Pumpkin Crème Brûlée

pumpkin creme brulee

(Because the pumpkin kick continues. Also, I have extra pumpkin.)

Hey, you. Do you have extra pumpkin lying around? Do you love pumpkin like I do? Do you also love desserts that are literally eggs and cream? Do you like lighting things on fire? Then pumpkin crème brûlée is for you!

For those of you asking yourselves in the first place, “What the devil is crème brûlée, even? And why are there so many diacritical marks?”, it’s a dessert whose name literally means “burnt cream,” as Homer Simpson points out, and I imagine every time I make the stuff. And it’s French, hence the marks. It’s a soft baked custard – a heated mixture of eggs and dairy – with a layer of crunchy, browned-and-burnt sugar on top, and it’s friggin’ heavenly.

Many people think crème brûlée is some daunting, impossible dessert that only restaurants can serve, but it’s actually rather simple to make at home. If you’ve ever made a custard – say, for ice cream, pie filling, even quiche – then you’ve already made more than what crème brûlée requires as far as hands-on heating. And if you have a kitchen torch (or just a regular butane torch, like me, because they’re hella cheaper and more fun), then it’s yet another excuse to pull it out of storage and light these babies on fire! (Husband and I also like to make bougie s’mores with it, but that’s for another post.) If you don’t have the delight that is a torch, you can also just use the broiler setting on your oven to do the fun burnt sugar part.

(Mandatory disclaimer: If you use a torch, follow all manufacturer’s directions and safety protocols. Don’t get hurt, y’all, and don’t blame me if you don’t follow directions. You’ve been warned.)

The key to making a successful custard is to mix the hot cream carefully and thoroughly into the eggs, and gradually so. If you try to pour a bunch of hot cream at once, you’ll end up with scrambled eggs, which is gross in this context. The recipe asks you to add just a little bit of the cream into the eggs at first to warm them up (called “tempering”), which prevents weird sweet scrambled eggs. You also need to do a water bath, which means putting the ramekins (or other oven-safe custard dishes) into a pan filled halfway with hot water – this ensures enough moisture and heat control in the cooking process to prevent a rubbery custard. I tend to be a bit clumsy sometimes, so instead of putting all of the ramekins into one big baking pan full of hot water (a recipe for disaster and pain for me), I put two ramekins each into cake pans and fill those with water. That way, I’m only lifting a bit at a time, and it’s easier to move things around when I need to.

This particular recipe, as you can tell from the title, has pumpkin and warm spices in the mixture, which means I’m using fewer eggs than in a traditional crème brûlée due to moisture content. It’s a great way to use up that awkward amount of pumpkin you might have left from a can or a batch of roasted pumpkin puree, and it all blends together beautifully, flavor-wise. Did I mention it impresses the heck out of guests and spouses? Because it does.

Enough of my yammering. Let’s burn some cream!

Pumpkin Crème Brûlée

This recipe makes four 4-oz servings.

You will need:

  • 1 1/2 c heavy cream
  • 1/2 c whole milk
  • 1/2 inch cinnamon stick, or 1/8 tsp ground cinnamon
  • a pinch each freshly grated nutmeg, ginger, cloves, and cardamom
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 1/2 c white sugar
  • 1/4 c pumpkin puree, canned or fresh
  • raw or demerara sugar for sprinkling

Directions:

  1. Heat the cream, milk, and spices in a medium saucepan over medium heat until just boiling. Remove the mixture from heat, and allow the spices to infuse the cream for 15-20 minutes. Remove the cinnamon stick after infusing, if using.
  2. Pre-heat your oven to 300 degrees F.
  3. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and white sugar until throughly combined. While whisking, carefully pour about 1/2 c of the hot cream mixture into the egg mixture, making sure they are thoroughly mixed. Still whisking, slowly pour in the rest of the cream and whisk until throughly combined. Whisk in the pumpkin puree.
  4. Pour the custard evenly into four 4-ounce ramekins or other oven-safe custard cups. (Heck, you could go crazy and make a giant crème brûlée, and if you do, let me know how it turns out!) Prepare a water bath: I put the filled ramekins into multiple cake pans, then carefully pour hot water from a measuring cup with a spout into the pans (NOT the ramekins. Oh god don’t do that) until the water comes halfway up the sides of the pans.
  5. Bake in a 300 degree F oven for 30-40 minutes or until the custard is mostly set – the middle will still be a bit jiggly when you remove the pan, but not still liquid. (If using fresh pumpkin puree, your mixture may have more moisture and may require a bit longer in the oven.) Remove from the oven, remove ramekins from the water bath, and allow to cool for about 15 minutes on a wire rack.
  6. Cover the ramekins with a cloth or plastic wrap (do not allow either to touch the top of the custard), and refrigerate for at least two hours or overnight.
  7. When ready to serve, remove custards from refrigerator. Sprinkle an even layer of raw sugar on top of each custard (the sugar should completely cover your view of the custard – don’t be afraid!). If using a torch, heat the sugar until it’s browned and thoroughly melted – it’s okay if there are “burnt” portions, since this is burnt cream, after all. If you don’t have a torch, you can put the custard cups back onto a baking sheet or broiler pan, and broil the sugar until it’s browned and melted, about 1-2 minutes. (Watch this carefully!) Serve immediately.

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