Calabaza en Tacha Clafoutis with Cajeta

I came up with this dessert when I was conceptualizing a dish for a gala for a nonprofit called Loveworks, based in Oklahoma City(shoutout to Gabriel Lewis for inviting me to help out with this event!). The dinner took place in November, so because of that, I wanted to focus on whatever was seasonal to Oklahoma during that time. There were two ingredients that stood out to me in particular, being pumpkin/squash and carrots. Initially, I had an idea to do this really modern plated carrot cake dessert, but I knew that it would be hard to make it for 300 people. So instead, I opted to go a different route, and go with the pumpkin. A dessert that stood out to me when I was reserving Latin dishes was calabaza en tacha, which is Mexican candied pumpkin. You take pumpkin pieces and braise it in a spiced sugar syrup, made with piloncillo, which, similar to jaggery, is an unprocessed dark brown sugar that has this rich earthiness to it. The pumpkin becomes sweet, soft, and tender, with a similar texture and flavor to a really ripe peach, perfumed with the dark brown sugar and cinnamon. Sometimes calabaza en tacha is served with evaporated milk, so I wanted to pay homage to that in a few ways. The first was in a clafoutis. Clafoutis(pronounced claw-foo-tee) is a French custard-like cake, made primarily with milk or cream, as well as eggs, sugar, and a little flour. Clafoutis normally is baked with pieces of fruit(usually cherries, apricots, or peaches) in it, so the calabaza en tacha, being so peach-like already, just made perfect sense as an addition to that! The end result was the silky soft clafoutis enrobing the pieces of sweet, plump pumpkin. But it doesn’t end there though.

When you make calabaza en tacha, you poach the pumpkin in a sugar syrup. While the pumpkin is usually served in the syrup, since I am baking a majority of the pumpkin pieces into a clafoutis, there is a lot of leftover sugar syrup that would just kind of go to waste. So instead of just dumping it down the drain(piloncillo is expensive), I figureed, why not reduce it down? And the beautiful thing about the syrup is that is has spices like cinnamon already in there. So I figured, why not take it a step further, and as an homage to the evaporated milk calabaza en tacha is served with, and combine it with evaporated goat’s milk to form a cajeta? Cajeta(pronounced cah-hey-ta), is a Oaxacan goat’s milk caramel that is made by reducing down goat’s milk and sugar until they come a dulce de leche-like consistency. Cajeta can be used as a sauce, a syrup, or even cooked down into a candy! In the case of this recipe, it acts more like a caramel sauce, being thinned out at the end with more milk just to keep it on the looser side. With the cajeta, you have a more intensified version of the poaching liquid that the pumpkin was in, but taken to the stage of a caramel, just to add more contrast to the custardy clafoutis. And to contrast both of those textures, we have creme fraiche, which is a French sour cream, to add some lightness and tartness to break apart the heavier notes in the dessert, and pepitas, which are pumpkin seeds, to add a pleasant crunch. What I love about this recipe is that the reserved poaching liquid for the pumpkin is going straight into the cajeta, so you can really optimize on time doing both. Ideally if you have the time, you can roast the pumpkin seeds to extract your pepitas that way, but if that is too laborious, buying already shelled pepitas works too! Either way, this dessert was a fun challenge to come up with and even more fun to make at the event!

Makes enough for 8:
For the calabaza en tacha(candied pumpkin):
1/3 cup dark brown sugar(preferably piloncillo but regular dark brown sugar works too!)
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon(canela is preferred but regular cinnamon is more accessible)
a pinch of salt
a pinch of ground cloves*
a pinch of allspice*
1 cup water
1/4 cup orange juice
1 small pumpkin(about 2 pounds)

In a pot, bring sugar, spices/sale, water, and orange juice to a simmer. Remove the stem, stringy fibers, and seeds from the pumpkin, and dice into 1/2-inch cubes – be sure to keep the skins on. Simmer the pumpkin in the simmering syrup for 15-20 minutes. Once the pumpkin is fork-tender, strain out the pumpkin, reserving the boiling liquid. Spread 3/4 of the pumpkin on a lined 8 to 9-inch square baking pan and bake at 350 degrees F for 15 minutes. Reserve 1/4 cup of the syrup and store the remaining pumpkin in a container with the syrup. With the remaining poaching syrup, reserve that for the cajeta recipe.

For the cajeta:
Reserved poaching liquid
1 12-oz can evaporated goat’s milk
1/4 tsp baking soda
a pinch of salt
1/4 cup milk or water

Continue to reduce the remaining poaching liquid into a thick syrup on low heat. In a very large saucepan, heat up the goat’s milk, baking soda, and salt on medium heat, stirring occasionally. You want to reduce the goat’s milk over medium heat through this process for 15 minutes. Be warned, the goat’s milk will bubble up aggressively, so whenever that happens, take the pot off heat and continue stir until the bubbles are gone before returning to a medium-low flame. You want the goat’s milk to reach an almost tan color.

Once the syrup is reduced down to the consistency of honey(it should register at least 250-275 degrees F on a candy thermometer), pour into that the reduced evaporated goat’s milk and stir on medium heat until combined. Allow the mixture to continue to cook on medium heat while stirring constantly with another 10 minutes. Once the mixture reaches an almost amber-brown color, take off heat and stir in more milk/water to thin out the cajeta. That way it will not harden into a rock as the mixture cools down. Store in a heatproof airtight container until time to use.

For the clafoutis:
3 eggs
1 cup milk
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
a pinch of salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
roasted pumpkin cubes

In a blender, puree everything besides the pumpkin cubes together. Pour the batter through a sieve into the same container you roasted the pumpkin in, with the pumpkin cubes still inside. Bake at 325 degrees F for 35 minutes. Allow the clafoutis to cool down completely before attempting to unmold it. Cut the clafoutis into even rectangles.

For the creme fraiche:
2oz creme fraiche
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
a pinch of salt

Mix together until combined. Transfer into a piping bag.

To assemble:
Reserved candied pumpkin cubes
Edible flowers

To plate, start with a round of the cajeta. Place off to the side of that your clafoutis. Then pipe on three dots of the creme fraiche, place on top cubes of the pumpkin between the three dots, and garnish the tops of the creme fraiche and pumpkin cubes with pepitas first, then the edible flower petals to finish.

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