My husband Lulu loves it when Thanksgiving rolls around, because it's usually the time of the year when I experiment with new desserts. He often makes suggestions, and always selflessly volunteers to be the taste-tester.
His latest suggestion was a pumpkin-flavored flan. Lulu tends to forget that I was born French. A "flan pâtissier" in France is a pie crust called "pâte brisée" filled with custard made of egg yolks, milk, cream, sugar, cornstarch and vanilla beans. So that's what I made, with the addition of pumpkin, of course.
I told Lulu he would be eating flan for dessert. Once he finished it in the evening, he smiled and said: "All day long, I was looking forward to pumpkin-flavored crème caramel. I loved this French-style pumpkin custard pie, but can I have a pumpkin crème caramel tomorrow?" I hope my daughter doesn't end up so spoiled! And in case you were wondering, I am going to make the crème caramel today...
Servings: 6 tartlets
1 cup all-purpose flour + 2 tablespoons for rolling the dough
¼ teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, diced
1 tablespoon butter-flavored vegetable shortening
3 egg yolks
1 cup milk + 3 tablespoons for the crust
½ cup granulated sugar + ½ teaspoon for the crust
1 vanilla bean
⅓ cup heavy whipping cream
3 tablespoons corn starch
5 ounces pumpkin purée
(homemade or store-bought)
For the pie crust:
Line 6 tin molds (see tips) with parchment paper.
Make sure the butter is chilled.
In a mixing bowl, combine 1 cup flour, salt, butter, shortening and ½ teaspoon sugar. Mix using the back of fork (or a stainless-steel pastry blender) until it forms sandy crumbs. Add 1 egg yolk and slowly add 3 tablespoons cold milk, blending until the dough is barely formed. Do NOT over-mix. Cover with a towel and chill in the refrigerator for at least 15 minutes.
Once chilled, transfer the dough onto a pastry board lined with a sheet of parchment paper (plastic wrap works fine too). Sprinkle with 2 tablespoons flour. Place another sheet of parchment paper on top of the dough like a sandwich. Using a rolling pin, even out the dough to 6 equal pieces.
Top the molds with the disk (or square) of dough. Press the dough against the wall of the mold. Let chill in the freezer until you're ready to use.
For the pumpkin custard filling:
Using a paring knife, scrape and gather all the grains of the vanilla bean (see tips).
In a small saucepan, combine the cream and the remaining 1 cup milk. Bring to a near boil. Turn off the heat.
In another mixing bowl, using an electric handheld mixer, whisk 2 eggs yolks with the gathered vanilla beans and ½ cup sugar until the color becomes pale yellow. Pour in some of the cream and milk mixture slowly so that the eggs don't curdle. Add corn starch, whisk and add the rest of the cream and milk liquid. Stir for about 1-2 minutes. Return the egg mixture to the saucepan. Cook while whisking manually until the texture thickens. Strain the custard through a coarse-mesh sieve. Remove and discard egg solids (if any). Add the pumpkin purée. Mix well and let cool to room temperature.
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Fill the tart crusts with the pumpkin custard. Bake for 30 minutes. (You might want to extend the cooking time by 10-15 more minutes depending on the size of the molds). A skewer or a toothpick inserted into the center should tell you if the custard is set.
Serve with hot tea or pumpkin spiced lattes.
After scraping the grains of vanilla, don't discard the remaining vanilla bean. Just place it in a jar and cover it with regular granulated sugar. Let it sit for a few weeks and you'll have a nice, fragrant vanilla sugar.
Rolling the dough between 2 sheets of parchment paper (or on 2 silicon mats) eleminates the need for too much flour on the rolling surface, which can change the texture of the dough.
I used individual tins (2½" round and 2" square cake molds).