Highly favored among Thai desserts, this custard in a pumpkin or squash can be made ahead of time and is a luxurious and classy old school treat that can serve a crowd. In most cases, this Thai dessert is made using what in English is described as a Kabocha squash, rather than a pumpkin. The translation leap from Thai to English sometimes results in the word pumpkin, but the squash is preferred for reasons of flavor and ease of getting a proper size for the dessert. So why did I list the recipe as involving pumpkin? So you could find it, Chef, since that is how the dish is usually labelled. Sometimes you can’t fight the system.
How Is The Custard Made And Why The Big Old Squash?
The egg, coconut cream and palm sugar custard is steamed inside the squash, then cooled and cut into slices. The squash flesh is eaten as well to make a delicious and memorable dessert. Think of the squash as sort of a pie shell in which you are making the custard.
This is a do-well-ahead of time recipe as the preparation takes 15 minutes, the steaming about 30 minutes and cooling some hours, depending on how chilly your refrigerator is. So this dessert is best tackled in the morning and left to chill after making so it will be ready for an evening time meal.
The frond-like pandan leaf is a secret ingredient for giving this dessert a heavenly, vanilla-like fragrance and taste. If you cannot find this leaf in a Asian food specialty store, I recommend you use pandan extract (available in said Asian food specialty stores) or you can substitute vanilla extract. Please note these “extracts” are also labelled as “essence” or “liquid” or “concentrate” depending on the manufacturer but all those terms describe the same thing you need for cooking.
- 1 kabocha squash, the best being one that will fit in your steamer, about 10 inches high and 20 inches in circumference (you can use a pumpkin of the same size; just don’t try this with a big old jack o’ lantern-sized pumpkin as it won’t fit in the steamer)
- 1 cup coconut cream from a can with Aroy-D, Chao Koh and Savoy being the most consistent brands
- 2 cups palm sugar (if using the type of palm sugar that comes in a block, make sure to break it apart to it will mix easily with the other ingredients)
- 1 tablespoon rice flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 5 large eggs, plus 2 extra egg yolks for more luxury
- 1 pandan leaf or 4 drops of pandan extract (can substitute 4 drops vanilla extract)
Preparing The Steamer
- Place 3 inches of water in a steamer and place over medium high heat until the water reaches the boil. After the water reaches a boil, reduce the heat to medium low so only a steady plume of steam rises.
- While you are waiting for the water to boil, cut around the stem of the squash and remove the top with the stem still intact. We will use this as a lid for the custard, so retain it and scrape off any unsightly seeds or tendrils from this cute little squash stem top. We will be steaming it with the rest of the squash soon.
- Make the hole in the top large enough for you to remove the seeds and fibers inside. Take out the seeds and fibers from inside the squash and discard them. Thoroughly wash the inside of the squash and let it drain upside down on a kitchen towel.
Making The Custard
- Now we will make the custard from the other ingredients. Take a medium bowl, crack open the eggs, add the eggs and egg yolks, and beat the eggs until the yolks and whites are well combined.
- Add the coconut cream, palm sugar, salt, flour and pandan leaf. If using the pandan leaf, you would bruise it with your fingers and tie it into a simple knot and submerge it in mixing bowl with the other ingredients so the flavor leaks out.
- If not using a pandan leaf, you can add the pandan extract or vanilla extract. Using a whisk, combine all the ingredients until the sugar is dissolved in the liquid.
- Pass this mixture through a wire mesh strainer and discard any thing left in the strainer – this strained liquid will give you the smoothest and most attractive looking custard.
- Add the custard to the squash shell. If the volume of the liquid does not reach near the top of the squash, add more coconut cream until the volume of the custard mixture nearly reaches 9/10ths of the way to the top of the inside of the squash. During cooking, the custard will expand and likely reach the top of your fine squash. Having the cooked custard fill the squash shell will look impressive and professional when you plate and serve the dessert, Chef.
- Place the filled squash on a heatproof plate inside the steamer. Also place the squash stem top in the steamer on the place alongside the squash; it looks cool when you present the custard to your approving guests. Place the steamer lid on the steamer.
- The total cooking time can be as long as 50 minutes. For the first phase, let the custard steam for 20 minutes and then check to make sure there is enough water in your steamer. If the water has evaporated out, add boiling water to the steamer bottom. Continue cooking for another 30 minutes over that gentle and soothing plume of steam. You will know the custard is ready when the flesh of the squash can be easily pierced with a toothpick from the outside and the toothpick comes out clean.
- When you are satisfied the squash is cooked, but has not started to disintegrate and fall in on itself, carefully removed the squash from the steamer by removing the steaming rack with the custard it. Let the squash custard cool until it can be touched without burning your fingers. The custard must cool and set until firm; once the custard has cooled enough to be moved without burning your fingers, you can remove it from the steaming rack and place it in the refrigerator until the custard fully sets.
- Once the custard had cooled and set, you may carefully cut it into slices. The best practice is to take a large chef’s knife, dip it in hot water and then make a confident, rapid slice.
- You can decorate the squash with nasturtiums or other edible flowers. Place the steamed stem top on the display as well – for some reason, guests love to play with it!