Crème caramel is custard baked atop a layer of caramelized sugar, and inverted. While it bakes, the candied sugar softens and turns to a river of caramel.
While I tested Thanksgiving recipes last year, I added pumpkin and spices to a basic crème caramel recipe. Each small, individual dessert was smooth and delicious—perfect for an elegant fall party, an intimate Thanksgiving, or the way my kids liked them: as an after school snack.
Though these beautiful things take a few more steps than a cake mix, they are easier than you think, and so impressive.
Pumpkin Crème Caramel
1 3/4 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup milk
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon allspice
1/8 teaspoon cloves
3 egg yolks
1/2 cup granulated or superfine sugar
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup pumpkin puree
for the caramel:
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Heat the cream together in a medium saucepan set over medium heat. Stir in spices and let it almost come to a boil. While the milk and cream mixture heats, whisk together eggs, 1/2 cup granulated sugar, and the brown sugar. Whisk briskly until sugar dissolves and the mixture turns to a pale yellow and falls in ribbons. When the milk and cream is heated, whisk the sugar and egg mixture while slowly ladling in the hot cream mixture. Stir in vanilla and pumpkin and pour through a fine sieve. Set aside.
2. Set six large ramekins in a roasting pan lined with a clean kitchen towel. To make the caramel, stir together sugar, cinnamon, ginger, and 3 tablespoons of water in a large skillet set over medium high heat. Swirl the pan occasionally to let the heat distribute evenly. Let the mixture come to a boil. You want the mixture to turn a dark brown, but since we have the spices in there, it’s going to be hard to tell. You will need to watch carefully for the bubbles to go from looking like they are thin and watery to thick and viscous. They should look like candy bubbles, forming and popping.* Once the mixture is an even dark brown (darker than in the picture below—that’s still thin and watery there), or to the hard crack stage (see note), pour a thin layer of the caramel into the bottom of each ramekin.
3. Pour custard into each ramekin and pour hot tap water into the roasting dish so that it comes halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Cover with foil and bake for 35-75 minutes, depending on how deep the ramekins are. You’ll know they’re done when the custard barely jiggles in the center. Remove from oven and allow to cool in the pan until the water is completely cool. Remove ramekins from the baking dish. When they are cooled completely, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 3 hours or overnight. Use a sharp paring knife to loosen the custards around the edges. Place a small plate on top, and turn over. Tap on the ramekin to help release the custard.
*Caramel can burn very quickly once it hits the proper stage, so though you won’t have a lot of time for testing, you can know it’s the right temperature when it reaches the hard crack stage. Simply drop a small amount of the syrup into a cup of cold water. When the blob of candy drops to the bottom of the glass and is hard like candy, then you’ll know the caramel is done.