THE RECIPE’S A CINCH (and easier on the tummy already full from that big holiday meal): Take whatever pumpkin pie filling you like to make, but skip the crust, spooning the blended squash-eggs-dairy-sweetener-spices into ramekins instead, then bake. The result: crustless individual pumpkin pies, or maybe pumpkin custard. Whatever you call it, I’ll happily eat it for dessert—and breakfast, too.
Again, use any pumpkin pie filling version you like—lighter and airier, such a chiffon style with beaten egg whites folded into the mix and probably some gelatin, too, or more dense and humble (and lazy, admittedly) the way I make it, without much fuss. Rustic—that’s the word. Rustic, and less sweet, rich and sinful. Good for you, even. Really.
If you don’t have a favorite pie-filling recipe, try these guidelines but remember: Every variety of winter squash (a.k.a. pumpkin) is different in texture, moisture and sweetness, so you may have to adjust the flavorings accordingly. Most recipes call for unsweetened canned pumpkin, which is more consistent; I don’t use it, but instead have fun seeing what each garden beauty will turn into.
Play with different dairy ingredients and sweeteners to make it your own, and suit your dietary philosophy and palate. I like yogurt and maple syrup, creating a heavier, less-sweet, less calorie-laden version, but the traditional modern American pumpkin pie is probably lighter, laced with cream and sugar.
my rustic pumpkin custard
- 2 cups cooked, mashed winter squash (use a fine-grained and sweet variety such as ‘Hubbard,’ ‘Buttercup,’ above, or ‘Butternut;’ stringy, wet pumpkins such as jack-o-lanterns make terrible pie)
- 3 large eggs
- 1/3 cup dark maple syrup or to taste (if using sugar, start with ½ cup and taste to adjust)
- pinch of salt
- ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon ground ginger
- pinch of nutmeg and cloves
- 1 cup whole-milk yogurt (I used goat), or up to 2 cups milk or half-and-half or a combination of milk and cream
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
- Mash the cooked, cooled squash in a large bowl. (Note: You can steam the pumpkin first, or roast it, the scoop meat from the skin.)
- Add the sweetener, spices and dairy, blend well by hand or with a mixer.
- Taste and adjust sweetness and spices.
- Beat eggs, and mix into the batter.
- Scoop mix into oven-proof custard cups, enough to nearly fill each cup.
- Set into a pan of water (seen below, ready to pop into the oven) and bake for 30-50 minutes (as below), until the custard is set and rises up (it will fall once cooled). A note on baking time: My latest batch, made from that ‘Buttercup’ up above with yogurt and maple syrup, took about 50 minutes; I have made lighter versions with milk and a different squash, like ‘Butternut,’ that cooked in 30.
Yield, 6 ramekins.
Feeling another inch of appetite room to spare? (Remember, you saved by leaving out the pie crust.) Serve each cup of deliciousness with a ginger snap jauntily stuck in the custard—a great combination.
Prefer sweet-potato to pumpkin? Swap out the squash for mashed, cooked sweet potatoes instead.
Want a savory side dish, and not a dessert? Change up the spices, and forget the sweetener. The eggs and dairy will allow the pumpkin to set up, anyhow; experiment.
Substitute ¼ cup dark rum for some of the milk/cream (so ¼ cup rum and 1½ cups half and half, for instance), and top with rum-laced whipped cream.
Toppings: whipped cream, of course, or vanilla ice cream (but not for breakfast, which is when I plan to have my next serving of pumpkin custard).