11.25.09 The Great Pumpkin

Pumpkin1 790 xxx
illustration by janice richter
I love pumpkin pie. What I really love about it has everything to do with pumpkin and nothing to do with the crust. It's all about the innards. (Yet another reason why I'm a good match for my gluten-intolerant husband.) I began making this custard years ago, partially influenced by the many flans of my childhood. I like to serve it with a dollop of ginger-spiked crème fraîche and some candied pepitas. And then I like to wake up the next morning and eat it just plain or with yogurt (or with more crème fraîche) for breakfast.

Pumpkin happens to be an excellent source of carotenoids—antioxidants that reduce the risk of cancer. Rich in beta-carotene, it's also one of the highest sources of alpha-carotene, which boosts immunity. And it's got plenty of vitamin C, niacin, calcium and fiber. Even the seeds are full of protein, amino acids, zinc and iron. This recipe takes advantage of all of this great nutrition, which hopefully offsets some of the fat and sugar... I have to confess that this year, feeling all virtuous, I tried to make a tofu-based pumpkin custard, adapted from a Moosewood recipe, and it REALLY SUCKED. (I do have a fantastic recipe for a tofu-based chocolate mousse though.) Fortunately, I had time to chuck it and start over with this one, which is always a hit.

Pumpkin Custard

originally inspired by Martha Stewart; serves 8
  • — 2 cups heavy cream
  • — 2 egg yolks, and 4 whole eggs, lightly beaten
  • — 1 cup pumpkin puree, fresh or canned
  • — 2 1/2 tablespoons honey
  • — 2 1/2 tablespoons maple syrup
  • — 1/2 teaspoon allspice
  • — 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • whole nutmeg
  • crème fraîche
  • crystallized ginger

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Butter 8 1/2-cup ramekins, or a fairly deep ovenproof dish, like a small casserole, that holds at least 10 cups.

Heat the cream in a heavy saucepan. Remove from the heat and stir gradually into the beaten eggs. Stir in the pumpkin puree, honey, maple syrup and spices.

Strain the mixture and divide it equally among the ramekins, or pour it all into the casserole. Grate a thin layer of fresh nutmeg over the top.

Place the ramekins or casserole in a large roasting pan. Fill the pan with enough hot water to reach halfway up the sides of the custard dishes. Place the pan on a rack in the bottom third of the oven and bake until set, approximately 40 minutes. A single dish will take about an hour. Cool before serving. (I actually prefer it well chilled.) Serve custard with a dollop of crème fraîche into which you have stirred some chopped crystallized ginger and top with a sprinkling of the candied pumpkin seeds detailed below.

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Candied Pumpkin Seeds

adapted from Suzanne Goin's Sunday Suppers at Lucques
makes 1/2 cup
  • — 1/4 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • — 2 teaspoons unsalted butter
  • — 1/2 cup pepitas (raw pumpkin seeds)
  • — 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • — generous pinch each ground cardamom & cayenne
  • — 2 teaspoons honey
  • sea salt

Melt the butter in a small pan over medium heat. Add the pumpkin seeds and the sugar, then sprinkle spices and a generous pinch of salt over them. Toss to coat well and cook until seeds begin to pop and brown slightly, a few minutes.

Turn off the heat and wait 30 seconds, then add honey and toss well to coat. Spread pumpkin seeds on a plate and break apart after they've cooled completely.

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1 Comment

the custard sounds simple and YUM! can't wait to try it... the seeds! i want to try them sprinkled on my fave salad of the moment: grilled chix paillard topped with baby arugula, feta and beets in a simple vinaigrette. i usually sprinkle raw pepitas, but these would add an interesting spicy sweet counter. cardamom is also an obsession... i put seeds in my French press with the coffee (a la hampton chutney) and my senses swoon... JAN, your illustration is gorgeous. fun to see your new work!
Joc on December 24, 2009 at 4:09 am —