Butternut squash mille–feuille
with ginger-candied squash and whipped five-spice crème anglaise
“Peruse Pressroom’s dessert menu, and it’s easy to see that Miranda Kohout is no traditionalist. (Lemongrass granita with Champagne gel, anyone?) Turns out, though, for all her dishes’ wit and whimsy, they’ve all got one thing in common: her past. “This one has hardcore childhood roots for me,” Miranda says. “My aunt Karen made wedding cakes when I was very little—she was the dessert maker of my mom’s side of the family. Every year, she made me Napoleons for my birthday. I don’t even know why we had Napoleons the first time—if it was leftover puff pastry, or something she just threw together—but I remember thinking, I love this.” This butternut squash confection is a grown-up version of that birthday treat, “kind of a fantasy dessert of mine,” she says.
FOR THE CRÈME ANGLAISE:
1 cup heavy cream, plus 2 tablespoons
3 large egg yolks
¾ teaspoon five-spice powder
Place egg yolks in bowl of a blender and process a few seconds. Bring cream to boil in a small saucepan. With blender running on low, carefully pour hot cream over egg yolks in a steady stream. Increase speed to medium and process for a few seconds. Transfer anglaise to a small metal bowl and place in a larger bowl of ice water. Once anglaise has cooled, whisk in five-spice powder. Cover and chill overnight. When ready to use, whisk with electric beaters or in a stand mixer until fluffy.
FOR THE GINGER-CANDIED SQUASH:
1 small butternut squash
¾ cup water
¾ cup sugar
½ teaspoon ground ginger
Use a vegetable peeler to remove the skin from a small, long section of squash. Continue to use peeler to create strips of squash. Strips of any width are fine, but try to make sure strips are as long as possible. Place strips in a shallow bowl or container.
Combine water, sugar and ginger. Bring to a boil and stir occasionally to make sure sugar is dissolved. Pour hot syrup over squash strips and allow to cool to room temperature. Strain strips from cooled syrup and allow strips to drain on a cooling rack. The strips can be stored, flat, between layers of waxed paper and kept in refrigerator.
FOR THE BUTTERNUT SQUASH CUSTARD:
1 medium-sized butternut squash
2 tablespoons butter, softened
Salt and nutmeg to taste
½ cup brown sugar
3 large eggs
½ cup heavy cream
½ teaspoon allspice
¾ teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon nutmeg, freshly grated
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon salt
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut squash in half lengthwise. Scoop out seeds and discard. Rub cut side of each half with about a tablespoon of butter and sprinkle with salt and nutmeg to taste. Place halves cut-side down on a foil-lined sheet pan. The amount of time required to bake the squash will vary depending on the size. Check for doneness after 20 minutes, then every 8 minutes until squash is soft to touch.
Allow squash to cool, then remove skin with a large spoon. Puree roasted squash in a blender or food processor until smooth and silky. Measure out 2 cups of puree and save any extra for another use.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Whisk squash puree and remaining ingredients together in a large bowl until completely incorporated. Pour into a foil-lined quarter-sheet pan. Place pan containing custard into a larger pan at least 1-inch deep. Place the pans in the oven, then fill the outer pan with hot water so that water reaches about ¾ of the way up sides of smaller pan.
Bake for 20 minutes, then check custard. When done, it will be set throughout. Continue to check every 5 minutes to prevent over-baking. Allow cooked custard to cool to room temperature, then cover and store in refrigerator until you’re ready to use it.
FOR THE PUFF PASTRY:
NOTE: Using purchased puff pastry from the freezer section of your local supermarket is also perfectly acceptable. Follow package instructions.
3 cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
4 sticks cold butter, cut into ½-inch pieces
1 cup sour cream or whole-milk Greek yogurt
Combine dry ingredients in bowl of a food processor. Sprinkle butter pieces over dry ingredients and pulse in food processor until largest piece of butter is size of a whole almond. Transfer butter mixture to a large bowl and stir in sour cream or yogurt by hand. Once sour cream is completely distributed, transfer mixture to your countertop and knead until it just comes together. Divide dough into 2 roughly equal pieces. Wrap 1 piece and store in refrigerator.
Roll or pat remaining piece into a rectangle about the size of a piece of paper. Try to keep edges and corners as straight and square as you can. Fold rectangle in thirds, like a letter. Turn your “letter” 90 degrees, so that short sides are at top and bottom. Roll again into a rectangle about the size of a piece of a paper and fold in thirds. Wrap dough and allow it to rest in refrigerator for at least an hour, but ideally overnight. Repeat process with second piece of dough.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Remove dough from the refrigerator and roll first piece to ¼-inch thickness, maintaining rectangle shape. Cut larger rectangle in half and place each half on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Repeat with second piece of dough. Prick each piece of dough with fork, covering entire surface of the dough. You will need only 3 sheets of baked pastry for the mille-feuille. Save extra dough to make turnovers.
Bake for 10-15 minutes, until golden brown. Allow to cool on pans.
FOR THE MILLE-FEUILLE:
About 20 minutes before you’re ready to build the mille-feuille, move custard to freezer. This will help it firm up and make it easier to handle.
Flip semi-frozen custard out of pan onto a plastic-wrap-lined cutting board. Carefully remove foil from custard. Cut custard in half, lengthwise.
Working quickly, transfer one custard half onto one sheet of baked puff pastry. Top custard with a second piece of pastry. Transfer second half of custard to the top of this stack. Top with final piece of baked pastry.
With a large, serrated knife (a bread knife is ideal), trim edges of pastry and custard to a tidy rectangle. Cut this large rectangle into your desired shape. Mille-feuille are commonly cut into small rectangles, but size and shape is up to you. The mille-feuille can be assembled up to 4 hours before you are going to serve it. Any longer and the puff pastry will absorb too much moisture and become soggy. Serve on top of crème anglaise and top with ginger-candied squash.