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Calabaza en Tacha (winter squash in spiced syrup)





This is traditional dessert for Day of the Dead celebrations, slices of winter squash slowly cooked in a heavy piloncillo sugar syrup with spices and orange zest. We have used light brown muscavado sugar for our syrup but dark brown could be used or other sugars that contain some molasses, such as jaggery or palm sugar. The squash we used was a Hubbard squash but any squash that is thick fleshed and dense would be suitable. Butternut is easily available and has a thin skin that is even edible. As the squash can get quite soft when cooking, we have left the skin on and soaked the slices in 'cal' (calcium hydroxide) to firm them up. This is the same 'cal' used for nixtamalizing corn to make masa for tortillas, it acts as a firming agent. Beautiful served warmed just as is in a bowl with a little syrup and enriched with cream or ice cream.


Wash the squash and pat dry. Cut in half, scoop out the seeds and then cut into 3-4cm wide slices. Weigh the slices and then calculate 1% to find the amount of 'cal' needed. 500g of squash would need 5g of 'cal'. In a bowl large add the squash slices, 'cal' and enough water to cover. Stir to dissolve the call. Cover with a tea towel and leave to soak for 12 hours. 

Meanwhile make a syrup with the sugar, water, cinnamon stick, star anise, clove and orange zest, bring to a simmer to dissolve the sugar, then turn off, cover and let steep.

Preheat the oven to 180oC.

Rinse the squash well under running water, place in a deep baking dish, pour the syrup and the aromatics over the top and make a cartouche with baking paper to fit the top the baking dish. Place on a tray to catch spills and slide into the oven. Let cook for 20- 30 minutes until soft but firm. Remove the squash slices carefully to a warmed plate and pour the syrup into a sauce pan, simmer until reduced and thick. 

Serve in warmed bowls with a little syrup and ice cream or cream. Any left over syrup is delicious in coffee.