It probably goes without saying that we rarely—if ever—eat dessert. It’s not in the budget, and thankfully we’re not big dessert people to begin with. I do, however, make dessert when we host Thanksgiving each year (which, unfortunately, does not make for a $35 week), and because I like to make something different each time, it usually requires a bit of practice.
The idea of crème brûlée came up, but I only had individual soufflé ramekins, not brûlée ramekins, and I wasn’t about to go buy 10 of them just for this one time. I noticed they had miniature pumpkins on sale at Grocery Outlet this week that happened to be in a similar size and shape of a brûlée ramekin, so I thought I’d pick a couple up and see if I could make them work as such. And indeed, they did. Although it was a pain in the ass of epic proportions to hollow them out.
The following recipe was enough to fill two small pumpkin cups and one small soufflé ramekin.
2 pumpkins: $1.58
2 egg yolks (the chickens are molting, so I had to grit my teeth and buy eggs): 33 cents
2/3 cup half-and-half: 44 cents
1/2 tsp vanilla extract: 3 cents
4 T sugar (or more to taste): 5 cents
1/4 tsp cinnamon: 4 cents
1/4 tsp allspice: 4 cents
1/8 tsp nutmeg: 2 cents
1/4 cup pumpkin (from a 99-cent can): 25 cents
TOTAL: $2.75/2 = $1.38 each
Cut the tops off the pumpkins and scoop out the insides with a spoon or melon baller. Sprinkle the insides with a little cinnamon and sugar, wrap the pumpkins (without the tops) in foil, place on a baking sheet, and bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees. This way the flesh mimics the flavor and texture of the custard.
Meanwhile, whisk the sugar and egg yolks in a small bowl. Add the spices and vanilla to the half-and-half and heat until steaming but not simmering. Pour the half-and-half slowly into the yolk mixture, whisking the whole time to temper the eggs. Stir in the pumpkin until combined, taste and adjust sugar, pumpkin and/or spices if necessary, and strain through a sieve. (The pumpkin can be kind of gritty.)
When the pumpkins are done, fill each one a little more than 3/4 full with the mixture and place back on the baking sheet. Pour the rest into another container and set it in another container full of enough water to come about halfway up the sides of the soufflé cup. (This way the outside doesn’t overcook before the inside can finish.) Cook for about 30-40 minutes, or until just the middle of the soufflé wiggles when pushed.
Cool to room temperature, then place in the fridge for a couple hours.
When ready to serve, sprinkle sugar over the tops (turbinado sugar is best for this, but granulated works fine, too) and brulée with a torch—heat just enough to melt and caramelize the sugar into a crackly crust, taking care not to burn it. Usually a broiler will work in a pinch, but not with the pumpkin cups. You don’t have to have a little chef’s butane torch; I use a giant propane soldering torch. Anything will do as long as it has a direct flame.