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From My Kitchen: Pumpkin Crème Brûlée

Have you been afraid to try to make crème brûlée at home because it seems too complicated or difficult? The enormous popularity of a simple custard dessert has been one of the restaurant industry's favorite shortcuts over the last 10 years. Crème brûlée couldn't be simpler to make, as long as you invest in a couple of relatively inexpensive pieces of equipment. Essentially, it's pudding with sugar on top. No need to pay $7.00 for it at a trendy bistro when you can make it at home.

The most important thing you need for crème brûlée at home is a culinary torch. You can find them at amazon.com for as little as $30.

The other thing you need is custard cups or oval ramekins. I prefer to use shallow oval-shaped ones, since more surface area = more crunchy sugar topping. But round ramekins also work.

The vanilla flavor can be strong, mild, or nonexistent in this recipe, depending on how you use the vanilla bean. For strong vanilla tones, use a whole bean. Slice it in half lengthwise and scrape the seeds out into the heavy cream, then drop the pod into the cream and infuse. For moderate vanilla flavor, just drop a whole bean into the cream. After you infuse the cream for about 10 minutes, you can remove the whole bean, rinse it off, let it dry, and reserve it for future use. If you'd prefer that the other spices (cinnamon, cloves, and ginger) predominate, omit the vanilla altogether.

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Bake Time: 45 to 60 minutes
Yield: 6 custard cups or oval ramekins

2 cups heavy cream
1 whole vanilla bean, optional (see notes, above)
8 egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup pumpkin purée
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground ginger
1/8 tsp ground cloves
Granulated sugar, for the topping

Preheat oven to 250 degrees.

Heat heavy cream in a saucepan over medium-low heat, adding vanilla if using. Once cream is hot, reduce heat to low and infuse with vanilla for 5 to 10 minutes (if omitting vanilla, turn heat off and reserve the cream). Remove vanilla bean and discard or reserve for future use.

Combine eggs, sugar, pumpkin, and spices in a large bowl. Pour the hot cream very gradually into the egg mixture, whisking constantly. Once about half of the hot cream is incorporated, you can add the remainder more quickly. Strain the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve into a large (4-cup) glass measuring cup. The pumpkin will have some pulpy strands that may clog up the sieve, so you may need to strain in batches, scraping out and discarding the pumpkin pulp as you go.

Arrange custard cups or oval ramekins in a large baking dish, and pour water into the dish to come halfway up the sides of the custard cups. Fill the cups with the custard mixture and carefully transfer to the oven. Bake until the custard is set, but still somewhat jiggly in the middle, 45 to 60 minutes. Remove from the oven and let the custard cool in the water bath. When water is cool enough to touch, remove the cups from the heat and continue to cool. Wrap with plastic and refrigerate until serving time. Allow the custard at least 1 hour to get cold in the refrigerator.

When ready to serve, pour about 1 tsp of granulated sugar over the top of each custard (experiment with the amount to find out how much crunch you like on top of your crème brûlée. If you like a paper-thin layer, use less sugar. For a more substantial wall o' sugar, use more). Using a culinary torch, melt the sugar until it crackles and turns brown. It will solidify almost immediately. Serve and enjoy!



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