Incredibly delicious and intriguing, this caramel-glazed custard, reminiscent of pumpkin pie, makes an elegant alternative to the holiday favorite. A hint of Ancho chile surprises your taste buds with an unusual burst of heat and flavor. We used canned pumpkin in crafting this recipe, but feel free to explore and indulge in autumn’s bounty.
For the pumpkin flan:
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup water
2 cups whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup pumpkin purée
¾ cup sugar
4 whole eggs
2 egg yolks
1 stick Mexican cinnamon (canela), about 5 grams or 1/8 ounce in weight
½ vanilla bean, split lengthwise and seeds scraped
2 inches fresh ginger, sliced
½ teaspoon Ancho chile powder
2 whole cloves
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon allspice
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
For the spiced brittle:
1 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
¼ cup butter, at room temperature
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon Ancho chile powder
¾ cup toasted pumpkin seeds
8 1-cup ramekins
Prepare the pumpkin flan:
Preheat the oven to 325 F. Butter ramekins and line them up on a flat baking sheet.
Combine 1 cup sugar and 1/3 cup water in a small saucepan and stir with your hand to make a wet, sandy sugar. Bring the sugar to a boil over medium heat and continue boiling until it turns deep amber, without stirring, but swirling the pan occasionally to evenly distribute the color, about 10 minutes. Immediately remove from heat and carefully pour the caramel into the bottom of the ramekins, evenly distributing between all eight.
[Chef’s Note: Caramel can go from a lovely amber color to a black dangerous mess in an instant. Always watch it carefully as it gets darker, and never walk away. It takes a little practice to consistently get the exact color you’re looking for, but you will quickly get the hang of it. Remember to always be careful of hot sugar, as it can cause the most painful burns.]
Combine the milk, heavy cream, ginger, cinnamon, vanilla bean and spices in a medium saucepan; bring to a simmer and steep for 15 minutes. In a large bowl, beat the eggs lightly. Add the sugar, salt and pumpkin purée and whisk to blend. Slowly temper the hot milk mixture into the egg mixture. Whisk to fully combine, and strain the entire mixture through a fine meshed sieve twice, discarding solids.
Evenly pour this mixture into the ramekins over the hardened caramel. Carefully move the baking sheet (with filled ramekins) into the preheated oven. Pour warm water into the baking sheet to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins, to bake in a water bath. Cover with another baking sheet or loosely with foil and bake for about 45 minutes, until the custard is set and a knife inserted near center comes out clean. Remove from the oven and let cool completely in water bath. Remove from water bath and refrigerate until very cold, at least 4-6 hours.
[Chef’s Note: The longer you allow the custard to remain chilled in the refrigerator, the better chance that you will have a nice liquid caramel sauce once you unmold the flans. Sugar will absorb liquid, but needs time; if served before the flans have time to set, the finished product may have a solid disc at the top of the flan. If you can leave them to rest overnight, you will not have to worry about this.]
Prepare the spiced brittle:
Prepare a flat baking sheet with parchment, wax paper or a non-stick silpat. Mix together the sugar and the cream of tartar and place in a saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, and continue, occasionally swirling the pan, until it turns a deep amber. Once it has reached a dark caramel color, add the butter, vanilla, salt and Ancho chile powder, whisking continuously to completely emulsify. Mix in the toasted pumpkin seeds and spread out evenly onto the prepared baking sheet (try to get the brittle to be an even ¼ – ½ inch layer). Allow to cool and harden for at least 1 hour. Break into pieces and set aside.
[Chef’s Note: If the caramel hardens too quickly and becomes difficult to spread, just place the baking sheet in a 400 F heated oven for 30 seconds to 1 minute and it will become pliable again.]
To unmold the flans, run a knife around the edge of the custard to loosen. Dip the outer edge of the ramekins in hot water for a few seconds for easier release. Place a dish on top of the custard, invert the custard onto the dish and shake gently to release the flan. Carefully remove the ramekin, allowing the caramel to run over the flan and onto the plate. Repeat with each flan to unmold. Garnish with pieces of the spiced brittle.
Recipe and photo by Monica Glass