Put a crème caramel in front of me and I absolutely melt. As a kid, I thought crème caramel was a fancy pants dessert that people only ate in restaurants. Given even the most tantalizing of dessert menus, if I saw crème caramel on it, my decision was already made. But sometime during my teenage years, I learned how easy it is to make at home, and between homework and band practices, I began regularly churning out little ramekins of crème caramel and other flan variations (coffee flan was a big hit for a while). This was all much to my mom’s delight since she shared my custard obsession. There’s nothing quite as simple as whisking together eggs, milk, and sugar, tucking it into the oven, and waiting for it to magically settle into a dainty wobble and become the ultimate comfort food: sweet silky goodness. Though it’s a dessert best eaten cold, I’ve always associated it with fall since that’s when I always used to make it.
For some reason, I’ve fallen out of the habit of making flans and crème caramel. But as we are all constantly reminded these days, it’s the season of pumpkin spice everything and I can never resist jumping on the pumpkin recipe bandwagon. I’ve had pumpkin flan on the brain for a while so I decided to introduce these two old fall friends to each other: pumpkin meet crème caramel. Crème caramel meet pumpkin. They are getting along swimmingly. So much that I thought this friendship should be shared with you all. I used only maple syrup to sweeten this dessert. I kept the spice to just a hint of nutmeg. The result is a simple, elegant and decadent dessert that uses no refined sugar. For gluten-free friends and family, it’s also a great alternative to pumpkin pie and it can be prepared a day in advance.
As a final word, in my kitchen, I use the term “pumpkin” fairly loosely. For most pumpkin-based desserts, I actually use winter squash instead. I find the flesh richer, thicker, sweeter, smoother, more flavorful, less watery… Need I say more? This dessert works perfectly well with pumpkin purée, but if you really want to step it up a notch, use roasted winter squash instead. I recommend Kabocha or Red Kuri. Enjoy!
Pumpkin Maple Crème Caramel
- For the “Caramel”:
- 1/2 cup maple syrup
- For the Custard:
- 3/4 cup cooked pumpkin (or even better, winter squash) purée
- 4 large eggs, beaten
- 2 egg yolks
- 1/3 cup maple syrup
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1 cup whole milk
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
- Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
- Pour the 1/2 cup of maple syrup into a 4-cup flan mold (an 8-inch cake pan or a 9-inch pie plate will also do the trick) and heat on the middle rack of the oven for about 15 minutes, until it bubbles vigorously. Watch it carefully for the last few minutes so it doesn't burn. Remove it from the oven and allow it to cool. (Alternately, you can use little individual ramekins instead.)
- In a large mixing bowl, beat the eggs and yolks, 1/3 cup of maple syrup, and pumpkin or squash purée until smooth. Add all the remaining ingredients and beat together, being careful not to incorporate too many air bubbles. Ideally, pass the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve to achieve a silky flan.
- To create a water bath, place the flan mold into a cake or roasting pan large enough to hold it. Pour the pumpkin mixture into the flan mold, right on top of the cooled maple syrup. Add enough boiling water into the roasting pan so that it comes halfway up the sides of the flan mold. Bake until the flan is set, about 1 hour. Allow it to cool to room temperature, about 1 hour. Then chill in the refrigerator, for 1 hour at minimum or overnight. To unmold, run a sharp knife around the outside edge of the flan and quickly invert it onto a serving plate. Pour any remaining maple syrup over the custard. Serve and enjoy!
Yield: 6-8 servings
Aube Giroux is a food writer and filmmaker who shares her love of cooking on her farm-to-table blog, Kitchen Vignettes.
Aube is a passionate organic gardener and home cook who likes to share the stories of how food gets to our dinner plates. Her work has been shown on television and at international film festivals. Her web series has been nominated for multiple James Beard Awards for Best Video Webcast (On Location). In 2012, she was the recipient of Saveur Magazine’s Best Food Blog award in the video category.