It is 10:30 PM and I am eating a slice of squash bread. It is quiet in my kitchen. I just had the shattering realization that some people—many people—I went to high school with now have multiple children.
I do not have children. I have a one-bedroom apartment I can barely afford. I have towels that get moldy. I have a sourdough starter and a few succulents that, some days, seem very challenging to keep alive.
I start to feel a little bad about all this, so I remind myself I just baked two loaves of very good bread. And that I added a vegetable—not because I needed to—but because I wanted to. Because I had a craving for butternut squash, and also for cake, and the universe was in low supply of acceptable recipes with these combined appetites.
So I took the bones of a banana bread recipe—a very good one—and browned some butter. Added autumnal cues by way of cinnamon and allspice. Quartered a whole squash—without chopping a single finger off—and roasted it into submission.
It turns out very well, the bread, until I realize I have compared it to having a child and not killing a cactus. I recently turned thirty-three and part of me feels I should have more grown-up ends by now. At the very least, maybe a yard?
But instead I live in a pest-free rental—with the black and white-tiled floors I wanted in my mid-twenties—in an area bolstered by the mafia and cannoli.
I have a smart, thoughtful, and very handsome boyfriend who never lets me drink alone, whom I love. I have maintained a job at a well-respected institution for over a decade. Plus I am old enough to swear and not feel bad about it.
I also have the sense to know bad things happen and enough emotional collateral, I think, to navigate them. And to realize that having kids does not make one feel any more put together.
In truth, I do not know if I even want a yard. I certainly do not want to mow it. What I do know, for now, is that I want butternut squash in dessert form. And I know how to make that happen.
Brown Butter Butternut Squash Bread
1½ cups mashed cooked butternut squash (about ½ a medium squash, see instructions below)
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 cup granulated sugar
¾ cup packed dark muscovado sugar (or regular dark brown sugar)
½ cup buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla
2½ cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
½ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp allspice
1 tbsp chopped fresh ginger (peeled)
1 cup chopped pecans
A few hours in advance (or the night before):
Set the oven to 425 degrees. Grease a sheet pan lightly with olive or canola oil. Quarter a whole butternut squash, leaving the skin on. Place on the prepared pan, flesh side down and skin side up. Roast for 60 to 70 minutes, or until it softens and the flesh side become caramelized (you’ll have to peak to see this). Let cool and refrigerate until needed.
When you are ready to bake, set the oven to 350 degrees. Grease the bottom only of one 9 x 5-inch (or two 8 x 4-inch) loaf pan(s).
In a medium saucepan, heat the butter on medium-low until it becomes caramel-colored and starts to smell nutty; this will take 5 to 10 minutes, swirl the butter occasionally to prevent it from burning in spots and adjust the heat as necessary.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the sugars and brown butter on medium-high speed until fully combined and the mixture resembles wet sand (about 2 minutes). Add the eggs one at a time, then the buttermilk, 1½ cups squash (flesh only), and vanilla; mix on medium-high until fully combined and smooth.
In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and allspice. With the mixer on low, add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients in three swift additions. Stir in the ginger and pecans with a rubber spatula until just combined (make sure bits of flour are no longer visible).
Bake for 60 to 70 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted into the center. (Start checking around 55 minutes with the two smaller loaves.) Cool 10 minutes on a wire rack then, with a knife, loosen the sides of the bread from the pan. Let cool on the wire rack for one hour before slicing.
Makes one 9 x 5 loaf or two 8 x 4 loaves
-The pecans seemed seasonally timely, and were good, but I prefer walnuts in breads like this.
-In a pinch, substitute 1 tsp dried ginger for the fresh variety.