According to USA Today, Spam will join an increasing amount of pumpkin spice foods this fall. What started with pie and lattes has extended to pretzels, breakfast cereals, toaster pastries, and much more. Try this maple custard served in a pumpkin if cinnamon-tinged canned meats aren’t your thing.
The autumnal flavor of pumpkin spice has taken over the culinary world, with a seemingly endless amount of foods and drinks now offering a cinnamon-and-nutmeg variety. Spam, the popular canned meat, is the latest to join in on the craze. If that doesn’t sound like something you’d like to serve up at Thanksgiving, consider this alternative from Chef-Instructor Bill Briwa of The Culinary Institute of America: a maple custard, spiced with hazelnuts and bourbon, served in a pumpkin. Excerpts of Chef Briwa’s cooking discussion about this side dish have been included in this article. As taught in his course, The Everyday Gourmet: Cooking with Vegetables, the following are some tips to get you started.
Preparing the Vessel
Depending on which time of the year you make the dish, pumpkins may not be available, so you can serve it in an acorn squash. If you can get a pumpkin, try to get one similar in size to an acorn squash. Keep in mind that, most likely, the pumpkin will not stand up straight on its own. Chef Briwa recommends making a “collar” (or ring) of tin foil in which to place the serving vegetable to help it stand while you prepare it. Before you prep, cook it at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for about an hour. Then the preparation can really begin.
First, cut down at an inward angle around the outside of the pumpkin, near the top. Cut all the way around, then remove the top and the innards and seeds, just like you would when building a jack-o’-lantern. Then pierce into the flesh around the crown with a fork and put the whole vegetable back in the oven for 20 minutes, which Chef Briwa says should be just enough time for you to make your custard.
Make a base with equal parts milk and cream, heating slowly in a pot while adding some granulated maple sugar—which is available in stores. “The nice thing about adding some to the cream is [that] it changes the cream so it won’t scorch and burn on the bottom of the pot,” Chef Briwa said. Then add more of the granulated maple sugar to egg yolks and whip them.
Chef Briwa emphasized the need to temper the yolks, slowly adding and whisking in a bit of the hot cream mixture at a time. “Little by little, what’s happening is, I’m bringing the temperature of these eggs up,” he said. “I temper them so I don’t shock and cook them.” Otherwise, he warned, you’ll have scrambled eggs floating in cream. Then flavor the custard with a bit of coffee extract and vanilla.
Cooking and Serving
While the custard, the pumpkin, and the oven are all hot, pour the custard into the pumpkin and cook in the oven at 325 degrees Fahrenheit for 35 to 40 minutes until the custard sets. As they cook, there’s one more step.
“We’re going to put some hazelnuts on top,” Chef Briwa said. “But I want these hazelnuts to be spiced, so I’ve got some allspice and some cinnamon and a little bit of that maple sugar, and we’ll just put those things right on the nuts. If we want the seasoning to stick to the nuts, what better way than a little bit of bourbon? Don’t put so much that they get soggy—just enough so that the seasonings will stick.”
Finally, before serving, put the hazelnuts on the cooked pumpkin and add some salt on top of the seasoned hazelnuts. For added intrigue and decoration, Chef Briwa recommended putting the top—or lid—of the pumpkin back on before serving.
Excerpts of Chef-Instructor Bill Briwa’s cooking discussion about side dishes with acorn squashes and pumpkins, from his course The Everyday Gourmet: Cooking with Vegetables, have been included in this article. Briwa worked in the hospitality business as a professional chef and culinary instructor for more than 30 years. He was the resident chef for The Hess Collection Winery in the Napa Valley, California; the executive chef for The Wine Spectator Restaurant at the CIA at Greystone; and an officer on the board of the St. Helena Farmers’ Market.