Custard-in-a-pumpkin

Tired of being assailed by cans of pumpkin purée everywhere you look, or maybe you just don't really care for pumpkin pie? Hollowed-out sugar pumpkins are filled with coconut custard in this delightful Cambodian dessert

Pickles and Tea
Scoop out a smaller sugar pumpkin and fill it with a coconut custard. After the pumpkin bakes and then cools, it will be soft enough to slice into individual wedges.
Pickles and Tea
Cut the pumpkin into 4 to 8 wedges and serve cold or warm (reheat in the microwave).

Before I moved to the United States as a college student some 20 years ago, my only knowledge of the ubiquitous fall fruit (or is it a vegetable?), the orange, ribbed pumpkin (cucurbita pepo), was from Disney’s “Cinderella.”

Yes, as a little girl, I thought all pumpkins turned into horse-drawn carriages at the wave of a wand.

During my first American Thanksgiving, I got to know pumpkin pie and in later years, was introduced to pumpkin pie lattes (thank you, Starbucks!). Though pumpkin pie wasn’t, and still isn’t, a favorite, my husband’s infectious enthusiasm for the pie won me over.

I can still remember the first time my husband – who was then my boyfriend – made it for me from scratch, crust and all, using his friend’s mom’s recipe. He was so excited and so proud of himself, I couldn’t not enjoy it. Especially when topped with a blizzard’s worth of freshly whipped cream. These days, I’m the one who makes the pumpkin pie, thanking my lucky stars for canned pumpkin purée and frozen pie crust.

Then, there was the one time we were living in England and nary a can of pumpkin puree was in sight. I actually roasted a whole pumpkin and scraped out its flesh for purée. Never again.

Since my first encounter with cucurbita pepo, I have expanded my pumpkin repertoire. I’ve come to embrace kabocha, kuri, sugar pie, and dumpling. And when I’m assailed by pumpkins from all directions and don’t feel like making pumpkin pie, I’ll make this Cambodian-style pumpkin custard that Phiroum Svy taught me.

Perhaps you’d like to try it, too?

Custard-in-a-pumpkin (Num Sang Khya L’peou)

Hollowed-out pumpkins are filled with coconut custard in this delightful dessert that Phiroum Svy learned how to make from her grandma in Cambodia. When the pumpkin is cut, each wedge shows off the creamy yellow custard contrasting beautifully with the orange pumpkin flesh. Traditionally, larger pumpkins are used but Phiroum prefers to use cute little sugar pumpkins for individual servings. Instead of steaming the pumpkin, I decided to bake it in a water bath. The pie pumpkin I used was 1-3/4 pounds.

Time: 1 hour 30 minutes (15 minutes active)
 Makes: 4 to 8 servings

1 (1-1/2 to 2-pound) pie or sugar pumpkin
 3/4 cup coconut milk
 1/2 cup organic sugar
 3 eggs

1. Preheat your oven to 325 degrees F. Position the rack in the lower 1/3 of your oven.

2. Wipe the pumpkin with a damp cloth to remove any dust or dirt. Slice the top off the pumpkin straight across. You may have to cut out some pumpkin flesh to expose the cavity. Scrape out the seeds and stringy bits with a spoon. Save the seeds for toasting if you wish.

3. In a medium bowl, whisk the coconut milk and sugar together. Crack the eggs into the bowl and whisk until just incorporated.

4. Prepare a water bath by placing a lightly oiled pie plate in a metal baking or roasting pan with sides at least 1-inch high. Put the pumpkin in the pie plate. Using a ladle, carefully pour the custard into the pumpkin cavity to only about three-quarters full (since the custard will rise and poof up). If you spill custard over the sides of the pumpkins, wipe clean with a damp cloth. Pour water into the baking pan until it reaches about 1/2 to 1-inch, depending on your pan. Bake for 1 hour 15 minutes to 1 hour 30 minutes, or until the custard is set, i.e. it doesn’t jiggle when shaken and a knife inserted into the center comes out clean.

5. Carefully remove the pumpkin from the oven and allow to cool to room temperature. It will be quite fragile, so don’t move it until cooled. Refrigerate for 10 to 12 hours to let the custard set even further. The custard will fall a little but don’t fret!

6. Cut the pumpkin into 4 to 8 wedges, depending on how hungry your guests are, and serve cold or warm (heat it up in the microwave). Use a spoon to scoop up some pumpkin flesh together with the custard, making sure you get a little of each with every bite.

Pat’s Notes: You’ll probably have extra custard. Pour excess into a ramekin and microwave on medium for 2 to 3 minutes. Start checking at the 2 minute mark.

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