at band camp? I baked cinnamon buns for 200 people. No hobart had I, so I kneaded the dough in 6 batches in the kitchen aid. I spent hours shaping the buns late into the night, amidst giant moths, spastic june bugs and drunken musicians; just the usual. The buns finished baking somewhere around 2 a.m. and, knowing many campers would sleep through breakfast (including myself) we tucked into one of the pans. I proffered a bun to my friend, Malaika, but she refused, telling me she didn’t like sweets that didn’t have ‘strong flavors’ in them. ‘Well what d’ya call cinnamon?’ I thought, but I just shrugged and shoved another cinnamon bun in my mouth. (Bet you didn’t think I remembered that, huh?)

I know Malaika would love these buns, as they contain two of her favorite things: rum and coconut milk. Like many great things in the world, they came about entirely by accident. I woke up early this morning and couldn’t fall back to sleep. Jay rolled over and asked if I was planning to bake something, managing to sound both suspicious and somnolent. He can tell when that’s what I’m thinking about, which is, unsurprisingly, quite often; he generally has a 99% chance of being right.
The foggy morning made cinnamon buns sound like a brilliant plan, but we lacked milk for the dough. I wondered if I could use coconut milk instead, and what flavors might be complementary. Then I remembered a post I saw a while back by Sugar Plum, aka Emiline, for sweet potato cinnamon buns. I checked to see if by some magical twist we had received sweet potatoes in our box yesterday, and, lo… we had!

While reaching for the coconut milk, I brushed against a cone of panela, an unrefined sugar from Latin America that tastes deliciously of molasses, toffee and maple. I decided to grate it to use in the filling in place of brown sugar, and that made me think of rum soaked currants, though I usually eschew dried fruit in my buns. I thought a bit of orange zest, clove and nutmeg would go nicely, so I added them into the filling as well. I whisked some of the extra coconut milk and the strained curranty rum into powdered sugar for a final glaze. If you like toasted coconut and/or pecans, they would be delish sprinkled on top before the glaze sets.
The sweet potato gives the buns a warm golden hue and makes the dough pleasantly springy, while the rich coconut milk keeps it supple and moist. The buns burst with sweet, latin flavors and would make a nice addition to a Mexican themed brunch, after some migas and frijoles negros. I imagine you could make these vegan by omitting the egg in the dough and using coconut oil in place of the butter, but I generally consider vegans to be a personal affront and resist doing them any favors.
Panela (sometimes also called pilconcillo) comes in a hard cone wrapped in dried corn husks, and is kind of a bitch to grate; I wouldn’t go to the effort for just anyone. Use the large holes on a box grater. You should be able to find it at any latin american grocery, but lacking panela, you could use dark brown or muscovado sugar and they would still be muy sabrosos.

Sweet Potato Panela ‘Canela’ Buns
with Coconut Milk and Rum Soaked Currants
Makes 12 large buns
Total time: about 3 hours
Sweet potato dough
1 10 oz. sweet potato (garnet or jewel), peeled, cut into 1″ chunks
1 cup canned coconut milk
1 egg
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons rapid rise yeast (or 2 teaspoons active dry, or 1 tablespoon fresh)
1 cup whole wheat flour
2 1/2-3 cups all purpose flour
Put the sweet potato chunks in a saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer until tender, about 20 minutes. Drain and put in the bowl of a stand mixer. Beat with the paddle until smooth. Slowly add the coconut milk, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Add the remaining ingredients (make sure the mixture is cool enough not to kill the yeast – it should be just warm to the touch) and mix to combine. Switch to the dough hook and knead on low for 10 minutes, adding flour as needed until the dough is soft but pulls away from the sides of the bowl. Scrape down the bowl as needed. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead a few times by hand to make sure the texture is right. (Hint: if you scrape the bowl clean, you can use it to mix the filling sans washing.) Place in a lightly oiled bowl or container and cover with plastic wrap or a lid. Let rise until doubled in bulk, 45 minutes to 1 hour.
Panela-Canela filling

3 tablespoons melted butter, plus 6 tablespoons softened butter
1/2 cup currants
enough dark rum to cover the currants (about 1/4 or 1/2 cup)
1 cup (8 oz.) grated Panela (also called pilconcillo, or use dark brown or muscovado sugar)
2 tablespoons sugar
zest of 1 orange
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
pinch cloves
While the dough is rising, get on with the filling. Cover the currants with the rum and set aside to soak. Put the panela and softened butter in the mixer fitted with the paddle, and beat on medium low until smoothish and lightened (it won’t get totally smooth), about 5 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients (except the melted butter) and beat to combine. Set aside.
Brush a 9x12x2″ glass casserole with some of the melted butter. Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 375º.
When the dough has doubled in bulk, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and gently press out the air bubbles. Pat or roll into a 16×12″ rectangle with a long side facing you. It will be about 1/2″ thick. Use an offset spatula to spread the dough evenly with the filling mixture, leaving a 1/2″ gap on the top, but going all the way to the other edges. Drain the currants well, reserving the rum (of course!), and sprinkle them evenly over the butter mixture. Roll the dough up snugly from the bottom, and pinch the seam closed. Place the log seam side down and cut into 12 equal rounds. (I like to cut the log in half, then cut each half in half, then cut each quarter into thirds. I like to use a sharp chef’s knife and a back-and-forth sawing motion.)

Place the rounds in the prepared pan, 3 by 4, evenly spaced, with the smaller, end pieces in the center. Brush the tops and sides with the remaining melted butter. Let rise until doubled, about 30 minutes. The buns are ready to bake when they hold an indentation when poked lightly with your finger, rather than springing back. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until lightly golden on top. Let cool at least half and hour before eating.

Rummy Glaze
3/4 cup (3 oz.) powdered sugar
1 tablespoon coconut milk
1 tablespoon rum soaking liquid
pinch salt
Whisk all together until smooth, thinning with additional drops of rum if necessary. Use a spatula to drizzle over the top of the slightly cooled buns.

Pumpkin Cheesecake Squares with Gingersnap Crust

I would be embarrassed to admit how many of these I have eaten in the past week. Luckily I’ve lost count. I came up with the idea, as often happens, lying in bed one morning. I wanted to bring something sweet to a birthday party that night, and had considered making a classic pumpkin cheesecake. But on a crisp fall morning, it seemed a shame to stay indoors for too long, messing around with water baths and springform pans, long baking times and longer chilling. So I decided to bake cheesecake squares instead, which would be quicker and easier, and more cocktail party appropriate, being finger food.
I wanted the robust, fall-friendly flavors of a gingersnap crust, but didn’t want to deal with baking my own snaps, letting them cool, pulsing them in a food processor, mixing them with melted butter, and rebaking them into a crust. (Though doing this does produce the best crust…) And I would sooner die than buy packaged cookies. So I took a cue from Martha Stewart, who, for her New York cheesecake recipe, has you make a chocolate cookie dough which you press right into the pan to bake. I used Elizabeth Falkner’s “Sammysnaps” recipe, which she cuts into dachshunds in honor of a friend’s hound, and based the filling on Cook’s Illustrated’s pumpkin cheesecake. I guessed at the quantities I would need for a 9×12″ pan and set to work.
The cookie dough recipe was too large by almost double, the cheesecake filling would have overflowed the pan had I added it all, leaving no room for the abundance of sour cream topping. So I lined a second pan with the gingersnap dough and used the excesses to make two pans full.

At the party, my bars got eclipsed by a (heavenly) pecan pie brought by another talented baker, and Jay and I were stuck (alas and alack!) with a plethora of cheesecake squares. Regardless of how hard we tried get rid of them, we kept finding ourselves in the kitchen with our fingers in the pan and crumbs round the lips. Luckily, these bars work equally well as breakfast, a mid-day snack or a satisfying dessert, as we can now attest.

I (very sacrificially) made the recipe a second time, tweaking the amounts to arrive at one panful of cheesecake squares. And then, you know, that pan needed to be eaten as well, and cheesecake squares are rather hard to give away, being delicate and needing refrigeration and all. So I may be done with pumpkin cheesecake squares with gingersnap crusts for a little while, like at least a week or so. But I hope you’ll give them a try.

These squares would be equally at home in a lunch box, on a buffet at a cocktail party, or sliced into triangles and served with a dollop of whipped cream, a drizzle of whiskey caramel sauce and some toasted pecans for an elegant plated dessert. Try adding some finely grated fresh ginger to the filling and top each square with a sliver of candied ginger for an extra gingery variation.

A word about squashes: the first time I made these, I had some very dense-fleshed ‘gold-nugget’ squash puree left over from these pumpkin cheesecake muffins. The cheesecake filling came out very firm and a brilliant orange, as you can see in the photos. This last time I used a butternut, and the filling turned out wetter and less firm, less orange. So if you’re going the roast-your-own squash route, I recommend a dense-fleshed variety such as gold nugget, red kuri, hokkaido or kabocha for the tastiest and most photogenic results. To roast your squash, cut it in half longways, place it cut side down on a lightly oiled baking sheet and stick it in a 375º oven for about an hour, or until soft and collapsed in places. Let it cool, scoop out the seeds and strings and discard them, then scoop the flesh into a food processor, discarding the skin. Blend until smooth. If your puree is watery, put it in a fine-mesh sieve for an hour or so.

Pumpkin Cheesecake Squares

Makes 1 9×12″ pan, or 24 2″ bars
Time: about 2 hours, plus 2 hours to chill
Gingersnap Crust
This recipe calls for half an egg. Odd, yes, so if you fancy, make a double batch of the dough and set half of it aside to roll out and cut into gingersnaps. Or just have half an egg lying around to add to a scramble or brush on a set of buns. To measure half an egg, break the egg into a bowl and beat well to combine. Measure out 2 tablespoons.

I’ve written this recipe to be as quick and easy as possible. For an extra-delicious crust, don’t spread the cookie dough directly into the pan; instead, wrap it and chill until firm, about 1 hour. Roll out to 1/8″ thick, and cut into 2″ squares. Place on a parchment-lined sheet pan, spaced 1″ apart, and bake for about 20 minutes, until firm and slightly darkened around the edges. Let cool completely, then grind finely in a food processor. Toss the cookie crumbs with two or three tablespoons of melted butter until they clump together, then press them evenly into the pan. Bake the crust for 10 minutes until toasty, let it cool slightly, then proceed with the recipe.

3 oz. (6 tablespoons or 3/4 stick) unsalted butter, softened but cool
1/3 cup (2 1/4 oz.) sugar
2 tablespoons molasses (unsulphured blackstrap)
1/2 egg (about 2 tablespoons)
5 1/2 oz. (1 cup plus 1 tablespoon) all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon powdered ginger
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon cloves
1/8 teaspoon allspice
Preheat the oven to 350º. Place a rack in the lowest position. Grease a 9×12″ (1/4 sheet) pan.
Cream together the butter and sugar in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle until light and fluffy. Add the molasses, then the egg, beating to combine after each. Sift together the dries, then add to the butter mixture and beat on low until just combined.
Using an offset spatula or moistened fingers, press and spread the dough into the prepared pan, making it as flat and smooth as possible. (Hint: if you scrape the bowl well enough, you can reuse it for the pumpkin filling.) Place in the oven on the lowest rack, and bake for about 20 minutes, until firm. Remove and set aside. Turn the oven down to 325º.
Pumpkin Cheesecake Filling

To ensure smooth cheesecake, have all your ingredients at room temperature. Be patient while mixing the batter, and don’t skimp on scraping down the sides of the bowl and the paddle. Keep the mixer on medium-low; anything higher will incorporate too much air into the batter, resulting in unsightly bubbles in the finished product. I can think of nothing more embarrassing.
12 oz. (about 1 1/2 cups) winter squash puree or canned pumpkin
12 oz. cream cheese
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar (6 1/2 oz.)
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon each cloves and allspice
3 eggs
3 tablespoons heavy cream or sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon whiskey or brandy
Line a large plate with a triple layer of paper towels and spread the squash puree evenly over. Place another triple layer on top (I don’t hate trees, I swear!) and top with another large plate. This will press out excess moisture and prevent a watery cheesecake. Get on with the rest of the cheesecake. When you’re ready to add the squash, remove the top plate, peel off the top layer of towels, grasp the bottom layer and flip the squash onto the plate. You should have 10 or 11 oz. of puree.
Beat together the cream cheese and sugar on low in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment until very smooth and well combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl and the paddle. Add the salt, spices and squash puree and beat until combined. Add the eggs one at a time, beating until combined and scraping down the sides of the bowl and the paddle between eggs. Beat in the cream, vanilla and booze until combined, scraping the paddle and bowl to incorporate thoroughly.
Spread the puree onto the baked gingersnap crust. Place in the 325º oven on the lower rack. Bake 25-35 minutes until the sides are just barely starting to puff up a bit. The center should wiggle like jello when you jostle it, but should not seem liquidy. Remove and let cool 10 minutes.
Sour Cream Topping
12 oz. sour cream, at room temperature
1/4 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch salt
Beat all together to combine. You can use a bowl and spoon for this. Gently drop spoonfuls of the mixture onto the outer edge of the cheesecake, then use an offset spatula or the back of a spoon to carefully spread the mixture to evenly coat the cheesecake. Return to the oven for 5 minutes until set. Remove.
Let the cheesecake cool to room temp, about 1 hour, then chill for at least 2. Using a sharp knife dipped into hot water and dried between each cut, slice in the pan into squares (6 the long way by 4 the short way, or whatever size you like).