These pumpkin crème brûlée are the ultimate fall dessert. Flavored with pumpkin and warm spices, and served inside a mini pumpkin for extra autumn pizazz!
I can tell you right now that this pumpkin creme brulee recipe will be used for our Thanksgiving dinner this year! There's just so much to love. Creme brulee is already a classic, but adding in that pumpkin flavor and the fall spices makes this one of my favorite fall dessert recipes.
Also, can we just take a moment to talk about how CUTE they are served in those little mini pumpkins?! You're probably seeing pumpkin recipes everywhere during this holiday season, like my Pumpkin Oatmeal Cookies or Pumpkin Bundt Cake. But how many desserts have you seen that are actually IN a pumpkin? Aside from being utterly adorable and extremely delicious, this pumpkin crème brûlée recipe is also super easy to make. I promise!
Note: You don't have to make this recipe inside the pumpkins, you can also make it in ramekins and it will still be utterly delicious. But I'm all about the dramatic flair!
Heavy Cream - As creme brulee is a baked custard, the base of the recipe will be heavy cream or heavy whipping cream (double cream in the UK). As long as it has a fat percentage of at least 33%, you should be okay.
Sugar - You want to use regular white sugar for this recipe, but make sure it's extra fine (caster sugar in the UK). This is important as white sugar melts perfectly for a brulee, whereas other sugars like brown sugar or raw sugar will give you a harder time.
Egg Yolks - The egg yolks add richness and flavor, and omitting the egg whites keeps the custard soft and creamy. If you were to use whole eggs, the texture of the custard would be a little firmer and more gelatinous.
Vanilla - Vanilla is important in custard-based recipes so make sure you use a high-quality vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste. You could also use a real vanilla pod if you have one. Try to avoid vanilla essence.
Pumpkin Puree - We'll be adding a pumpkin puree to the base to turn this into a creamy pumpkin custard. You can use canned pumpkin puree or you can use homemade pumpkin puree, whatever your preference is. Note: The pulp from the inside of the mini pumpkins we use for the bowls is not really usable for pumpkin puree, so you will need pumpkin puree as well as the pumpkins.
Spices - The spices are totally optional, but I think a pumpkin spice creme brûlée is better than plain pumpkin - though both are delicious! You could just add pumpkin pie spice to the custard, but if you want to customize you can add whatever spices you like. I used a little ground ginger, ground cinnamon and a pinch of salt.
See recipe card for quantities.
What is Crème Brûlée?
Crème brûlée is a classic French dessert that consists of baked vanilla custard with a caramelized sugar crust on top. The sugar is usually cooked with a kitchen blowtorch until it starts to bubble, caramelize and burn slightly, this is why it is called 'brûlée' - from the French word 'Brûlé' which means 'burnt'. Once the sugar is melted and caramelized like this, it sets into a hard, glassy layer on top of the custard so you can hit it with your spoon and get the satisfying crème brûlée 'crack' to reveal the creamy custard underneath.
This pumpkin creme brûlée recipe adds pumpkin puree and warm, fall spices to the creme brulee to make a wonderful autumnal version of the classic dessert.
How to Prepare the Pumpkins
First of all, let's talk about what kind of pumpkins to use for this. (If you are making this recipe in regular ramekins, you can skip this section).
As I'm currently living in Germany, I couldn't get mini pumpkins at the grocery stores like I could in Canada, so I had to go down to an actual pumpkin farm to find them, and I was blown away at how many different kinds of pumpkins there are!
I found two main kinds of mini pumpkins, one taller and more round, and one flatter with pronounced ridges. (I believe they are called 'mini sugar pumpkins' and 'Jack-be-little' pumpkins, respectively).
I tested the recipe with both kinds of mini pumpkins and they both gave fantastic results, so you can definitely use either.
The mini sugar pumpkins were definitely a lot easier to carve than the Jack-be-little pumpkins, but personally, I like the look of the Jack-be-littles better and I think it's worth the extra couple of minutes it takes to prepare them.
To prepare the pumpkins, you want to start by cutting off the 'lid' of the pumpkin. You want to look for the point on the pumpkin where it starts to curve back around towards the top and make your cut right before that point. This is so that the pumpkin bowl isn't coming back in on itself as the creme brulees bake, and also to allow for maximum sugar crust - which is obviously the best part.
Once you have found the right point to slice, use a large, sharp knife to make a clean and level cut all the way across the pumpkin, chopping the top off. If your pumpkin is rigid and difficult to cut (some of the Jack-be-little pumpkins were like this), you can do multiple smaller cuts all the way around the pumpkin, just try to keep them as level and straight as possible.
Use a spoon to scoop out all the seeds and pulp from the middle of the pumpkin. Run the spoon around the inside edge of the pumpkins to hollow them out as much as possible. Don't throw away the pumpkin seeds - you can roast them with a little salt to make a delicious snack.
Once you have hollowed out the insides of the pumpkins, do the same with the lids.
Put the pumpkin bowls into a large roasting pan (without the lids) and set them aside until the custard is ready. If you're not using mini pumpkins, just place ramekins in the dish instead.
How to make the Pumpkin Custard
- Preheat the oven to 300°F / 150°C.
- Put the egg yolks and sugar into a large bowl and whisk together gently, just until combined.
- Put the heavy cream and vanila in a medium saucepan over low to medium heat.
- Once the cream starts to warm slightly, pour a small amount of it into the egg yolk mixture and whisk it in.
- Slowly drizzle more cream into the egg mixture, whisking as you go until all the cream is incorporated. It's really important to do this gradually - what we are doing is 'tempering' the eggs - i.e. bringing the temperature up slowly. If you heat them too quickly you will scramble the eggs and end up with lumpy creme brulee. If you aren't confident about pouring and whisking at the same time, you can just add a little at a time and whisk in between additions.
- Once all the cream is incorporated, pour the entire hot cream mixture back into the saucepan.
- Add the pumpkin puree and spices, then continue to cook on medium-low heat, whisking the whole time. You don't want to whisk vigorously or incorporated air into the mixture, you just want to keep it moving to prevent anything from burning on the bottom of the pan.
- Keep a very close eye on the custard, as soon as it starts to simmer, remove it from the heat.
- Pour your custard mixture into a jug to make it easier to pour into the mini pumpkins. If you have any lumps or burnt bits in your custard, don't panic - you can just pass it through a fine mesh strainer to remove the lumps.
- Get your baking pan with the pumpkin bowls (or ovenproof ramekins) inside and pour the pumpkin custard into the bowls to make individual servings. Fill each pumpkin to the very top. (If you are using ramekins, just fill them however full you would like them, with room for some sugar.
- Put the baking dish on the rack in the center of the oven and make a hot water bath by pouring some water into the dish until it comes up to about half way up the pumpkins (this is why it's important to use a deep baking dish). You don't have to make a water bath if you don't want to, but it does give the best results and makes for a lovely creamy texture.
- Bake for 20 - 30 minutes. The bake time will vary depending on the size and shape of your pumpkins or ramekins. When they are done, the baked custards should be set around the edges but still wobbly in the middle.
- Remove from the oven - be very careful as the water is HOT and very easy to spill - take it slow. Set the roasting pan down and let the pumpkins cool slightly in the water bath. Once they are cool enough to touch, transfer the pumpkin creme brulees to a wire rack and let them come to room temperature.
- Transfer to the fridge until you are ready to serve. Don't add the crunchy sugar topping until you are serving. While in the fridge, you can either add the pumpkin lids back on top of the pumpkins, or you can cover them in plastic wrap.
How to Blowtorch your Creme Brulees
The best thing about all creme brulee recipes is the delicious caramelized topping. Here's how to do it perfectly:
- Don't blowtorch your pumpkin creme brulees until the last minute before serving time.
- Sprinkle an even layer of sugar on the surface of the custard. The sugar shouldn't be too thick, but it needs to be thick enough that you don't see any of the custard peeking through.
- Turn your kitchen torch on and use the very tip of the flame to dance over the top of the sugar. You'll see it start to bubble and caramelize very quickly.
- Don't keep the flame in any one spot for too long, keep it moving across the sugar until every part is caramelized.
- Don't be worried if some of the sugar starts to turn black, you want some dark, slightly burnt parts - it is called a 'brûlée' after all!
- Serve your pumpkin creme brulee immediately.
If you'd like to watch a full tutorial on how these pumpkin creme brulees are made, check out my video here:
Can you make Pumpkin Creme Brulee without a blowtorch?
Yes! If you don't have a culinary torch or you would prefer not to use one, you can still make this pumpkin creme brulee recipe using the broiler method. When you remove the creme brulees from the fridge, sprinkle your sugar on and put them under the broiler at a high temperature. The key here is to watch them like a hawk, in a matter of seconds they can go from not done to overdone, so keep an eye on them and remove them from the oven as soon as the desired color is reached on top. It's important to use a high heat setting as you want to caramelize the sugar without baking the custard further. If you re-bake the custard it won't give you the same creamy creme brulee that you should have.
Pumpkin Spice Creme Brulee - This recipe uses some spices, but they are there to compliment the pumpkin flavor and are not overpowering. For more of a 'pumpkin spice' flavor, double the quantities of spices, or add some 'pumpkin pie spice' to the recipe.
Chocolate Pumpkin Creme Brulee - For some extra indulgence, stir in 150g of dark chocolate after adding the pumpkin puree to turn this into a chocolate pumpkin creme brulee!
Pumpkin Spice Latte Creme Brulee - If you are a PSL lover, add a shot of espresso or two to the cream as you heat it up in the saucepan to make a PSL creme brulee!
You can store your baked creme brulees in the fridge for up to three days. Make sure they either have their pumpkin lids on or are covered in plastic wrap. I do not recommend trying to store the creme brulees after you have added the sugar topping, but if you do have to, try re-bruleeing them before serving again. ( Just sprinkle more sugar on top of the old layer and torch it again to re-crisp it).
I hope you love this adorable fall dessert recipe as much as I do! The smooth custard, the classic crackly topping and the amazing pumpkin flavor just make this the perfect thanksgiving dessert. And the great thing about them is you can make them ahead so there is no faffing about on the day!
Pumpkin Crème Brûlée
- Deep Roasting Dish
- Kitchen Blowtorch
- 4 Mini Pumpkins optional - you can also just use ramekins.
- 2 cups Heavy Cream 476g
- ⅓ cup Sugar 67g (plus extra for topping)
- 4 Egg Yolks
- 1 teaspoon Vanilla Extract
- 1 cup Pumpkin Puree 245g
- ½ teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon Ground Ginger
- ¼ teaspoon Salt
Prepare the Pumpkins
- If you want to make this recipe in ramekins instead of mini pumpkins, skip ahead to the next section.
- Find the point of the pumpkin where the shape starts to curve in towards the top. Using a large, sharp knife, make a flat and level cut all the way through to cut the top of the pumpkin off.4 Mini Pumpkins
- Use a spoon to scoop out the seeds and pulp from inside the pumpkins and hollow them out. Do the same with the 'lids'.
- Place the pumpkin 'bowls' in a deep roasting dish, ready for the custard. Leave the lids aside for now.
Make the Creme Brulee
- Preheat the oven to 300°F / 150°C.
- Put the egg yolks and sugar in a bowl and gently whisk until combined.4 Egg Yolks, ⅓ cup Sugar
- In a saucepan, heat the heavy cream and vanilla over medium-low heat.2 cups Heavy Cream, 1 teaspoon Vanilla Extract
- Once the cream starts to feel warm to the touch, pour a small amount of it into the egg yolk/sugar mixture and whisk together.
- Continue to drizzle the warm cream into the egg yolks slowly, whisking as you go, until it has all been added. It's important to do this gradually so you don't scramble the eggs.
- Once all the cream has been added, pour the whole mixture back into the saucepan.
- Add the pumpkin puree, cinnamon, ginger and salt to the custard mixture and continue to heat on medium-low, stirring the whole time with the whisk to prevent burning.1 cup Pumpkin Puree, ½ teaspoon Ground Cinnamon, ½ teaspoon Ground Ginger, ¼ teaspoon Salt
- Once you see the custard start to simmer, remove from the heat and transfer the custard into a jug. (If you have any lumps in the custard, you can just pass it through a sieve first.
- Pour the pumpkin custard into the mini pumpkin bowls, filling them all the way to the top.
- Put the creme brulees into the oven on the middle rack. Before closing the door, make a water bath by pouring water into the roasting dish until it reaches about halfway up the pumpkins. Be careful not to splash any onto the custard.
- Bake for 20 - 30 minutes depending on the size of your pumpkins. When they are done the outside should be set but the middle will still be quite wobbly.
- Remove from the oven and let cool in the water bath. Once they are cool enough to touch, remove them from the water and put them in the fridge until ready to serve. At this point, you can put the little lids back on if you like.
Blowtorching the brulees
- Right before serving, sprinkle an even layer of sugar on top of the baked custard. The layer of sugar should be thick enough that no custard can be seen through it, but not too thick.
- Turn your kitchen blowtorch on and use the very tip of the flame to lightly dance over the top of the sugar, letting it bubble and caramelise. Don't stay in any one spot for too long, but don't be afraid to let it burn, as that's the whole point of this dessert!
- Make sure you brulee the whole layer of sugar, you should be left with a beautiful, glassy, caramelised topping. Serve immediately.