I look forward to the autumn season every year. The leaves and landscape beginning to change colors. The earth beginning to hibernate. The brisk smell of smoke and leaves hovering in the air. The dissonant sound of leaves clashing with cement underfoot. Drawing the hot chocolate out from the back of the cupboard. Snuggling under a warm blanket, sipping apple cider, and reading a good (cook)book. These are my favorite moments of fall.
Last weekend, I went rock climbing with a few friends. We drove an hour outside the bustling city of Montreal and into the heart of the Quebec countryside. I was floored. Coming from the plains of North Dakota, it is rare to see more than a small cluster of trees at a time. Quebec has thick forests that spread out for miles and miles over the gently rolling hills. And the colors! Dark greens, light greens, orange, red, pink. All in transition. Gorgeous.
It was one of those perfect fall afternoons. The sun was shining, the air was chilled, and the wind smelled heavily of the death before spring's rebirth. We traipsed through the worn forest paths to conquer the rocks.
And conquer them, I did.
There are very few moments more compelling than climbing a difficult rock face, reaching the top, bruised and battered, and being greeted with this. The sun setting over the vibrant forest beneath my feet. I was the queen of my own domain.
This butternut squash showcases the flavors of autumn. Cinnamon and nutmeg compliment the deep flavors of the squash beautifully. The caramelized sugar crust adds just the right amount of texture. This custard is comfort food at its finest. After a long day out in the brisk fall air, this hits the spot. Perfectly.
Butternut Squash Custard
Yields 6 servings
1 small (~1 kg) butternut squash
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
6 tablespoons sugar (optional)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
Cut the butternut squash in half, length-wise. Remove the seeds and lightly oil the cut side of the squash. Place the two halves on a baking pan, cut-side down. Bake in the oven for 45 minutes, or until the squash is roasted. Remove the squash from the oven and allow to cool on a cooling rack until you are able to handle it.
Scrape out the flesh put it in a food processor or blender. Blend the squash until it becomes a smooth puree (no lumps!).
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the squash puree, cream, eggs, maple syrup, cinnamon, and nutmeg until it is smooth. Divide the batter evenly among the 6 ramekins. Place the ramekins in a water bath, where the water reaches half way up the ramekin. Bake in the oven for 30 minutes, or until the custard is fully set.
The next step is optional, but I think it tastes fantastic. Sprinkle a tablespoon of sugar onto each custard and switch the oven to broil. Broil until the sugar fully caramelizes. Watch the custards closely so the sugar does not burn!
Serve hot, at room temperature, or chilled.