Every time we taste the lovely, caramel-y sweet flavors of roasted butternut squash, it reminds us of dessert. Armed with a sharp knife and a few favorite pastry formulas, we used that flavor to develop three modern desserts that celebrate the bounty of the season.
Pumpkin has a long history of being used for desserts, and we’ve had wonderful results substituting butternut squash into our traditional pumpkin pie recipe. But it’s just too good to be limited to a once-a-year dessert, and our farmers’ markets are overflowing with beautiful squash, inspiring us go beyond the traditional custard pie and develop three modern takes on this seasonal favorite.
Bars, Tarts and Pie Strips
Our butternut bars have none of the spices of a more traditional dessert, instead we’ve swapped them out for a crave-worthy caramel glaze. The second dessert, our french-style tart, only looks fussy — it actually comes together quickly with an easy gingersnap pâte sucrée, great for anyone fond of ginger. And the casual, rustic pie strip treats the roasted squash like a fruit, pairing it with a tangy apricot glaze and a classic flaky pie crust.
For all three of these desserts we’ve used roasted butternut squash slices, but you can also use fresh pumpkin or even delicata squash, which is especially delicious with the caramel flavors of the Bars. We found it convenient to make extra when roasting squash as a side dish for dinner, then mix up a quick crust and assemble the dessert the next day. For the most elegant presentation, keep the squash slices thin, about ⅛ inch or 32 mm.
Moisture-Proofing Pastry Crusts
Roasting concentrates the butternut flavor and reduces the water content, but even roasted squash still has enough moisture to soften crisp pastry if the dessert is not eaten the same day it is made. To extend the keeping quality of the pie and tart, we brushed fine-quality white chocolate over the warm, pre-baked crust to create a barrier from moisture. The white chocolate flavor stays in the background but adds a welcome bit of creamy, vanilla sweetness to these simple pies.
Another moisture-proofing method is to brush a little egg white over the crust shortly after it has come out of the oven, and this is the method we used with the caramel bars, because no additional sweetness is necessary with the caramel.
Preparing the Butternut Squash
For all of these desserts, prepare the squash by peeling it, halving it and then slicing it into ⅛ – ¼ inch / .3-.6 cm semicircles with a sharp knife. Toss the slices with about 4 tablespoons of melted butter and put them on a sheet pan. Sprinkle with ½ C / 57 g of brown sugar and a little salt. Roast the squash at 400 °F / 205 °C until soft with a few lightly caramelized edges. We used about 1¼ lbs / 568 g peeled and sliced squash for each of these desserts, but you can easily tweak that for more or less squash by changing how much overlap you give the slices when laying them on the crust.
Butternut Caramel Bars
For these kid favorites, we adapted a crispy shortbread cookie dough by using brown sugar instead of white and adding chopped pecans. With the earthy butternut squash and the sweet caramel, the mixture of flavors and textures is wonderful.
Pecan–Brown Sugar Shortbread
|Flour, All-Purpose||¾ C||100 g|
|Pecans, chopped||½ C||57 g|
|Sugar, Light Brown||½ C||113 g|
|Baking Soda||¼ tsp||2 g|
|Salt||⅛ tsp||1 g|
|Butter, soft||½ C||113 g|
To make the shortbread cookie base, grease a square square pan ( 8″ or 9″ / 20-23 cm) and preheat the oven to 350 °F / 177 °C. Put all the ingredients except the butter into a bowl and mix until well distributed. Then mix in the butter until uniform in texture. Spread into the pan and bake until lightly browned, 20-30 minutes at 350 °F. About four minutes after the shortbread comes out of the oven, brush it with a little lightly beaten egg white to help it stay nice and crisp. While the crust is cooling, make the caramel glaze, below.
|Water||¼ C||60 ml|
|Sugar||¾ C||150 g|
|Lyle’s syrup or corn syrup||1 T||20 g|
|Heavy cream||6 T / ⅜ C||90 ml|
|Butter||2 T||28 g|
|Vanilla||½ tsp||2 g|
Bring the water, syrup and sugar to a boil in a medium saucepan and stir to dissolve all the sugar. Then boil undisturbed until the syrup caramelizes, about 365-370 °F / 185-188 °C. Carefully add the cream and butter (the mixture will boil furiously) and continue to heat and stir until the caramel is dissolved. Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla. Cool for at least ten minutes before using.
To assemble the bars, unmold the crust when it has cooled and top with the roasted butternut squash slices. Then comes the best part: pour warm caramel over the top, allowing it to pool in all the nooks and crannies. Brush the glaze over any bits of squash that remain unglazed, then cut into bars and serve. It is best to pour the caramel over the bars within an hour or two before serving; the glaze can easily be made ahead and warmed up when ready to use.
For this easy yet elegant tart, we started with a simple 1-2-3 tart crust dough, then subbed dark brown sugar for the white sugar and added about a tablespoon of our favorite gingersnap spices. (For every 1 oz / 22 g of sugar there are 2 oz / 14 g of butter and 3 oz of flour / 75 g, hence the name 1-2-3 dough.) We also added a pinch of baking soda to help neutralize the acidity of the brown sugar. The forgiving dough can be rolled or pressed into the tart pan, and any cracks or holes can be patched by pressing in dough scraps. Fine quality white chocolate pairs wonderfully with the spicy pastry and the mellow squash.
1-2-3 Gingersnap Tart Crust
|Butter||½ C||113 g|
|Sugar, Dark Brown||¼ C||57 g|
|Ginger||1 tsp||6 g|
|Cinnamon||½ tsp||3 g|
|Nutmeg||¼ tsp||1.5 g|
|Cloves||⅛ tsp||0.75 g|
|All Purpose Flour||1 C + 1 T||161 g|
To make the Gingersnap tart crust, cream together the butter, sugar, spices, salt and baking soda until well blended. Fold in the flour and mix gently until the flour seems uniformly distributed, then press and knead the dough until it comes together. Roll or press the dough into the tart pan, cover and chill or freeze it. Preheat the oven to 375 °F /190 °C, then dock and blind bake the crust with pie weights until lightly browned and fragrant, about 20-30 minutes.
When the crust cools to lukewarm, brush the bottom with 2 oz / 35 grams of melted white chocolate to add sweetness and help the crust stay crisp. Arrange squash slices over the chocolate and add some pecans or whipped cream to garnish.
Rustic Butternut Strip Pie
For this rustic dessert, start with enough of your favorite flaky pie crust dough for an open-face (single crust) pie. Roll the dough into a rectangle, keeping in mind the dimensions of the pan you will use to bake the pie strip and the size of your serving dish or board. If using a long tart pan with sides, fit the dough to the pan. If baking the strip on a sheet pan, turn the long edges of the crust under to form a small border and crimp or flute the edge, if desired. Cover and chill for at least an hour.
We found that the pie can be equally successful with two different baking methods. The first works with squash that has already been roasted. The crust can be blind baked with weights (about 20-25 minutes at 425 °F/ 218 °C), then cooled and coated with 2 oz /35 grams of white chocolate. Top with the roasted squash slices, glaze with melted apricot preserves and garnish with pecans or whipped cream.
The second method is to bake the squash and crust together by topping the unbaked crust with slices of squash (uncooked) and baking the pie, open-face, until the squash is soft. With this option, toss the squash slices with melted butter and sprinkle with brown sugar (as described in “Preparing the Butternut Squash,” above) before baking. Be sure to check the pastry edges for overbrowning and cover with foil if necessary. Sprinkle extra brown sugar over the top of the pie to compensate for not using white chocolate on the crust. Glaze and garnish as above.