It would appear I have pumpkin on the mind. Hugo and I took a walk through Franklin Park yesterday, and in the glory of that gorgeous fall day (amazing, wasn’t it, with the sunshine glistening and the leaves whirling?) all I could think was pumpkin custard. My dad put the bug in my ear on this one. I’ve never been a huge fan of pumpkin pie (The audacity, right? Don’t worry, I’m shunned in many a pumpkin pie adoring circle.) So for Canadian Thanksgiving,* he promised pumpkin revelation in the form of a crème caramel he’d made a while back. After some consideration, we decided crème caramel for 30 people might not be such a great idea.
The crème caramel idea stuck though, and this week I asked him to send over the recipe. Lo and behold, it was actually a recipe for a sweet potato flan from Emril, which my dad had made with pumpkin instead. In an almost uncanny coincidence given the season, the recipe had a Halloween twist: a decorative chocolate spider’s web topping. Cheesy as it is, I couldn’t resist the cleverness.
Last night I set about making the crème caramels. I scrapped Emril’s flan recipe, instead creating my own loosely based on Todd English’s recipe here, also sent over by my dad. And as for the pumpkin, well, I ditched that too. Fresh pumpkin I find a little watery and lacking flavor, making it ill-suited for baking. Canned pumpkin is much thicker and more baking-friendly, but with all the fresh stuff available now, it seems a shame to opt for something in a can.
You can achieve a richer pumpkin puree from fresh pumpkin by cooking the puree over low heat for an hour or so to reduce the liquid. Or, you can do as a lot of folks in the restaurant world do, and switch it out for butternut squash or kambocha squash instead. Both squashes are naturally lower in water and richer in flavor. I opted for butternut squash here, but the name butternut squash crème caramel doesn’t quite have the same ring as pumpkin. Makes 6 crème caramels.
*October 11, for those of you scratching your heads. We celebrate the harvest earlier up north when, you know, things are actually being harvested, instead of the end of November when things are often frozen that part of the world. My parents were in town for the occasion and we hosted 30 people in our back yard and made some turkey all in honor of my, ahem, heritage.
For the Chocolate Spider’s Webs
6 oz bittersweet chocolate chips (I used Ghirardelli’s 60%)
Parchment paper, tape, and a marker
Cover the back side of a sheet pan with parchment paper. You may want to tape it down if it curls up. Trace 8 circles the size of your ramekins. (The recipe only yields 6 crème caramels, but it’s a good idea to give yourself a couple of extra webs for practice and incase of breakage.) Draw spider’s webs in each of the circles using a marker. These will be your patterns.
Melt the chocolate chips in a double boiler over medium heat (I used a metal mixing bowl set over a sauce pan with 2-3 inches of simmering water.) Let the melted chocolate cool slightly and then transfer it to a piping bag fitted with a narrow round tip (#4) or use a Ziplock bag with a small hole cut out of one of the corners. Carefully trace over the spider web patterns in chocolate – you may need to cool your chocolate slightly if it runs too fast. Set the spider webs in the refrigerator or freezer to firm up.
For the Crème
¼ cup fresh ginger, peel on and roughly chopped
1 cup milk
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup cooked and pureed winter squash*
¼ cup plus 2 tbsp granulated sugar
2 tbsp maple syrup
2 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
Freshly grated nutmeg
*Roughly two cups raw diced squash will yield one cup cooked pureed squash. To cook the squash, simply cover it with water in a small sauce pan, bring to a boil, and then simmer until soft. Drain and puree in a food processor. You can also substitute canned pumpkin puree.
Combine the ginger, milk, and cream in a small sauce pan. Bring to a boil, add the pureed squash, and remove from the heat. Set aside for to steep for 1 hour.
For the Caramel
1 cup granulated sugar
½ cup water
Meanwhile, Make the Caramel: Have 6 small ramekins ready. Pour the sugar in the center of a heavy bottomed sauce pan and pour the water around the sugar. Set the pan over medium heat and cook, without stirring, until the caramel reaches a deep amber color. See here for tips on making caramels. Immediately spoon the hot caramel into the ramekins, tilting the ramekins to coat the bottom. Set the ramekins aside. You will likely not need all of the caramel – just use enough so that each ramekin is well coated.
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Combine the sugar, maple syrup, eggs, egg yolks, and nutmeg in a medium mixing bowl and whisk well. Strain the steeped milk mixture into the egg mixture. Whisk to combine. Evenly distribute the custard between the 6 ramekins and place the ramekins in a rimmed baking dish. Fill the dish with water to come half-way up the sides of the ramekins. Bake 30-40 minutes until just set – the outer rim of the custard will be firm, but the inside will be slightly wobbly still when gently giggled. Cool slightly and then refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight.
To Serve: Run a sharp knife around the edge of each ramekin and carefully invert onto a serving plate. Top with a chocolate spider’s web and serve immediately.