Coconut Custard Baked in a Pumpkin

Coconut Custard Baked in a Pumpkin

A while back I saw a dish similar to this on the cover of one of my many food magazines (possibly the sadly missed Gourmet, but I don’t recall), and every autumn I want to make it again.  It is one of those things that is incredibly easy to execute but it takes a lot of time in terms of baking and (potentially) chilling.  This is the finished, warm version:

I think of it as something that would be lovely for a party celebrating harvest season, or a beautiful centerpiece dish for a Halloween party.  You could even plop some peeled grapes on top of the custard, if you are into that type of thing.  You start this dish with a pie pumpkin, and it really does have to be a pie pumpkin or it just won’t taste good, plus it will end up too wet.  Pie pumpkins are often called sugar pumpkins, and they are little and cute and more densely-fleshed than the Jack o’ lantern variety, which tend to be soggy and stringy when baked.  Almost all grocery stores have pie pumpkins for sale right now, but ask to make sure that you are not just getting a little Jack o’ lantern variety.  I had on hand a couple of little pie pumpkins and I went with the larger one, which weighed about four pounds.  Acorn squash also work well for this concept and would make excellent individual desserts:

The first task is to carve the lid out of the pumpkin, and you want to end up with a top that is smooth and bowl-like:

Next, channel your inner second grader and scoop out all of the guts and seeds–remember when that was fun, not gross?  It still can be.  Just dig in there with your spoon and scrape the sides to remove as much of the stringy stuff as possible.  The seeds are great roasted (see below), or they make great squirrel treats if you are a squirrel lover (yes, I am).  When you have the pumpkin nice and scooped out, place it on a baking sheet and put it in a 350 degree oven to pre-bake for 30-40 minutes.  This will start the baking process and will slightly dry the interior flesh, which is desirable.  I like to bake the lid too, just for presentation purposes.  While that is baking, whisk up the custard:

This is simply a 14 ounce can of coconut milk (shake well before you open the can), 2 whole eggs, 2 egg yolks, a half cup of sugar, a half teaspoon of ground ginger, and a teaspoon of vanilla extract.  Whisk until foamy, and when the pumpkin has finished its preliminary baking, pour it in:

Place the filled pumpkin back in the oven for an hour, or until the custard looks set and you see a thin line of separated liquid around the edges.  At this point you have two delicious options.  The first option is to let the custard cool down for 15 minutes and then serve the pumpkin whole, letting people scoop out custard and baked pumpkin into their individual bowls.  This has its own level of flair and drama, and the custard will be soft-set but luscious.  In the top picture I show this option, and I have dusted the whole thing with some cinnamon.  The other option requires a wait.  Let the pumpkin cool a bit and then stick it into the refrigerator until it is completely cool–overnight is best, but for at least four hours.  This will fully set the custard and let you cut the pumpkin into wedges for serving.  Here is the cold custard, sprinkled with a little crystallized ginger:

As you can see, this has its own kind of drama.  If you go with this option note that the first wedge, just like pie, is not always a success.  Save that piece for yourself.
It’s a really fun harvest dish, and it has the added bonus of roasted pumpkin seeds (two snacks in one!):
I like to toss the washed seeds with a little salt and cinnamon and then roast until crunchy.  I eat them shells and all, which is possibly a bad idea but I have been doing it for years with no obvious ill effects.
Thanks for reading,
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  1. Thanks for this wonderful recipe! My daughter lives and works in Cambodia, and they make something similar. We’ve served it on special occasions, and now we make sure to grow a few sugar pumpkins in our garden, for the homemade feeling! I’e also added a small amount of freshly ground cardamon seeds to the custard–subtle but exquisite. Thanks again…

    1. Jim, thanks so much for posting this–the cardamom sounds like it would be lovely. I had no idea there was a Cambodia connection! I love seeing how recipes translate through cultures.

  2. What a wonderful recipe! Thank you for sharing it and posting the pictures too! I’d like to make it for my book club tomorrow, but one of the ladies can’t stand coconut. Do you think it would still work if I substituted sweetened condensed milk and/or evaporated milk for the coconut milk? Thank you so much!

    1. Rita, you could substitute full-fat evaporated milk and get a very similar result, yes–if you go low fat it will have a more watery texture, so I don’t recommend that. Glad you are going to try the recipe!

  3. Awesome recipe!! I have made a similar coconut custard filled acorn squash recipe with unpredictable results and I now know that it was because I baked the custard-filled squash together from the onset. After following your recipe, I learned that the moisture in each acorn squash varies…some hold more water than others, and this resulted in some batches taking much more time to firmly set.Now that I follow your recipe and pre-bake the squash before filling it with the coconut custard it comes out perfect! Pre-baking the acorn squash allows the moisture to evaporate and allows the custard to set perfectly! Thank you!!

    1. Dana, thanks so much for your comment! The pre-baking definitely keeps it from being too wet, and I am now inspired to make this again–it’s pumpkin season!

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