Thanksgiving at my house has always been a very non-traditonal affair; neither Erlend’s immediate family or mine really celebrates Thanksgiving, so we’ve been left to make up our own traditions. Slowly but surely, we’re starting to build up a repertoire of Thanksgiving customs — for instance, for the last three years, we’ve roasted a duck instead of the traditional turkey and I’ve made momofuku’s crispy roasted brussel sprouts with fish sauce vinaigrette.
And although the menu is starting to settle, the company seems to be ever-changing. Three years ago, we celebrated with Erlend’s family in Littleton, Colorado. My blog was just beginning, and I made this berry topped cheesecake (those iPhone pics, oh my god). The following year was less ceremonious and consisted of me and Erlend eating our roasted duck in a tiny attic apartment in Portland. Last year, it was a friendsgiving complete with my two housemates (one who steamed buns for the duck, the other made full-blown traditional Japanese ramen) and a recently transplanted friend from San Francisco who brought Greek salad.
This year, it’s another friendsgiving of sorts — a BLOGGER friendsgiving. The ever lovely Renee from Will Frolic for Food has organized a bunch of my favorite bloggers together to celebrate a virtual friendsgiving, centering around one crucial ingredient in both cooking and baking: salt. But not just any old table salt, mind you. We’re talking about JQ Dickinson Salt Works salt; that is, high-quality, flaky sea salt, hand-harvested from the Appalachian Mountains. It’s the kind of salt that you want to throw on almost everything to just give it that extra something-something, with its beautifully coarse texture able to enhance your dish’s flavors.
Each blogger was tasked to contribute a recipe that prominently used salt for a Thanksgiving course; undoubtedly, I signed up for dessert and whipped up these plates of mini salted caramel pumpkin flans:
Side note: is flans the plural of flan? That seems… strange. I feel like it should be fancier than “flans”? Is that just me?
I feel like I’ve been bad about baking seasonally this fall. I mean, I completely missed apple season and tried to whip up these mini upside down apple cakes at the last minute that, of course, turned out to be a disaster. But I’m not making that same mistake with pumpkin, squash, and sweet potatoes, nope. Bring on the gourds and the root vegetables, bring it on, starting with pumpkin.
Although pumpkin is traditionally paired with pumpkin pie spices, I’m a big fan of throwing it together with unexpected (but still complementary!) flavors — for instance, like this chocolate and pumpkin babka and these salted caramel flans. Because have you guys ever had salted caramel and pumpkin together? It’s like… the best. No, really. Once you’ve had it, you’ll wonder why on earth nobody has made pumpkin and caramel a mandatory flavor. And these miniature salted caramel flans are the perfect introduction to the flavor pairing:
Seriously — if pumpkin pie married creme caramel, these caramel pumpkin flans would be their babies. Their creamy, perfectly balanced between salt and sweet and pumpkin and caramel babies.
And as a special Thanksgiving treat, I’m giving away a 1-ounce sampler jar of J.Q. Dickinson Salt, along with some other baking tools to help you out in the kitchen. Enter the giveaway by simply leaving a comment on this post telling me about your favorite Thanksgiving tradition. The winner will be chosen at random and announced on Sunday, November 30th at 5:00 PM PST. The giveaway is open to US and Canadian residents only.
The giveaway is now closed! Thanks everybody for entering. The winner is ANNE. I’ll be reaching out shortly!
Some baker’s notes:
- Making caramel can be a bit of a pain and a mess, especially if you have to divide the molten hot and burning liquid between tiny ramekins. So instead of cooking the sugar in one pot and doing exactly that, I’ve decided to caramelize the sugar in their individual ramekins by placing them on burners and cooking them one by one. Now although this method is cleaner, it does take some time and works best if you have a gas or electric burner — it won’t work if you have an induction stovetop. If that’s the case, you can also make the caramel by dividing it into their ramekins and broiling in the oven until the sugar is melted and caramel colored.
- It’s important that you cook the flan ramekins in the water bath (as instructed in the recipe). This will allow the flans to cook evenly throughout. But be careful NOT to overcook the flan. Overcooking will result in a weirdly crumbly and grainy custard texture and me crying tears of sadness for you. If you know your oven runs hot, constantly check your ramekins to see how done they are. Flans, unlike cake, are unaffected by the number of times you open your oven door. You can find the perfect custard texture by taking a heatproof utensil and giving each ramekin a gentle tap on its side. If the sides are firm but the center jiggles, you’re good to go. If the center is firm, you’ve overcooked your custard. But note that the top of each flan will look weirdly spongy, instead of smooth and creamy — this is due to the pumpkin in the ingredients. If the tops start to brown too fast, loosely cover with an aluminum foil.
Salted Caramel Pumpkin Flan
- eight 4-ounce heatproof ramekins
- a handheld immersion blender (or regular freestanding blender)
For the Salted Caramel
- 1/3 cup granulated sugar
- 1 tablespoon J.Q. Dickinson salt, or other coarse or flaky sea salt
For the Pumpkin Flan
- 3/4 cup dark brown sugar, firmly packed
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/4 teaspoon J.Q. Dickinson salt, or other coarse sea salt
- 1 cup pumpkin puree
- 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
- 5 large eggs, at room temperature
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
For the Salted Caramel
- Divide 1/3 cup granulated sugar between 8 heatproof ramekins by sprinkling 2 teaspoons of granulated sugar evenly over the bottom of each ramekin. Top the sugar off with a generous pinch of coarse or flaky sea salt.
- Place one ramekin on your smallest burner over its highest heat to melt the sugar; the sugar will start to turn brown within a minute or so. Use a small, heatproof rubber spatula (I have this mini spatula and love it) to push the granulated sugar around until it starts to melt and turn the sugar completely into liquid. The longer you cook the sugar, the darker its caramel flavor will be — but remember that it will continue to cook even after you remove it from the heat source, to be sure to remove it from the heat earlier rather than later. Turn off the burner, and swirl the ramekin to cover its bottom completely with caramel — but BE CAREFUL! The ramekin will be extremely hot at this point. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.
- Repeat process for the other ramekins.
For the Pumpkin Flan
- Preheat the oven to 350 (F).
- In a large bowl, whisk together 3/4 cup dark brown sugar, 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger, 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg and 1/4 teaspoon J.Q. Dickinson salt until thoroughly incorporated. Whisk in 1 cup pumpkin puree until the mixture is a uniform caramel color.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together 1 1/2 cups heavy cream, 5 large eggs, at room temperature and 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract until fully incorporated and a pale yellow color. Pour into the pumpkin mixture (from the 2nd step) and use a handheld immersion blender to thoroughly blend the two mixtures together (if you're using a freestanding blender, you can just combine the two mixtures into the blender jug and blend on medium-high speed) until emulsified into a custard.
- Divide the custard evenly between the caramel-lined ramekins. Transfer the ramekins to 2 baking pans big enough to hold 4 ramekins each without the ramekins having to touch one another. Carefully pour enough hot tap water into the roasting pan to reach halfway up the sides of each ramekin. Transfer carefully into the preheated oven to bake until the custard is set, around 30 minutes. When the custards are done, the center should be a little bit jiggly but the edges should be set (see baker's notes). Transfer to wire racks to allow to cool to room temperature, before covering each ramekin with plastic wrap and allowing to cool and chill in the refrigeration for at least 4 hours, preferably overnight.
- When you're ready to serve the flans, run a butter knife or an offset spatula around the outside edge of the flan and invert it onto a rimmed plate. Serve immediately.