I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately. Mostly, I read before bed to take my mind off some of the baby anxieties that run around my brain in the dark quiet. Right now, I’m reading The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister. It’s not a long book. I actually wish it were much longer. Every time I sit down to read it, I get wrapped up in the stories and food descriptions. It’s like the author knew exactly how to describe food in a way that reminds the reader why food is such a meaningful part of who we are. It goes beyond the necessity to nourish our bodies and helps us hold on to and create memories and feelings.
Around this time of year, I think we can all relate to the the way certain smells and taste bring us back to the days when we wore footie pajamas, the grips of the feet sticking slightly to the floor of the kitchen while the smell of fresh-baked cookies fill the air. The classic flavors of fall and winter never cease to remind me of my childhood and how I want to continue experiencing life in that way even as I grow older each year. Cinnamon reminds me of a warm fleece blanket. Hot chocolate with marshmallows reminds me of a crackling fireplace. Beef stew brings the longing to wear a cozy sweater with a luxurious turtleneck.
These kabocha cookies (or mini-pies) are my way of bringing the comforting memories of my past in line with the comforting feelings of my present. Minnesota will always, in my heart, be home. Still, Japan has become more of my home than I ever thought possible. These cookies are a spin on the classic pumpkin pie using Japanese kabocha purée. The scent as they bake is warm and comforting, leaving no room for the stresses of the day. And taking a bite of the flaky crust against the creamy filling, the warm flavors blending together and melting on the tongue, brings an overwhelming feeling of simple joy.
If you don’t want to make your own kabocha (or pumpkin) purée or pie crust, you can easily use store bought. However, part of the pleasure in making these pretty little pie-cookies is getting your hands in the flour and butter that make the crust and seeing the filling develop from the actual squash. However you decide to make these, I know you’ll love them.
Makes 1 dozen cookies
1/2 cup kabocha (or pumpkin) purée
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 egg yolk
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1/4 cup brown sugar
A double batch of crust
1 egg yolk + 1 tablespoon water
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Combine the kabocha purée with the ground spices in a small bowl. In a medium bowl, whisk the egg yolk, heavy cream and brown sugar together. Add the purée to the egg mixture and mix well.
Roll out the chilled dough for the crust to a little less than 1/4″ thick on a floured surface. Use a cookie cutter (or a mason jar lid, which is what I used) to cut out rounds of dough about 3″ in diameter. You should have enough rounds for 12 cookies (24 total).
Roll out each round to about 4″ in diameter, using a dusting of flour as needed to keep the dough from sticking. Place a rounded tablespoon of the kabocha purée in the center of one round, then top it with another, sealing the edges and crimping or sealing with a fork. Using a sharp pairing knife, gently cut 4 slits in the top crust. Whisk together the egg yolk and water. Brush with top crusts with the egg wash and sprinkle with sugar.
Bake for 10-12 minutes until the crust is just golden.