The Best Dessert in the World

The Best Dessert in the World

Let’s be clear: I am not a dessert person. My sweet tooth is minimal, but this one- I’m powerless to restrain myself. I’ve shared this every year around holiday time. And maybe it’s not the best.  but it’s my favorite

 In 2005 Gourmet Magazine (RIP) published this recipe for Pumpkin Flan with Spiced Pumpkin Seeds. I’ve made it every year since then. The dish is a perfect balance of sweet creamy, along with spicy salty crunchy. It’s decadent enough, but not heavy. It’s gluten free, and you could probably make it with coconut milk and eliminate the dairy. You can find this recipe on Gourmet’s huge online archive.

This year I made it with a giant Hubbard squash we had bought at a market. The squash is a beautiful blue-green on the outside with a cornucopia kind of shape. Ours was the size of a small child. Too large to cut easily, I just made several steam vents into the surface with a sharp knife and then baked it in a 350-degree oven with water in the bottom of the roasting pan. It took about 2 hours to cook through. After it cooled, we pureed the flesh in the Cuisinart.


For caramel and flan:

2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
5 whole large eggs plus 1 large egg yolk
1 (15-ounce) can solid-pack pumpkin (1 3/4 cups; not pie filling)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt

For spiced pumpkin seeds:

1 cup green (hulled) pumpkin seeds (1/4 pound; not toasted)
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon cayenne

Special equipment: a 2-quart soufflé dish or round ceramic casserole dish

PreparationMake caramel: Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350°F. Heat the soufflé dish in the oven while making the caramel.

Cook 1 cup sugar in a dry 2-quart heavy saucepan over moderate heat, undisturbed, until it begins to melt. Continue to cook, occasionally stirring with a fork until sugar melts into a deep golden caramel. Wearing oven mitts, remove the hot dish from oven and immediately pour caramel into dish, tilting it to cover bottom and side. (Leave oven on.) Keep tilting as caramel cools and thickens enough to coat, then let harden.

Make flan: Bring cream and milk to a bare simmer in a 2-quart heavy saucepan over moderate heat, then remove from heat. Whisk together whole eggs, yolk, and remaining cup sugar in a large bowl until combined well, then whisk in pumpkin, vanilla, spices, and salt until combined well. Add the hot cream mixture in a slow stream, whisking.

Pour custard through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl, scraping with a rubber spatula to force through, and stir to combine well. Pour custard over caramel into the dish, then bake in a water bath until flan is golden brown on top and a knife inserted in center comes out clean, about 1 1/4 hours. Remove dish from the water bath and transfer to a rack to cool. Chill the flan, covered, until cold, at least 6 hours.

Make spiced pumpkin seeds while flan chills: Toast pumpkin seeds in oil in a 10- to 12-inch heavy skillet (preferably cast-iron) over moderately low heat, stirring constantly, until puffed and golden, 8 to 10 minutes. Toss with salt and cayenne until coated.

To serve: Run a thin knife between flan and side of the dish to loosen. Shake the dish gently from side to side and, when flan moves freely, invert a large platter with a lip over the dish. Holding the dish and plate securely together, quickly invert and turn out flan onto platter. (Caramel will pour out over and around flan.) Sprinkle flan with spiced pumpkin seeds just before serving.

Cooks’ notes:

Flan can be chilled for one day.

Spiced pumpkin seeds keep in an airtight container at room temperature, three days.