Make Ahead

Salted Pumpkin Crème Brûlée

October 26, 2012
1 Ratings
Photo by James Ransom
  • Serves 8 to 12
Author Notes

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.
—The Editors

What You'll Need
  • 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)
  • 6 large egg yolks
  • Large pinch sea salt, plus more to finish
  • 8 T raw sugar
  1. Heat oven to 325 degrees F.
  2. 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.
  3. While pumpkin is caramelizing, whisk together egg yolks and granulated sugar in large bowl. Set aside.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. DO AHEAD Can be made 2 to 3 days in advance. Cover and keep chilled.
  8. 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.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Julie P.
    Julie P.
  • SarahInMinneapolis
  • EmilyC
  • lapadia
  • gingerroot

Recipe by: EmilyC

I'm a home cook. I love salads. Two things you'll always find in my refrigerator are lemons and butter, and in my pantry good quality chocolate and the makings for chocolate chip cookies.

26 Reviews

Heather November 30, 2019
Wonderful, albeit no lighter in calories, alternative to traditional pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving. In my opinion, if you dont already have a kitchen torch, this is the time to invest and then youll have it forevermore. As my torch was short on fuel, i had to opt for the broiler which worked perfectly for the sugar but also heated the custard a bit more than i would have preferred.
Gabriela A. May 4, 2017
Hi! what does 8 T raw sugar mean?
EmilyC May 4, 2017
8 tablespoons! And by raw sugar, I mean turbinado. Or other types of coarse sugar would work!
Julie P. November 1, 2015
I made this last night and it was awesome. The only thing I did differently was that I strained the pumpkin mixture before adding it to the egg/sugar mixture to perhaps make it smoother. It was great! I'd make this again.
Arelis November 8, 2014
I'm Trying out this recipe that seems delicious but while preparing it out I'm confused as to in what moment is the raw sugar used?!?!?
hardlikearmour November 8, 2014
At the very end - see step 8. It's what turns into the crunchy top shell after you torch it.
SarahInMinneapolis April 24, 2014
Must be the cold spring weather causing my search for a Thanksgiving recipe in April! We are done with pumpkin pie in our family and every year I try a pumpkin-something-different. This looks fabulous. A couple of questions. One, if I make several days ahead and then chill the ramekins, do I bring them to room temp before adding the salt and sugar to caramelize? Two, I've never made creme brulee. How does a broiler work or should I spend the $20 to get a blow torch? Three, if I do the broiler, do I run the risk of the ramekins cracking? Thanks! I figure it may be months until someone gets back to me, so I'm posting the questions now. [When I'd rather be thinking about gazpacho!]
Peggy H. October 10, 2014
I would also like to know if you can Brulee them under the broiler.
EmilyC October 13, 2014
Gosh, so sorry for the late response! The broiler will work absolutely fine. That's what I typically use. And no need to warm the custards before caramelizing the sugar. Your ramekins shouldn't crack from the brief run under the broiler. Hope this helps!
cary W. December 20, 2013
yum! wonder if i can cook the custard on the stovetop and skip the baking in the previous food 52 recipe/tutorial?
EmilyC December 20, 2013
Hi Cary, I've only made creme brulee by baking it in a water bath. It's an extra step but probably a lot more foolproof than trying to cook it on the stove top without curdling the custard. Let me know if you have success making it a different way!
cary W. December 28, 2013
hi emily! i did it on the stovetop with a thermometer til 170*. using a nigella recipe for guidance. it was wonderful, and easier for me than the water bath i think. thank you for a delicious recipe! my family raved!
EmilyC December 29, 2013
Oh that's great to hear! So glad the stove top method worked well. Thanks for circling back!
Sujatha September 6, 2013
Would love to make this for thanksgiving, but have you any experience making this in one large dish? We have vegetarians & food allergies -- some will love this, some will choose an alternate dessert & I wouldn't know how many dishes to make!
EmilyC September 6, 2013
Hi Sujatha -- It'll work just fine in a large dish! You'll need one that holds about 1.5 quarts (6 cups) -- a gratin or casserole that's shallow will work well since you'll get plenty of surface area to torch. You should still plan to use a water bath. The baking time will probably be a little longer, but check it according to recipe above just to be safe. Enjoy! I'm impressed that you're planning so far in advance! : )
EmilyC November 22, 2012
Thanks everyone for your kind words...what a nice surprise! Happy Thanksgiving!
lapadia November 21, 2012
Genius recipe! Congratulations :)
Madhuja November 21, 2012
Congratulations, EmilyC! What a great recipe! Have a wonderful Thanksgiving! :)
gingerroot November 21, 2012
Congrats on the WC, EmilyC!
inpatskitchen November 21, 2012
Congratulations Emily!! Beautiful recipe!
drbabs November 21, 2012
Congratulations! Love this!
fiveandspice November 21, 2012
Gorgeous! Congrats on the WC!
jenniebgood November 2, 2012
I love that you combined a contest entry with a perfect fall dessert - sounds really delicious!
EmilyC November 2, 2012
Thanks so much. I'm of the belief that you can't have too many (good) pumpkin recipes this time of year!
hardlikearmour October 30, 2012
Yum! This sounds like a great alternative to pie for the holidays. I'm with you - anything with a crunchy caramelized sugar top will always be in fashion!
EmilyC October 30, 2012
Thanks HLA! I definitely had Thanksgiving in mind when I made them. It's nice to have a non-pie option, and I love the fact that they can be made several days in advance. I ate one on day 3 -- tasted just as good and fresh as on day 1! : )