A Lighter Pumpkin Dessert for Thanksgiving

By Diane Rossen Worthington
Diane Rossen Worthington
Diane Rossen Worthington
Diane Rossen Worthington is an authority on new American cooking. She is the author of 18 cookbooks, including "Seriously Simple Parties," and a James Beard Award-winning radio show host. You can contact her at SeriouslySimple.com. Copyright 2021 Diane Rossen Worthington. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
November 9, 2021 Updated: November 9, 2021

You’ve enjoyed your Thanksgiving feast and still have room for something sweet. That’s where this dessert comes in. No heavy pie crusts here, just a pumpkin custard. An American favorite, pumpkin pie filling, pairs up with a Mexican-style flan to solve the dessert dilemma on holiday tables and throughout the cooler months.

This flan has all the components of a satisfying dessert while being a bit lighter than the usual pies and other rich desserts we associate with holiday indulgence. Making the caramel is easy to accomplish if you just follow my instructions. Use either regular evaporated milk or the skim version.

You’ll notice that the flan is baked in a water bath. That is to keep the custard baking at an even temperature.

When there is so much last-minute cooking to be done on Turkey Day, it’s best to make this at least a day ahead. This will give time for the flavors to marry and the flan to reach its proper creamy texture. If you want to make the flan in smaller ramekins, cook them for only half the time of the larger version.

Pumpkin Caramel Flan

Serves 6

For the Caramel

  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons water

For the Custard

  • 1 cup canned pumpkin puree, unsweetened and without spices
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups evaporated milk (you may use skim if you like)
  • 5 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
  • Pinch of allspice

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Prepare the caramel: Combine the sugar and water in a small, heavy saucepan. Do not use a dark-colored pan, or you will not be able to see the color of the caramel. Dissolve the sugar in the water over low heat. Turn up the heat and continually swirl the pan over the flame. The mixture will be bubbly. If sugar crystals form on the sides of the pan, cover for 1 minute and dissolve them. Boil until the mixture reaches a golden-brown color, about 5 to 8 minutes. Watch carefully, as caramel can burn easily. When the mixture turns golden brown, remove from heat.

Pour the caramel into a 1 1/2-quart porcelain baking dish (a 6-cup soufflé dish works well). Rotate the dish to spread the caramel evenly over the bottom of the dish. Don’t worry if it is not even; it will distribute itself during the baking process.

Prepare the custard: Place the pumpkin puree and sugar in a medium mixing bowl and whisk in the milk and the eggs until well blended and the eggs are completely incorporated. Add the vanilla and spices and whisk to combine. Pour the mixture into the caramel-lined mold. Cover tightly with foil.

Set the dish in a larger baking pan. Pour enough hot water into the outer pan to reach halfway up the sides of the flan dish. Transfer the flan dish in its water bath to the bottom third of the oven. Be sure to regulate the oven so the water in the pan never comes above a simmer. Bake for 1 1/4 hours or until a tester inserted into the custard 1 inch from the outside edge comes out clean. Cool to room temperature. Refrigerate overnight or until well chilled.

To unmold, run a knife carefully between the custard and edge of mold. Place a serving dish upside down over the mold, quickly invert the dish, and remove the mold from the custard. Drizzle any caramel in the pan over the top. If the caramel seems to be sticking to the bottom of the dish, place the dish in a skillet with simmering water to melt the hardened caramel. Cut the custard and serve with a spoonful of caramel.

Advance Preparation: The flan can be prepared up to three days ahead and refrigerated. Unmold just before serving.

Diane Rossen Worthington is an authority on new American cooking. She is the author of 18 cookbooks, including "Seriously Simple Parties," and a James Beard Award-winning radio show host. You can contact her at SeriouslySimple.com. Copyright 2021 Diane Rossen Worthington. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.