Pumpkin Crème brûlée

I have always had a "love affair" with crème brûlée. Literally translated to "burnt cream", it is a classic dessert, simply made with egg yolks, heavy cream, sugar, and vanilla beans. This mixture is whisked together, baked until the custard sets, chilled, and then "brûléed" with a little sugar on top (with help from a blowtorch) for an added sugary crust. Nothing beats tapping your spoon on top of the crust to break it, getting that perfect crust-to-custard ratio, and delighting in the burst of flavor and texture as it hits your mouth.

When I was a pastry chef, I strangely fell in love with making crème brûlées. I favored trying to create new and innovative ways of taking the basic flavors of the custard's base and changing things up a bit: some of the most popular brûlée flavors I concocted were Irish coffee, ginger infused with mango puree, and white chocolate with raspberry puree.

But the one that still stands out as my favorite to make is pumpkin crème brûlée. This recipe was handed down to me from the exiting pastry chef, and it was the first one I made at the restaurant I was working for. Due to the fact it was Thanksgiving-time when I started, we were elbow-deep in making hundreds of these crème brûlées for parties and events, as they were one of the most popular items on the dessert menu. 

Being "that time of year" where pumpkin is everywhere, I decided to make them recently for a girl's dinner and then for Thanksgiving, to which rave reviews were handed down again. I had to pass it along.

(note: crème brûlées, though may appear daunting at first, are quite frankly very easy to make)

Recipe (makes about 5-6 regular ramekins and 10-12 small ramekins)


1 1/4 C heavy whipping cream
1/2 fresh vanilla bean, split and beans scraped (or substitute 1 tsp vanilla extract)
5 egg yolks
6 tbsp sugar, plus extra for "brûlée"
1 tsp nutmeg
1/2 C solid packed pumpkin (canned version)
2 tbsp orange liqueur (optional)

Preheat oven to 325F.

First things first, add the cream to a small sauce pot; and the vanilla bean pod and beans to the cream; bring to a low boil (small bubbles all around edge of cream in pot) and turn off heat to allow vanilla to "steep" in cream, about 10 minutes.

While vanilla and cream are steeping, mix together egg yolks, sugar, nutmeg, pumpkin, and orange liqueur (optional). Whisk together well to combine.

After 10 minutes of cream and vanilla steeping, bring cream back up to a low boil. Remove from heat, and SLOWLY pour cream into egg-pumpkin mixture, whisking constantly. Make sure to scrape all leftover vanilla beans left in bottom of the pan into the mixture.

Remove vanilla bean pod from the mixture as you do not want to bake with these!

(This step can be made 1-2 days ahead; cover with plastic wrap and store in refrigerator until ready to use)

Next, pour pumpkin batter into ramekins. Place into large baking vessels where the lip of the vessel is higher than the ramekins because they will be baking in a water bath.

Fill the baking vessels with water, enough to almost reach the lip of each ramekin (by "lip" in the above photo, I am referring to the top portion of the ramekin where it is a bit thicker). Place in oven and bake until custard is set, about 20 minutes for regular ramekins and about 15 minutes for small ramekins (make sure to judge for yourself, every oven can be and is different!).

Remove baking vessels from oven, and place ramekins on a cookie sheet; wrap each individually with plastic wrap and store in refrigerator for at least 8 hours, preferably overnight, to allow the custard to set.

When ready to serve, sprinkle some sugar on top of the custard, and using a blow torch, brûlée the sugar on top to a golden brown.

And serve.

Slightly crunchy, sublimely creamy = just what you are looking for in a perfect crème brûlée. The added pumpkin and spices is just the hint of what is needed for this holiday season, and they balance beautifully with the richness from the eggs and cream. 

And, with the now HUNDREDS of these pumpkin crème brûlées I have made over the last decade, the smiles on my guests faces in their sheer delight of this simple yet oh-so-flavorful dessert are indeed priceless.

Penne Pasta with Roasted Acorn Squash, Sweet Italian Sausage, Wilted Arugula and a White Wine Reduction

In the Fall and Winter months, squash is everywhere. And beyond the traditional carving pumpkin, there are some excellent varietals that can be transformed into fantastic soups, sides, gnocchi, and pasta dishes. Some of my favorite are Butternut squash, Acorn squash, and sugar pie pumpkin. Simply quartered, seeded, drizzled with olive oil, seasoned with salt and pepper, and then roasted until soft, these lovely squash take on a sweet, nutty flavor that is fantastic on its own or added to any dish.

I recently created this simple yet savory pasta dish with leftover Italian sausage and arugula I had in my fridge, and it was delicious. The sweetness of the roasted squash with the sausage was a perfect pairing, and the slight pepper from the arugula was a great addition. The white wine and chicken stock reduction keeps this dish light (and on the healthy side). Enjoy this excellent pasta dish throughout the cold Winter months!

Recipe: (makes 3 large or 4 medium servings)

1 acorn squash (or small butternut squash), quartered and seeds removed
olive oil          
4 links sweet/mild Italian sausage, casings removed
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
¼ cup of white wine
2 cups chicken stock
1 bag (6-7oz) spinach or arugula
3 cups penne pasta
2 tbsp parsley, finely chopped for garnish
grated Parmesan for garnish
sea salt & cracked pepper
toasted pumpkin seeds (or pepitas) for garnish

Preheat oven to 375F; place quartered acorn squash on foil lined baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Place in oven and roast 35 – 45 minutes or until fork tender, remove from oven and allow to cool. When cool remove skin from squash and cut into 1/2 inch cubes.
In a large pot bring water to boil and add penne pasta, cook to al dente.  In a sauté pan over medium high heat, add 2 tbsp olive oil, and add sausage to sauté pan using a spatula break up sausage into smaller pieces while browning. Sauté for 10 – 12 minutes or until sausage is cooked through. Remove sausage from pan onto paper towel lined plate.
Over medium heat in the same sauté pan add onion; sweat onions until soft about 7 minutes, add garlic and stir. Add white wine and scrape up brown bits while reducing down until almost dry. Add chicken stock and reduce by 2/3. Add squash to pan and remove from heat.
Drain penne pasta into a large bowl and add spinach; stir to wilt completely, add squash mixture, and sausage to bowl and gently stir to combine. Season with salt and pepper.
Plate pasta and garnish with parsley, Parmesan, and toasted pumpkin seeds.