Thanksgiving dessert is always a challenge, as only half of us really like pumpkin pie. The pumpkin pie lovers always want something with pumpkin as a compromise to missing out on their pie, so I have done things such as pumpkin cheesecake and pumpkin creme brulee in the past.
I was asked to make pumpkin creme brulee again, but mixed it up a bit by making creme caramel instead. Basically the same thing, a creamy baked custard with caramel...for creme brulee sugar is sprinkled on top and then caramelized, while creme caramel has caramelized sugar poured into the bottom of the dish before the custard is added and baked. The caramel melts while the custard is setting and runs over the dessert when it is turned upside down and unmoulded.
Place 6 individual 4 ounce ramekins into an ovenproof dish that is about 2" deep.
Turn the oven on to 350F to pre-heat.
Make the caramel, by combining in a heavy bottomed saucepan:
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons water
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
Keep the heat on low until the sugar has dissolved. Do not stir, just gently swirl the pan if needed. When the sugar is dissolved, turn the heat up to medium high and allow the syrup to gently boil until it starts to caramelize, and turn golden around the sides of the pan.
Continue cooking until the sugar syrup reaches a deep amber colour, swirling the pan to keep the cooking even...it will change faster around the edges than the centre.
As soon as the syrup reaches the right colour, remove it from the heat.
Divide the caramel between the 6 ramekins, making sure the bottom of each one is covered.
Set aside to cool while you make the custard.
1/2 cup pumpkin puree
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
Pinch of nutmeg
1/2 cup sugar
2 egg yolks
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
The pumpkin and spices, whisk to combine.
1 1/2 cups whipping cream
Whisking constantly, slowly add the hot cream to the eggs, sugar and pumpkin.
When all the cream has been added, strain the custard into a jug.
Divide the custard between the 6 ramekins, pouring it on top of the hardened caramel.
Pour hot water into the dish, surrounding the ramekins and coming half way up their sides.
This will help the custard to bake evenly.
Bake until the custard is set, with only a slight jiggle in the very centre.
Check by inserting a sharp knife into the centre of the custard; it should be clean when it comes out.
This should take about 50 - 60 minutes.
Remove the baked custards from the oven and leave them to cool in the water bath for 15 minutes, before removing the ramekins from the water. Place the custards into the fridge to cool completely, for at least 4 hours, or overnight.
To serve, run a sharp knife around the outside of each custard, and invert the ramekin onto a plate.
Wait until you hear the custard release, and then carefully lift the ramekin off.
I served the creme caramel as it was, but you can add softly whipped cream or toasted nuts if you like. The caramel that has melted in the fridge slowly drips down the sides of the custard...yum.
- The differences between the caramel in creme brulee and creme caramel are not just the placement of the caramel, but also the texture. The caramel on top of the creme brulee is crunchy, but the caramel that drips down over the top and sides of the creme caramel is sweet, sticky and saucy. This is because the cooked sugar softens and melts in the fridge, turning back into a liquid.
- Be very careful when working with the caramelized sugar...it is VERY HOT! It will set as soon as it touches something, but does not lose its heat right away, so if it ends up on your skin the burn will be quite bad.
- Another caution is that once the sugar starts to colour, it can turn from light golden to burnt in a matter of seconds, so watch it carefully once it starts to colour.
- Keeping the heat low until the sugar has dissolved prevents the water from evaporating and the sugar crystallizing. If this does happen, don't be afraid to throw it out and start again.
- It is important to whisk continuously while adding the scalded cream to the egg and pumpkin mixture. If you add the hot cream too quickly, the eggs will cook and scramble. Adding it slowly allows the eggs to warm up and leave you with a smooth, creamy custard.
- Other flavours that can be used include: star anise, ground cloves, a slice of fresh ginger infused while the cream is heating, orange zest or a tablespoon of rum.
- The baked custard needs to be refrigerated long enough to chill it completely, which helps to firm it up as well as to melt the caramelized sugar. Leave it for at least four hours; overnight is better.
- Try using other fruits/vegetables instead of pumpkin: chestnut puree, sweet potato, quince, roasted squash.