Gratitude to the culinary grace of cookery writer Dorie Greenspan for these wonderful Custardy Apple Squares. She writes that she sees the recipe in the link as a “back-pocket recipe.” In the few weeks this recipe has been in my life, I’ve come to consider it a “back-pack” for the ways that it can travel, light and flexibly, be adapted to ingredients on hand, rise to an attitude of perfection or laziness as befits one’s mood, and sit somewhere on a continuum of cake, tea time snack, and pudding (in the various British senses). And it doesn’t seem to go wrong.
Custardy Apple Squares are great because they fit a template approach to cooking that makes space for creativity, thrift, and seasonality which the specifics of many recipes can sometimes disempower in a less-than-confident cook. As I was making them, I thought through possibilities of different ingredients, varying proportions to get something more custardy, gluten-free and sugar-reduction choices I could be making, playing with savoury vs sweet, adding herbs/ spices / dried fruit/ almond meal… as well as playing with presentation, such as making individual puddings in muffin tins reminding one of those French vegetable custards (name of which I forget). You can learn a lot through contemplating this recipe, or you can just leave it alone and have something very easy to make and beautiful in its lightness and simplicity. I urge you to try it and make it your own.
I made these “custardy squares” several times with apples– not sweet ones as Dorie Greenspan suggests but rather bruised windfalls from a neighbour’s garden that needed lots of cutting away– and the result was lovely for its tartness (and felt quite like Apple Kugel). Kids loved it when I served it hot with vanilla ice cream.
Since then I’ve been inspired to make versions with squash and with quince, which I want to share here for various things I learned doing them.
This was a beautiful (dense orange fleshed) squash that was part of a Halloween display in a supermarket. I could not resist buying it. But cutting it required strength and diligence, so I decided to lightly steam the pieces in order to peel the flesh easily — a #toptip, especially for anyone engaged in #PumpkinRescue.
Another perhaps obvious but essential tip that bears repeating: squash waste is WONDERFUL in stocks for soups and gravies. The more you have the better. Every bit you can save and reuse will reward you.
This was a small squash, and I tried to imagine the volume that would be equivalent to three apples, as per the Dorie Greenspan recipe. The custard is so easy to remember, and after doing it once you can kind of eyeball the amounts because exactitude doesn’t actually matter. Do try using Dorie’s specific instructions the first time, after that, you’ll remember.
- 1/2 cup flour (I tend to mix flours)
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- a pinch of salt THEN
- 1/3 sugar (which I tend to reduce because I have a lesser sweet tooth than others) beaten into
- 2 eggs
- 8 tablespoons milk (nut and seed milks possible substitutions– or even tiger nut milk!)
- then 2 tablespoons melted butter and
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract (seems important, though other extracts would be nice to vary with)
And mixed the squash with the batter, line your old brownie tin with baking paper and note that you might want to replace it.
And pour in the batter. Squash seems generous in its invitations, and I added apple juice-soaked prunes and barberries (wonderfully tart), and Mixed Spice (like Pumpkin Pie Spice) but noted that goji berries, dates, raisins, apples, pecans all would feel seasonal.
And bake for half an hour in a medium hot oven, then check. You want something that feels firm like a cooked custard, but not overdone.
This pudding got better as it sat and cooled. Felt more like something for grownups than kids– allusively delicious and a little bit between categories of taste. It didn’t cry for cream or icecream… felt like a nibble with a cup of black coffee more than a cake. Really good.
And thus I was inspired to give the QUINCES I’d been given a go.
Quinces are notoriously demanding to prepare, so I was inspired again to lightly steam them in order to peel and sliver. Honestly– #toptip again. This felt like such a labour and time saving approach.
(The skins and cores were chucked into a nascent Apple Kvass for a really marvelous, candy-like Quince-Apple Kvass.)
I easily (rather than tediously) cut three quinces into thin slices, and folded them into a batter, as above, to bake. A great, simple, perfect, easy quince dessert. And a great variation on the Dorie Greenspan Custard Apple Squares theme.
For the gift of the quinces, big thanks to Kate Raworth in whose garden, upon a tree, they grew. Kate works really really hard with her passion and intellectual brilliance to find ways to help us re-imagine economics, society and environment, through the concept of Doughnut Economics. Wish I’d made Quince Doughnuts with her quinces, just to say “Ta muchly.”