Hello and welcome to the fourth part in my series Baking with Confidence. Baking my way through Claire Saffitz’ “Dessert Person”. My goal is to cook through every recipe in order, slowly making my way through the entire book in one year. The second recipe in the book is Kabocha Turmeric Tea Cake. Claire made this easy for me with a classic recipe but with a new twist. Let’s get into it!
All right guys I am going to be straight up you from the get go, I had no clue what kabocha is, was, or tasted like. When I first read the title of the recipe I thought it said Kombucha, the fermented tea. Which I thought made perfect sense since it was a TEA cake, but my husband quickly read over my shoulder correcting me. This a frequent issue I have (thank goodness he’s tall enough to read over my shoulder), but neither of us knew what this mythical squash was. I bet you we spent about 5 minute going back and forth together guessing different ways to pronounce this hypothetical squash.
After reading through the recipe and now knowing it was not in fact a type of fermented tea that my husband makes in his fermentation station, I had an entirely different path the follow. My first thought was to text my father, the plant man himself and then my mother in law, the plant lady. Whenever I have a question about plants I call or text my father (and so do others in my life) because he is Mr. Granola (in the very best way!). Being the anti-tech man he is, his reply took a few days and was as simple as they come.
F: Nope. Never heard of it.
I then proceeded to text my mother in law, but here is where so many funny moments in my life happen. My mother in law and boss have the same name, luckily I have a great friendship with my boss so it makes these conversation less embarrassing. I am sure you can see where I am going with this, but I text my boss asking about a squash. Being the wonderful woman she is she thoughtfully replied.
Boss: Nope, never heard of it! But let me know when you do.
After my amusing conversation with my boss I made sure to text my mother in law and with the way things were going you’ll probably guess she had never heard of it either. After this run around I then decided to do a google search, (some of you might have wondered why I didn’t start there, I know my husband does). I can’t explain it one way or another, but sometimes asking others is the best source of information over Google. Diving into the recipe, I hoped Claire would explain more about the mysterious squash-that-isn’t-fermented-tea, but all I could gather was her thought process behind creating this wonderful twist to a classic recipe.
Claire says that this is her personal twist on the very widely loved (looking at you starbucks) pumpkin bread. Now, pumpkin bread holds a very high place in my heart. My grandmother made me pumpkin bread my whole life. She lived in Florida and when she would fly up to visit me she would make three or four loaves, freeze them, and then stock up my freezer. I would then ration it out until the next time I saw her. To this date I still can’t make pumpkin bread quite as good as her. Claire does mention in her notes that you can substitute the kabocha squash for canned pumpkin if that’s what you have on hand.
Discovering that the mystical squash comes from east Asia, I couldn’t wipe the grin off my face. My husband knew this meant a special trip to a store near and dear to my heart. The reason out local Asian grocery store means so much to me stems from childhood trips there with my father. He was the chef in the house growing up and cooked a lot of tofu-based, asianiinspired dishes. Almost every week we’d go to the local Asian market and restock. To folks who don’t frequent Asian markets, the specific smell (especially stores with fresh fish markets, like ours) can be off-putting, but to me it nostalgic. Taking a deep breath (through our face masks of course), we raided the store for all it’s delicious spices, fresh produce, and snacks. Full of shrimp and seaweed chips we returned home with the elusive kabocha squash!
As a self proclaimed professional at home chef I actual have a lot of thoughts about this recipe. I feel like I could test multiple different variations before settling on a recipe I best prefer. With that being said, I will be adding my changes to the recipe, but like always I am trying my best to stick closely to the recipe at hand. Claire states to roast the squash whole on an oiled pan for 50-60 minutes. I would lightly season with salt and pepper or maybe put some light aromatics in the pan next time. If you have never cooked fresh pumpkin or similar squashes you will discover that they have a very mild flavor. This carries over into the overall recipe.
I always try to start by having my ingredients prepared (mise en place if you watch too much cooking channel), again, this is the best thing you can do for yourself in the kitchen. Prep your ingredients in advance because throwing together the batter goes so fast and you’re in and out of the kitchen before you know it! Seeing my ingredients in front of me again makes me wonder if maybe glazing the raw squash with maple syrup before roasting might have been an interesting alternative.
From the list above you can see some spices you might not have in your spice drawer. Don’t fret because I have the answer! Turmeric is a lovely spice and adds the earthy warmth and beautiful golden coloring to this cake, but if you don’t have turmeric feel free to use the following spices: saffron, or a combination of ginger and cumin. As for Garam Masala, it can be substituted for something more common such as cinnamon or a combination of cumin and allspice. These two spices are very common in Indian and Thai dishes, if you have never had a curry before I’d highly recommend making some time for a delicious dinner. I have a food allergy to coriander/cilantro which are included in Garam Masala, so I used the alternatives as a replacement.
The batter itself came together rather simply, and was like most loaf cakes. Claire makes it so easy to follow along that it all goes by in a breeze! The last step before spooning it into a coconut oiled loaf pan is to fold in the roasted and PEELED pumpkin seeds. Which, since I’m not a seed or nut eater myself, I didn’t realize was something people even did. Who peels pumpkin seeds anyway? So here I sat boiling my pumpkin seeds, slowly peeling the slippery little things, and then re-roasting them! CHAOS! My husband walked into the kitchen to see what I was doing and promptly walked out and went straight to the store to find me some roasted pepitas to correct my stupid? idiotic? hilarious? mistake All of the above.
Once back on track, the recipe went off without a hitch. It baked for the exact amount of time Claire suggests in the cookbook. The house smelled wonderfully savory, and gave me the time to talk with my husband about what might make a good tea pairing to go with this TEA cake. Him being the tea man, I requested a drink pairing. He promptly made me a golden milk latte which is a milk, turmeric, ginger, cinnamon, and honey over a shot of espresso (espresso optional!). Y
This earthy cake was a very interesting take on pumpkin bread that made the rounds to many friends’ porches for tasting. Such a unique flavor combination I had to (safely) share it with all the foodies in my life. Check out the video below to watch me bake through the recipe.
Next recipe for Baking with Confidence is Mascarpone Cake with Red Wine Prunes
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See you next time for Marscapone Cake with Red Wine Prunes.