Cardamom and Squash for Dessert

By Stephanie Charns, pastry chef, CSCE, CWPC

The holiday season is upon us already! As the delightful aromas of pies, cakes and tarts fill our kitchens, memories fill our hearts.  Acorn Squash Panna Cotta_resized

With the temperature outside beginning to cool,  I like to incorporate warm tones into my desserts. Popular spices like cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, cloves and ginger are prevalent this time of year. There are a plethora of other warming spices, including cardamom.  A member of the ginger family, cardamom offers a spicy, yet sweet note to any dish. Green cardamom has a more floral note than the smoky flavor of black cardamom.

1217 December_IOTM_Social-01Cardamom is a spice I enjoy adding to a variety of desserts. Some of these items include cardamom-orange biscotti or a cardamom-pear strudel.  Just as I steeped the cream for the panna cotta, cardamom pods can be steeped in heavy cream to create a delicious ice cream.  I like to use the black cardamom when creating soft caramel chews for a mignardise. The smokiness of the black cardamom pairs nicely with the sweetness of the caramel.

While the aromas of roasted sweet potatoes and pumpkin pies fill the kitchen, I enjoy using winter squashes throughout the holiday season to create a unique treat. From curried butternut squash and apple soup to spaghetti squash with portobello mushroom meatballs and marinara, winter squashes are versatile and flavorful. The sweet nuttiness of the acorn squash pairs nicely with the warm flavor of cardamom.  Its delicate yellow color and sweet flavor makes it a great addition to a dessert menu. Before roasting the squash, I clean the seeds. They are a great snack—just roast them with a little sea salt. The seeds also act as a great crunchy element to the plate.

In this Acorn Squash Panna Cotta, I steeped the cream with green cardamom pods and a vanilla bean. The pecans were candied with brown sugar, honey, ginger and a pinch of ground cardamom.  They pair nicely on a dab of yogurt chantilly cream, which adds a bit of tang to the dessert.

Acorn Squash Panna Cotta

12 ounces heavy cream

3.5 ounces granulated sugar

1 vanilla bean, split

2 cinnamon sticks

8-10 green cardamom pods

2 silver gelatin sheets

8 ounces roasted acorn squash (kabocha squash or pumpkin also work well)


  1. In a stainless steel pot, combine heavy cream, granulated sugar, vanilla bean, cinnamon sticks and cardamom pods. Scald the cream mixture.  Cover with plastic and allow cream to steep.
  2. Bloom gelatin sheets.
  3. Add gelatin sheets to cream mixture.  Strain mixture.
  4. Using a Vitamix, blend roasted squash with cream mixture.
  5. Pour into desired molds and chill until set.

Cardamom Candied Pecans

2 ounces butter

2 ounces dark brown sugar

2 ounces local honey

1 tsp ground cardamom

1/2 tsp ground roasted ginger

1/2 vanilla bean, seeds only

1 pound pecans


  1. In a stainless steel pot, combine butter, dark brown sugar, honey, cardamom, ginger and seeds from vanilla bean. Heat until sugar is dissolved.
  2. Coat pecans with sugar mixture.
  3. Pour coated pecans onto sheet tray lined with a silpat. Bake at 350°F until toasted, about 10 -15 minutes.




For more innovative pastry ideas, catch Chef Stephanie’s demo at ChefConnect: Charlotte, where she’ll present on plated gluten-free desserts! Check out the schedule to see who else is presenting in Charlotte, North Carolina, Feb. 25-27.

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