I recently revisited one of my favorite cozy neighborhood gems, Firefly, and was just smitten with their Fairy Tale Pumpkin Soup with Gingerbread Crouton, Golden Sage and Brown Butter. The flavors were spot on. Roasted butternut squash pureed to a luxurious, velvety texture, seasoned with brown butter and caressed by warm sage notes. It reminded me right away of a soup I discovered awhile back in Thomas Keller’s Bouchon.
TK’s Butternut Squash Soup with Brown Butter, Sage and Nutmeg CrÃ¨me FraÃ®che had a similar weak-in-the-knees-good effect on me with its layers of rich, harmonious flavors and that ethereal silkiness. (I connected the dots when I learned that Keller influence wasn’t incidental. Firefly’s new chef, Henry Zamora, previously trained at the French Laundry.)
With hot soup and butternut squash season upon us, I was inspired to recreate Firefly’s fanciful rendition with homemade gingerbread. The gingerbread “crouton” was less of a typical crunchy crouton and more of a deep, dark, sticky square of dense bread, so my first step was to find a great recipe for gingerbread. I struck spicy sweet gold with Regan Daley’s (In the Sweet Kitchen) Black Sticky Gingerbread recipe (discovered via 101 Cookbooks).
The fragrance of ginger, cinnamon, and cloves filled the house as the bread baked up, instantly elating my mood and prematurely transporting me to Christmas time and fireplaces. Plus, the combination of dark unsulphered molasses, local sage honey, brown sugar, and plenty of butter resulted in just the kind of gingerbread I looking for. Tall, dark, and handsome (minus the tall…and ok, the handsome…but definitely deep, dark, and rich). I’m for sure tucking this recipe away for the holidays – little mini loaves would make a pretty homemade gift.
With the gingerbread under my belt, I turned to my tried and true recipe for butternut squash soup from Bouchon. My one minor change: the gingerbread was so good I wanted it to shine on its own as the only accompaniment, so I omitted Keller’s nutmeg-spiked crÃ¨me fraiche and fried sage leaves garnish. I did, however, definitely keep in the finishing drizzle of brown butter. Giddy-up.
Butternut Squash Soup with Gingerbread and Brown Butter
The soup portion of this recipe is excerpted from BOUCHON by THOMAS KELLER (Artisan Books). Copyright 2004.
One 3- to 31/2-pound butternut squash
2 tablespoons canola oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 sage sprigs
1 cup thinly sliced (1/8 inch thick) leeks, white and light green parts only
1/2 cup thinly sliced (1/8 inch thick) carrots
1/2 cup thinly sliced (1/8 inch thick) shallots
1/2 cup thinly sliced (1/8 inch thick) onions
6 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
2 tablespoons honey
6 cups Vegetable Stock, plus extra if necessary
4 tablespoons (2 ounces) unsalted butter
Black Sticky Gingerbread
For the soup:
- Preheat the oven to 350Â°F. Line a small baking sheet with aluminum foil.
- Cut the neck off the squash and set it aside. Cut the bulb in half and scoop out and discard the seeds. Brush each half inside and out with about 11/2 teaspoons of the canola oil. Sprinkle the cavities with salt and pepper and tuck a sprig of sage into each. Place cut side down on the baking sheet and roast for about 1 hour, or until completely tender.
- Remove the squash from the oven and set aside until cool enough to handle, then scoop out and reserve the flesh (discard the sage).
- Meanwhile, using a paring knife or sharp vegetable peeler, peel away the skin from the neck of the squash until you reach the bright orange flesh. Cut the flesh into 1/2-inch pieces (these will be pureed, so don’t be concerned if the pieces are irregularly shaped). (You should have approximately 4 cups diced squash.)
- Put the remaining 1 tablespoon canola oil in a stockpot over medium-high heat, add the leeks, carrots, shallots, and onions, and cook, stirring often, for about 6 minutes. Add the diced squash, garlic, 11/2 teaspoons salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper and cook gently for 3 minutes, reducing the heat as necessary to keep the garlic and squash from coloring. Stir in the honey and cook, stirring, for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the stock and bouquet garni, bring to a simmer, and cook for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the squash is tender.
- Add the roasted squash and simmer gently for about 30 minutes for the flavors to blend. Remove from the heat and discard the bouquet garni.
- Transfer the soup to a blender, in batches, and puree. Strain the soup through a fine strainer into a bowl or other container, tapping the side of the strainer so the soup passes through. (Do not skip this step. Straining it is what gives this soup its incredible texture.) Taste the soup and adjust the seasoning. Prepare the brown butter to finish, or if you’re making this ahead of time, let the soup cool, then refrigerate until ready to serve.
- If serving immediately, skip to Step 2. Otherwise, reheat the soup. If it is too thick, add a little more vegetable stock.
- Heat a medium skillet over high heat. When it is very hot, add the butter and rotate the skillet over the heat as necessary to brown the butter evenly, scraping up any bits that settle in the bottom. As soon as the foaming has subsided and the butter is a hazelnut brown, pour it into the pot of soup, reserving some to drizzle on top of the soup as a garnish. (Be careful not to leave the butter over the heat too long, as it can change from rich brown to black in seconds.)
- Ladle the soup into serving bowls. Top each with a piece of gingerbread. Drizzle the remaining brown butter over the top of each bowl.
Butternut Squash Soup with Brown Butter, Sage and Nutmeg CrÃ¨me FraÃ®che (Soupe de courge au beurre noisette et Ã la crÃ¨me fraÃ®che muscadée)
Recipe by Regan Daley (In the Sweet Kitchen) via 101 Cookbooks
1 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup water
3/4 cup unsulphured blackstrap molasses
3/4 cup flavorful honey, such as a dark wildflower or sage
1 cup tightly packed dark brown sugar
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1/2 cup partly skimmed milk (2%)
1 packed tablespoon grated fresh ginger root
- Preheat the oven to 325 F. Lightly grease a 9 x 9 x 2-inch baking pan and line the bottom with a piece of parchment paper that has been cut to hang over two opposite edges by a couple of inches. This overhang will make removing the cake from the pan clean and simple.
- Combine the butter, water, molasses, honey and brown sugar in a medium non-reactive saucepan and place over low heat. Stir the mixture frequently until the butter is melted, and all of the ingredients are well blended. Remove from the heat, pour into a large bowl and set aside to cool.
- Meanwhile, sift together the flour, baking soda, salt, ginger, cinnamon, all-spice and cloves, and set aside. When the molasses mixture feels just warm to the touch, add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the milk and stir to combine. Fold the dry ingredients into the batter in four additions, using big, long strokes. Don’t be concerned if you can’t get all the lumps out-settle for most of them! Stir in the grated ginger.
- Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake in the center of the oven for 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours, or until the top of the cake springs back when touched and a cake tester inserted into the centre comes out clean. Allow to cool for 15 minutes, then, using the overhang of parchment, lift the cake out of the pan and cool completely on a wire rack before cutting.
Note: Well-wrapped in plastic, this gingerbread actually improves with age. If stored at room temperature, it will have a sponge-cakey texture and will keep for about 4 days. Refrigerated, it becomes stickier, denser and wonderfully chewy and will last at least a week. Allow the cake to return to room temperature before serving. This cake is fabulous warm, and the only adornment it needs is mounds of softly whipped cream.