Crème brûlée is one of my all-time favorite desserts. Admittedly, it may be more 1980s than 2012, but any custard--especially one topped with a crackly caramelized sugar shell--will always be fashionable in my mind. In creating this pumpkin version, I used Claudia Fleming’s basic crème brûlée recipe as a starting point, finding it to be the perfect cream to milk to sugar ratio. I also knew I wanted to caramelize the pumpkin first, having found that step to pay huge dividends when making Meta Given’s pumpkin pie. From there, I decided to swap out some of the white sugar for brown sugar, add a split vanilla bean, and lightly spice them with cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger. To enhance the caramel notes, I like sprinkling a little sea salt on top of the chilled custards before adding the raw sugar and torching them. That way, each time you crack through the hard caramel to the creamy, vanilla bean-flecked custard, you get a perfect salty, sweet, pumpkin-spiced bite. —EmilyC
Test Kitchen Notes
WHO: EmilyC is an environmental scientist/consultant and Food52-er we know we can trust.
WHAT: A crème brûlée that captures all of our favorite things about the fall.
HOW: Make a caramelized pumpkin custard, bake, and then -- of course -- brûlée.
WHY WE LOVE IT: While we love our pumpkin pies, our pumpkin cakes, and our pumpkin breads, there's something about a crème brûlée that feels wonderfully elegant. Bonus: you can make these ahead.
8 to 12
1 3/4 cups canned or freshly prepared pumpkin purée
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
½ cup light brown sugar
¼ cup granulated sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
¾ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
½ tsp ground ginger
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise, seeds scraped out and reserved (or 1.5 tsp vanilla extract in a pinch)
Place pumpkin into saucepan over medium heat. A shallow saucepan with a wide bottom is recommended to promote even caramelization. Once the pumpkin starts to lazily bubble away, stir frequently until it’s slightly thickened and caramelized, about 10 minutes.
While pumpkin is caramelizing, whisk together egg yolks and granulated sugar in large bowl. Set aside.
Once pumpkin has caramelized, add cream, whole milk, light brown sugar, vanilla bean seeds + split bean, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger to the pumpkin. Whisk everything together until well integrated. Bring mixture to a simmer over medium heat, then remove from heat and add sea salt (and vanilla extract if using it in place of the vanilla bean). Remove vanilla bean, saving it for vanilla sugar or another use.
Slowly whisk about ¼ cup of the hot pumpkin/cream mixture into the eggs, to temper them, then add the remaining pumpkin/cream mixture in a slow, steady stream, whisking continuously.
Divide mixture among ramekins or crème brûlée dishes. (This recipe makes about 48 oz, so it’ll make 8 6-oz or 12 4-oz brûlées.) Place ramekins in one (or two if necessary) large roasting pans. Add enough hot water to pans to come halfway up sides of ramekins. Cover the pan with foil, then pierce in several places with a knife. Bake the custards about 30 minutes, then lift off a corner of the foil to allow the steam to escape. Re-cover the pan and bake for 10 to 15 minutes longer, or until custards are just set in center. Chill custards until cold, about 4 to 6 hours.
DO AHEAD Can be made 2 to 3 days in advance. Cover and keep chilled.
Right before serving, sprinkle a few grains of sea salt on top of each chilled custard, then sprinkle 2 to 3 tsp of raw sugar in a thin, even layer. Use a kitchen torch or preheated broiler to caramelize the sugar.