squash tart

African Squash Tart with Whipped Eggnog Topping

I’ve never been a fan of pumpkin pie. I like pumpkins. I like cinnamon. But the crust is never good, the filling isn’t creamy enough, and the spices are too timid. Here’s an alternative dessert I developed with my pastry chef, Chrysta Poulos. It has all the desirable qualities I never found in pumpkin pie. I like a tart crust that’s a little crumblier and thicker, like shortbread cookies. And I prefer a superrich filling. The reality is that pumpkins are too watery for pie filling. I only want pumpkins on my porch, not in my pie. African squash makes a much better filling because it contains less water and more sugar. It also gets silkier when pureed. African squash is a winter variety that came to Georgia via Zaire (now known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo), but it’s also grown in other places. If you can’t find it, any garden-variety butternut squash makes a good substitute. Either way, the method here is foolproof. You bake the tart crust, let it cool, pour in the filling, and let it set up. For fun, I garnish the tart with whipped eggnog, which thickens up just like whipped cream but tastes even better.

Makes one 11-inch tart

1 cup + 1 tablespoon, at room temperature

1/2 cup

2 large, lightly beaten

All-purpose flour
3 cups + a little more for rolling the dough

1/4 teaspoon

African squash cremeux (recipe follows)
about 3 cups

Whipped eggnog (recipe follows)
about 2 cups

  1. In a food processor fitted with the metal blade, cream the butter and sugar. While the processor is running, pour in the eggs, just until blended. Remove the lid of the processor bowl and evenly distribute the flour over the top of the mixture. Sprinkle the salt on top of the flour. Pulse to combine and blend just until the mixture comes together, about 20 seconds. The dough will be fairly soft, more like a cookie dough than a tart or pastry dough. Using a rubber spatula, scrape the dough onto a large sheet of plastic wrap. Wrap the dough with the plastic wrap, flatten it to a disk, and refrigerate until the dough is firm, about 2 hours.
  2. Spray an 11-inch removable-bottom tart pan with nonstick spray.
  3. Dust a clean, flat work surface generously with flour. Unwrap the dough, lay it on the work surface, and dust the top with flour. Rub some flour on your hands and rub the rolling pin with flour. Gently roll the dough into a 15-inch circle that’s ¼ inch thick all the way across. To make sure the dough doesn’t stick to the work surface, roll it in a single motion from the center to the edge. Turn the dough a quarter turn each time you roll, adding a little more flour to the work surface or the dough if it starts sticking. Four turns and it should be evenly rolled all the way around. Set the rolling pin near one edge of the circle and gently roll toward the center, picking up the dough with the pin. Center and unroll the dough over the tart pan, gently pressing the dough into the pan and up the sides, but being careful to press but not stretch the dough, which could cause it to shrink when baked. Using a sharp knife, cut around the edge of the tart pan and trim off excess crust. Using a fork, evenly prick the entire bottom of the crust. This docking step will ensure the crust does not puff up while cooking. Refrigerate the tart shell until the dough is firm, about 30 minutes.
  4. Preheat the oven to 375°F.
  5. Bake the crust until golden brown, 20 to 22 minutes. You want the crust to be a nice deep brown, the color of strong iced tea. It should be completely cooked and crispy. Place the tart pan on a cooling rack and cool to room temperature.
  6. Fill the tart shell to the rim of the crust with the cremeux filling. Cover and refrigerate until set, at least 2 hours. Serve with a dollop of whipped eggnog.

Whipped Eggnog
Makes about 2 cups

Heavy cream
1 cup

Egg yolk

Powdered sugar
2 tablespoons

Spiced rum
1 tablespoon

Freshly grated nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon

Vanilla extract
just a drop

Ground cinnamon
a teeny pinch

  1. Chill a large mixing bowl and whisk. Or, if you prefer to use an electric mixer, chill the mixer bowl and whip attachment. Add the cream to the bowl and whisk or whip until it starts to thicken up. Add the egg yolk and powdered sugar to the cream and continue beating until the mixture forms soft peaks when the whisk or whip is lifted. Add the rum, nutmeg, vanilla, and cinnamon and beat just to combine.

African Squash Cremeux
Makes about 3 cups, enough for 1 pie

African squash
2 pounds

Powdered unflavored gelatin
4 teaspoons

1/4 cup

Heavy cream
1 cup

Whole milk
1/2 cup

1/2 teaspoon

Ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon

Ground cloves
a pinch

Freshly grated nutmeg
a pinch

Egg yolks

1/3 cup

  1. Peel the squash and cut it into chunks; you should have about 4 cups. Transfer the squash to a 4-quart pot and add about 6 cups water, or enough to cover the squash completely. Bring the squash to a boil over high heat, then cut the heat down to maintain a gentle boil and cook until the squash is very tender, about 20 minutes. Drain the squash and puree it in a high-powered blender or food processor until smooth. Run the puree through a sieve and discard the solids. You should have about 1¼ cups puree.
  2. Scatter the gelatin over the water in a small bowl and let it soften for a few minutes.
  3. Combine the squash puree, cream, milk, salt, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg in a 4-quart pot and set over medium-high heat. Bring the mixture up to just under a boil. Bubbles will start forming around the edge of the pan.
  4. While the squash mixture is heating, beat the egg yolks and sugar in a large bowl until smooth. Mix some of the hot squash mixture into the yolks to temper them so they won’t scramble, and then whisk the tempered yolks into the squash. Return the pot to medium heat and, stirring nonstop, cook the mixture until it thickens, or as my granny would say, “until it coats a spoon.” When you dip a spoon into the mixture and take it out and drag your finger across the back of the spoon, the mixture should be thick enough so that the line stays clean. Or, for ultimate precision, you can use a thermometer. The mixture will be ready at 160°F, in about 10 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and stir a little of the warm squash mixture into the gelatin. Then stir the tempered gelatin into the squash mixture. Stir the mixture until the gelatin is completely dissolved, about a minute. Strain the mixture through a sieve and blend with a stick blender or upright blender. All this straining and blending will result in a velvety, creamy pie. Once it’s smooth, cool the filling to room temperature, stirring every now and then.