Pumpkin and Thanksgiving are almost inseparable. The big orange gourd has quite a few things working in its favor.
It’s historically accurate, since squashes of many kinds were grown and eaten by Native Americans. It’s seasonally appropriate, since pumpkins are a fall crop.
Even better, pumpkins are a source of Texas pride, since the “Pumpkin Capital of the U.S.” is the west Texas town of Floydada.
With Floydada rolling out more than a million pumpkins each fall, there’s
plenty of pumpkins available for more than just pie.
Creme Brulee, a favorite dessert year-round, lends itself to a Thanksgiving celebration when made with pumpkin.
Creme Brulee is basically an egg custard made with cream and egg yolks with a light but rich texture. That’s the creamy part, and the brûlée part is the thin layer of caramelized, or burned, sugar on the top.
Anyone with fond memories of toasting marshmallows over an open fire and savoring first the crisp, crackly browned outer layer then the gooey interior of the marshmallow will recognize the double delights of a classic Creme Brulee.
It delivers the same textural contrast as that toasted marshmallow in a more formal presentation, without pointy sticks and singed eyebrows.
Pumpkin Creme Brulee might not be as traditional a Thanksgiving dessert as pie, but it brings something special to the table, and can do so in small portions. Creme Brulee is usually made in individual ramekins or baking cups, which come in sizes ranging from healthy portions to “just a bite.” The tiniest ramekins are a perfect finish to a heavy meal, delivering just enough dessert to close the meal on a sweet note.
Although not as portable as a pie, Creme Brulee works well for a complicated dinner such as Thanksgiving because most of the prep work and baking can be done a day or two in advance. At serving time, all that remains to be done is to brown the tops and create the signature hard layer of sugar.
Creme Brulee fans debate the best way to cook the sugar into a crackly sheet. Some prefer to use a small kitchen torch (essentially a butane-powered miniature blowtorch) to quickly melt the sugar into a glassy layer that shatters with the first dive of a dessert spoon.
Others argue that there’s no need for yet another kitchen gadget when the sugar caramelizes just as well in the oven under the broiler.
Browning under the broiler is best done in small batches, since dishes directly under the broiler’s coil or flame will brown more quickly. The sugar should be 2-3 inches from the flame or heat source. Leaving open the oven door during the browning process also helps to prevent hot spots.
The type of sugar sprinkled on top to create the brittle surface makes a difference, too. Most recipes call for superfine sugar, which is readily available in grocery and liquor stores. Making the small amount of superfine sugar needed is easy to do in a food processor; just pour in a small amount of sugar and process with the knife blade.
Even more important to a beautifully browned, crackling top is undivided attention, since the sugar can quickly pass the caramel iced stage and end up scorched and bitter. A few minutes of attention, though, will pay off in the rapt attention of the Thanksgiving guests when Creme Brulee is served.
Pumpkin Creme Brulee
1 1⁄2 cups heavy cream
1 1⁄2 teaspoon freshly grated cinnamon
1⁄4 teaspoon ground allspice
1⁄2 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
3⁄4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
5 egg yolks
1⁄2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
6 tablespoons pumpkin purée
1⁄3 cup plus 4 teaspoons sugar
1 tablespoon firmly packed light brown sugar
Preheat an oven to 300 degrees. Have a pot of boiling water ready.
Pour the cream into a small saucepan and whisk in the cinnamon, allspice, ginger and nutmeg.
Set over medium-low heat and warm the cream mixture until bubbles form around the edges of the pan and steam begins to rise from the surface, about 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and let stand for 15 minutes.
In a large bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, vanilla, salt, pumpkin purée, the 1⁄3 cup sugar and the brown sugar until smooth and blended.
Slowly pour in the cream mixture, stirring until blended. Pour the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve set over a bowl.
Divide the mixture among four 8-ounce ramekins and place in a large baking pan. Add boiling water to fill the pan halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Cover the pan loosely with aluminum foil and bake until the custards are just set around the edges, about 30 minutes.
Transfer the ramekins to a wire rack and let cool to room temperature. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or up to three days.
Just before serving, sprinkle 1 teaspoon sugar evenly over the surface of each custard.
Using a kitchen torch according to the manufacturer’s instructions, move the flame continuously in small circles over the surface until the sugar melts and lightly browns.
(SOURCE: Recipe courtesy Williams-Sonoma)
4 cups heavy cream
1 whole vanilla Bean OR 1 tablespoon vanilla extract OR 1 tablespoon vanilla paste
10 whole egg yolks
3⁄4 cups sugar
6 tablespoons superfine (Baker’s) sugar
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
Pour the heavy cream into 1 saucepan. Add the vanilla and simmer over medium-low heat.
Whip the egg yolks with the sugar until pale yellow and thick.
Strain the cream using a fine mesh strainer.
Whip the yolks while you very slowly drizzle in 1 cup of warm cream. Go slowly so as not to cook the eggs. Once the first cup is added, you can add the rest of the cream slowly.
Place the ramekins onto a rimmed baking sheet. Pour the custard mixture into ramekins. Pour water in the bottom of a baking sheet until it comes halfway up the ramekins.
Bake for 30 minutes, or until just set. Do not allow to get brown.
Cool the ramekins on a countertop, then chill for at least 2-3 hours, covered in plastic wrap.
To serve, sprinkle 1 tablespoon of sugar over each ramekin of custard.
Use a kitchen torch to quickly brown the sugar.
There should be a thin, crisp surface of burned sugar on the top.
(SOURCE: Recipe from The Pioneer Woman Cooks, by Ree Drummond)