I love how Food52 contests challenge me to think about recipes. This creme caramel is an old favorite of mine. One of the unique characteristics of the custard is that about half the caramel goes on the bottom of the molds and the other half goes in the custard . The lemon juice in the caramel is a little trick I learned from a chef--the lemon keeps the sugar from crystallizing, so you don't have to mess around with brushing the sides of the pan with water. I would never forsake pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving, but if there was a pie crisis, I would grudgingly accept this as an alternative. I added some pumpkin and spice to the original recipe, and because there is no cream, it is relatively light and would therefore go down easy after a big meal. The portions are small. too, so maybe the pumpkin pie can wait until next year after all. - Sally —Sally
Test Kitchen Notes
This is a truly melt-in-your mouth delicious recipe that will please everyone. For those who think they do not like pumpkin, this will change their mind. It's very easy to prepare. I like addition of the orange zest, it really wakes up the flavors. Perfect for fall entertaining, I am sure I will be making this over and over again throughout the holiday season. —Stockout
Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Set 8 5-ounce ramekins in a baking dish and place it next to the stove.
Combine the milk and orange zest in a medium saucepan and heat over medium heat until small bubbles form around the edges. Keep warm.
To make the caramel for the molds and the custard: Combine the granulated sugar and lemon juice in a separate small saucepan. Rub the lemon juice into the sugar with your fingers until the sugar is saturated. Stir over medium heat with a long wooden spoon until the sugar melts and turns a dark amber color. (Use oven mitts if you are new to this—caramel can give you a nasty burn.) Spoon about 1 tablespoon into the bottom of each ramekin. Don’t worry if it doesn’t coat the entire bottom of the dish.
Stirring constantly, trickle the remaining caramel into the hot milk mixture. The milk may boil up, so go slowly. Stir until dissolved. Pour some of the milk back into the caramel pan and stir to scrape up all the caramel goodness; then combine it with the rest of the milk.
Whisk the egg yolks, whole eggs, brown sugar, pumpkin puree, vanilla, cinnamon, ginger and salt together in a bowl. Slowly whisk in the hot milk. Strain into a large measuring cup with a spout (for easy pouring). Spoon off the air bubbles from the surface.
Fill the ramekins with the custard. Place the baking dish next to the oven and fill with enough hot tap water to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake for 10 minutes and decrease the oven temperature to 325 degrees F for 30 to 40 minutes longer, until the custard is set but still very slightly wobbly in the center. A toothpick should come out clean when you poke it into the center of the custard. Remove the pan from the oven. Chill the custards until very cold, at least 6 hours, overnight is best.
To unmold the custards, carefully run a knife around the edge of each ramekin to loosen the custard and create an air space. Invert a dessert plate on top of each ramekin. Turn it upside down and with both hands, firmly grasp the ramekin and the plate, so that your thumbs on are on top and fingers are on the bottom. Give it one or two good, firm shakes to release the custard. Repeat with the remaining molds.
I am a home cook,author of a couple of cookbooks and mother. I write for the Boston Globe from time to time. My "kid" just left for college and comes home for cooking lessons. Too bad he was completely uninterested in the process (except when he was little and gingerbread was involved) until now. Without Mom to cook, he's very, very hungry. But it's fun to keep bonding over the stove.
I blog about food and life at www.sallypasleyvargas.com