Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Butternut-Squash Spice Cookies with Orange Icing

Our potager gave us numerous Butternut squash of various sizes.  The smaller ones are just enough to provide roasted chunks for the glorification of pasta or to add to gnocchi making those little lumps of goodness tantalise even more. The hefty ones lend their largesse to soups and pies.

Some people don't care much for veggies in general and are quite shocked to find them in their desserts. They add colour, texture, and most of all, taste -- yeah, yeah, nutrition also, but let's keep that our little secret. Carrots, sweet potatoes, winter squash, and pumpkins are usually interchangeable, perhaps with a few adjustments, for making delicious pies, sweet quick breads, cookies, and cakes. Butternut has a lighter flavour than pumpkin, but heavier than carrot or sweet potato. Roasting brings out its sweetness and nuttiness.

One way to to tackle the work flow of making these cookies is to reserve some squash roasted for other reasons.  The surplus squash can be frozen and thawed when needed for this recipe.

makes about 23, 3-inch cookies

Roasted butternut squash puree, 4 fluid ounces of prepared puree
Flour, all-purpose, 12 fluid ounces plus 4 T
Baking soda, 1 tsp (keep in mind if you are going to substitute ingredients, that in order for the soda to be activated, there has to be an acid ingredient like crème fraîche, buttermilk, yogurt, or molasses)
Cinnamon, 1/2 tsp
Nutmeg, 1/4 tsp (already ground is OK, but grating your own is much better)
Cloves, 1/4 tsp
Butter, unsalted, room-temperature, 8 T
Sugar, vanilla or plain, 8 fluid ounces
Egg, 1
Vanilla extract (if not using vanilla sugar), 1/2 tsp
Crème fraîche, 2 T
For the icing: 8 fluid ounces of sifted, powdered sugar, up to 4 T of freshly squeezed orange juice, 1/2 tsp of finely grated orange zest

To roast squash, preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Scrub and dry squash. Using a sharp, strong knife (ceramic knives are fantastic for difficult slicing), pare off a slice from each end. Placing the larger flat end securely on a surface, halve it lengthwise or cut it in two pieces first before halving it lengthwise. The latter is easier to do and small pieces roast faster.

Thoroughly scoop out the seeds with a sturdy spoon. Be sure to scrap off all fibrous bits. Seeds can be reserved and roasted with flavouring for delicious snacks and toppings.

Melt butter in a small saucepan. Coat each piece, place cut side down on a parchment-lined oven pan, and put in oven for about forty-five minutes.

While roasting, the squash emits an earthy and appetising fragrance. When done, they test via a knife tender all the way through, the skin is blistered and the flesh carmelised. 

Let cool and then scoop out the delectable squash. Mash well and reserve.

Start making the batter. Vanilla sugar is very popular in France, though vanilla extract is used also. To make your own vanilla sugar, put several used (washed and dried), split vanilla pods in a large jar of sugar and let steep for a few weeks.

In a large bowl, cream sugar into softened butter till it looks like mashed potatoes.  A stick mixer/stand mixer or a fork can be used. Manual labour will take probably about ten minutes while the electric helper will do it in three.

Add the beaten egg and mix well. Then stir in the crème fraîche and butternut squash puree until well blended.

Mix together the spices, flour, and baking soda in a smaller bowl.

Stir dry ingredients into wet, just mixing enough to moisten and to bring together.

Refrigerate for an hour for the dough to become more workable. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Place rounded (not heaping!) tablespoons of dough on parchment-lined cookie pans.

While les petites gateaux (little cakes which is what the French call cookies) are baking, gather the ingredients for the orange icing and reserve as it needs to be made close to use since it hardens readily. Once the cookies are out of the oven and cooling on a rack, then stir the sifted powdered sugar, zest, and juice together.

Start with one or two tablespoons of juice and add more to get a dipping/dribbling consistency. I used four tablespoons.

Cookies are done when edges or slightly brown which is about twelve minutes. Let stiffen for a minute or two, and then lift with a spatula onto a cooling rack. If you don't have such a rack, remember to remove one from your oven before you heat it. When they are completely cool, either dip the top surface into the icing or dribble it onto the cookies while still on the rack (put a tray under the rack to catch any surplus). Let icing harden. If there is extra icing, you could make some filled cookies: split like an English muffin, spread the icing on the bottom, and put on the top half.

These cookies are wonderful with a rich, dense texture like cake while being crisp on the edges and bottom, a dreamy creaminess of pumpkin-like flavour/aroma, and sweetness tinged with tartness. They keep for about three days in an air-tight container at room temperature and longer in the fridge. They taste good warm, at room temperature, or cold. And if that was not enough, they can be frozen so one does not have to eat all of them quickly.

À la prochaine!