Creamy Pumpkin Flan with Caramel

It’s almost un-American to admit this – I’ve never cared for pumpkin pie. And for someone who has baked thousands of desserts, I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve baked pumpkin pies for my own family. However, it didn’t take me long to create an acceptable pumpkin dessert that would please even the most die-hard pumpkin pie fan. Using my favorite Cuban flan recipe as the base, I added freshly roasted Kabocha pumpkin purée and a few pinches of sweet spices. The result was the perfect make-ahead dessert for holidays. P.S. I’ve not been asked to bake a pumpkin pie since!

INGREDIENTS:

For Caramel
1 1/2 cups sugar

For Custard
8 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
1 can sweetened condensed milk
1 cup pumpkin purée (fresh or canned)*
3/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 can evaporated milk (or heavy cream)
5 extra large eggs
1 tablespoon pure Mexican vanilla extract**
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
Optional: 1/2 cup toasted pepitas (pumpkin seeds) or toasted sliced almonds

If using homemade purée, use a drier pumpkin, such as roasted kabocha.  If using a fresh pie pumpkin, let the purée drain for half an hour before using. Homemade pumpkin purée tends to have a wetter consistency than canned pumpkin.

**Use only pure Mexican vanilla from a reliable source, such as The Vanilla Company. Bourbon vanilla extract can be substituted, but the real magic of this dessert is the rich Mexican vanilla flavor that stands up to the caramel and earthy pumpkin flavors.

METHOD:

For caramel:
Place sugar in the bottom of a heavy skillet over medium heat. When sugar starts to melt slightly, begin stirring. Continue stirring until sugar is completely melted and a rich golden brown, about 10 minutes or so. DO NOT BURN! Immediately pour hot syrup into flan pan or mold of your choice. Tilt the pan carefully to evenly coat the bottom and sides of your flan pan with the caramel. Set aside.

For Custard:
Preheat oven to 350°F.

Place the softened cream cheese in the bowl of a food processor. Process until cheese is creamy. Add condensed milk, pumpkin purée, sugar, cornstarch, eggs, vanilla, and spices. Process until mixture is thoroughly combined and smooth. Scrape down sides of processor bowl, and process briefly.

Pour the mixture through a strainer positioned directly over the flan pan. (Alternately, you can also strain mixture into a large quart measuring cup, and then pour into the flan pan, if this is easier for you.)

Place the filled flan pan in a large shallow roasting pan, and fill the pan with boiling water until it reaches about halfway up the sides of the flan plan. Place pan on the lower center rack of your oven and bake for 50-60 minutes, or until the center is firm, but still jiggles slightly.

Cool for one hour. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 24 hours.

To unmold, run a thin-bladed knife around the edges of the flan mold, and shake gently to loosen. Place a serving plate on top of mold, and then invert mold.

Garnish with toasted pepitas or sliced almonds, if desired.