Pumpkin custard, like Maple Pecan Pie and Slow-Roasted Turkey, finds a place on my Thanksgiving table every November, and often throughout the winter too. Its luscious, velvety smooth texture and lovely pumpkin flavor that's laced with aromatic spices make the custard a perfect dessert for cold winter nights.
Unlike many pumpkin custard recipes, this one skips all the cans and uses only wholesome, fresh ingredients like roasted pumpkin purée, real cream, egg yolks, spices, and the lightest touch of maple for sweetness.
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What is it?
Pumpkin custards, like homemade root beer, are a quintessentially American dessert. And, if you have an interest, you can find references and recipes for them in just about every early American cookbook.
Pumpkins are indigenous to North America, and colonists quickly adopted traditional European recipes to their use - among them custards. Early recipes often call for sweetening pumpkin purée with molasses, flavoring it with aromatic spices, and baking the custard in the shell of a pumpkin.
More often than not, modern recipes rely on canned pumpkin purée, ample brown sugar, sweetened condensed milk, and premixed spices. But, you'll find your results are better when you use fresh pumpkin purée rather than canned and enrich it with egg yolks, cream, and just the lightest touch of maple sugar.
Tips for making a good custard
Pumpkin custard is a super flexible dessert, and fairly easy to make. The key is to use a very smooth purée and plenty of fat for a luscious, smooth custard.
- Use freshly roasted pumpkin purée rather than canned for better flavor. You can make pumpkin purée by splitting a pumpkin, removing the seeds, and roasting it at 400 F on a rimmed baking sheet until soft. Scoop out the flesh and whir it in a food processor or blender until smooth.
- Use any winter squash you like, kabocha, red kuri, butternut squash and pie pumpkins all work fine.
- Strain the custard base before baking. That way, you'll remove any stringy bits of pumpkin or unblended egg for a smoother texture.
- Bake the custards in a water bath which keeps an even temperature. That means better, smoother texture.
- Let them cool to room temperature before serving.
While the basic recipe for pumpkin custard includes many of the same spices you'd find in pumpkin pie, you can easily adjust the recipe on the fly with whatever you happen to find in your kitchen.
Make it dairy-free by swapping full-fat coconut milk for the heavy cream.
Make it a little lighter by swapping half-and-half for the heavy cream.
If you don't care for maple, try using whole, unrefined cane sugar or even honey, but if you use a liquid sweetener, you may need to adjust the amount of cream you add.
Try vanilla in place of stronger spices. Vanilla bean powder or extract can give this custard a delicious sweet, musky floral aroma that blends beautifully with pumpkin.
Try adding ginger or star anise, for lovely, subtle heat and nice anise-like flavor.
If you really want pie, try baking this custard in a crust and you can skip all the junk that usually goes into pumpkin pies - like sweetened condensed milk.
Make pumpkin custards in the sous vide by filling mason jars, sealing them finger-tight and then cooking them at 176 F for 1 hour.