Butternut Squash and Candy Cap Mushroom Crème Brûlée
Photo by Sara Remington courtesy of Viking Studio, "The Wild Table"
Twenty-five years ago I tried to explore using candy caps' potential beyond just making very good cookies. Making a candy cap crème brûlée way back then seemed near the pinnacle of culinary swankiness. Now, some overall refined gourmands regard crème brûlées as a tad pedestrian. But crème brûlée is as common as cotton because it was delicious back then, and it's still delicious now.
I adore candy caps with butternut squash. Incorporating squash into this crème brûlée makes a complex and heavenly dessert.
Extracting the candy caps' flavor is nicely done here by simmering the dried mushrooms in cream. The same method can also take you to an ice cream or custard recipes. Do go to the extra trouble of making the candy cap sugar for the top of your crème brûlée. Any leftover sugar is a great prize. You'll keep returning to the jar to open it, smell it, and dip little spoonfuls of it into this and that.
1 medium butternut squash (2 pounds), peeled, seeded, and cut into 2-inch pieces
3 cups heavy cream
¼ ounce dried candy cap mushrooms
5 large egg yolks
2/3 cup Candy Cap Sugar (see tips below)plus ½ to 1 cup more for caramelizing tops
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
Position a rack in the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Place the butternut squash and ½ cup water in a 9 x 13-inch backing dish. Cover with aluminum foil, Cook for 35 to 40 minutes, or until soft and tender. Place the squash in a fine-mesh strainer over a large bowl or in the sink and let drain for 30 minutes to release excess moisture. Using a wooden spoon, press gently to extract all the liquid. Place the squash in the bowl of a food processor. purée until very smooth, Discard the liquid. Measure out ¾ cups of purée using any remaining in another recipe. Set aside.
Lower the oven to 325°F.
Arrange eight 6-ounce ramekins or baking dishes in a large roasting pan, Bring a large pot of water to a simmer while you finish making the crème brûlée custard.
Place the cream and candy cap mushrooms in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring just to a boil, then turn off the heat and let sit for 30 minutes, Strain the cream through a fine-mesh strainer into a bowl, pressing on the mushrooms to extract all of the infused cream.
Whisk together the egg yolks, 2/3 cup of the candy cap sugar, vanilla, lemon juice, and salt in a large bowl. Reheat the cream to a boil. Remove from the heat and slowly whisk the hot cream into the egg mixture. Whisk in the butternut squash purée. Strain through a fine-mesh strainer into a medium-size bowl. For a creamier texture, strain several times.
Divide the mixture among the 8 ramekins. Pour enough simmering water into the roasting pan to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins.
Bake for 25 minutes, or until just set. The very centers may still appear to be slightly jiggly. Remove the crème brûlées from the water bath and place the ramekins on wire racks to cool to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight.
Sprinkle 1 top 2 tablespoons of candy cap sugar evenly over the tops of each crème brûlée. Brown the tops using a blowtorch or by placing the ramekins under the broiler until the sugar is melted and bubbling. Wait 1 to 2 minutes for the sugar crust to cool and set up before serving.
Tips and Techniques
The drier the butternut squash purée, the better. Make sure to cook it until it us very tender, then give it the full time to release all of the excess liquid. This can be done a couple of days ahead of time. Refrigerate the purée until ready to use.
Substitutions and Variations
You can use regular or vanilla-infused sugar in place of the candy cap sugar.
Other winter squash varieties, such as acorn or kabocha squash, can be substituted for the butternut. Just be sure to precook the squash until very tender and to purée until smooth. Use the same amount of other squash as for the butternut.
If you'd like to add a little spice, try a pinch of cardamom or allspice. Too much, however, will overpower the delicate flavor of the candy cap mushrooms.