Dessert Shop #4: Mini Pumpkin Creme Brulee

There's just something special about this dessert. Maybe it's the crack of the sugar when your spoon breaks through to all the creamy smoothness (it feels so decadent, like eating lobster or crab), or the crunch in opposition to the light vanilla infused cream. Maybe it's the magic of watching the sugar crystals bubble up and meld together, the love's labor of all those eggs and dairy, the fact that you get your own serving and can decide how you want to eat, no cutting or sharing- just the decision of  "Do I eat a little crust with each bite, scoop under and get all the creamy goodness and leave the shell for last, or quickly crunch down the top layer and slowly savor the smooth yumminess one small spoonful at a time...?" Whatever the particular draw, there's no denying it's deliciousness!

As we searched for some great vessels to serve our sample sized custards at this week's demo (glass yogurt cups, stainless steel spoons?),

we decided on the cutest little cup that the autumn season has to offer- the mini pumpkin, but only because acorn sized brulees would just be a tease. Through our trial and tests we did discover that some of the pumpkin acidity seeps into the creme, so we are using brown sugar to amp up the sweetness, not to mention the added depth of seasonal flavor. Also, we found that it's best to approach the pumpkin with the torch from above, that way there is less chance that your vessel will perish in flames, and will minimize too much smokiness or burnt edges. Our creme brulee was made with vanilla paste in place of a bean- because it eliminates the 20 minute infusion wait time, and the sugar we chose is Demerara Sugar from India Tree for its light carmely flavor and large crystal size.

For torching, it's best to keep the flame low, approach from the top and slowly bring the flame down over the sugar, moving in small circular motions. Once you see the crystals start to melt, ease off and increase the radius of your circle. The ideal melting scenario is for the entire top to be bubbling in unison- that way no one spot gets too hot and you get a nice smooth uniform crust. You want to be sure that all the crystals liquify and get a little toasty without burning. My first attempt I went in hard and fast- with my torch at full flame. Needless to say, that one became 'mine' because it was definitely burnt on top, with crystals underneath... yikes.

Start low and slow, but don't be afraid of a nice golden color, that's where the flavor kicks in! Also, if using glass, ceramic or stainless vessels, be sure to allow cool down time before trying to serve... again a lesson learned the hard way.

1 medium vanilla bean or ½ tsp vanilla paste
1 C whole milk
1 pinch salt
4 egg yolks
½ cup of fresh pumpkin puree
¼ C brown sugar
1 C heavy cream
¼ C Demerara sugar

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

If using a bean: Slice vanilla bean in two, lengthwise and run blade of knife down both open halves, scraping seeds from vanilla bean.
Combine milk, vanilla bean seeds, scraped bean, and salt in a small saucepan. Place over medium heat until the milk is just below boiling. Remove from the heat and let stand for 10-20 minutes to allow the flavor of the bean to infuse. Strain the mixture through a coarse sieve back into saucepan. Discard the bean. Place the pan over medium heat, and return the mixture to a low simmer, remove from heat. If using paste: combine with milk and salt in small saucepan. Heat to a near boil on medium.

In a large heatproof bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and granulated sugar. Pour a small amount of hot milk mixture into the egg mixture to temper the eggs, whisking gently. Stir in the remaining milk mixture, skimming off any bubbles that may form. When slightly cooled, stir in the cream.

Wash and carefully cut tops from 8 small pumpkins. Use a spoon to hollow out cavity, scraping walls to less than half an inch. Place pumpkins in a baking dish and slowly pour the custard into each one, filling almost to the top. Set the baking dish in the center of the oven, then carefully pour in enough simmering water to reach halfway up the sides of the pumpkins. Be careful not to splash the custards. Bake 30-40 mins until centers appear nearly set when gently shaken. Carefully transfer pumpkins from the bath to a cooling rack, let stand at room temperature for 20 minutes. You may refrigerate up to 4 hours prior to serving. Gently blot the surface of the custards with a paper towel to remove any condensation. Sprinkle a very fine, even layer of sugar over each custard. Torch the sugar until lightly browned. Allow the sugar to harden, sprinkle a second thin layer of sugar over the first- paying attention to the edges- torch again and allow the final layer to harden. Serve with pumpkin ‘lid’.

We decided just one bite wasn't enough, but if the whole plate was a serving, then that could be fun.

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