1cuppacked roasted pumpkin or winter squash flesh (or canned pumpkin)
1/2vanilla bean, split and scraped
2 3" cinnamon sticks
4green cardamom pods, lightly crushed
3/4cuphalf and half
1/2teaspoonfreshly grated nutmeg
toasted pumpkin seeds for garnish (optional)
1/2cupsugar (preferably super-fine)
Combine the vanilla pod and seeds, spices, half and half and heavy cream in a small saucepan. Heat over a medium flame until small bubbles appear around the edge of the pan and the mixture is steaming. Turn off the heat, cover and steep for 30 minutes.
While the dairy steeps, make the caramel:
Place 6 six-ounce ramekins in a roasting or lasagna pan and set aside. Place 2 tablespoons of water in a small saucepan. Pour the sugar into the center of the water, and gently moisten with your fingers. Brush down any sugar crystals that end up on the side of the pot. Place over medium heat and cook, without disturbing, until the mixture turns a deep amber, brushing down the sides of the pot if the sugar begins to crystalize. Immediately divide the caramel evenly among the bottoms of the ramekins and quickly swirl to coat the bottoms. Set aside. (Tip: to easily clean the pot, fill with hot water and boil until all the caramel dissolves.)
Position a rack in the center of the oven with no racks above it and preheat to 300º. Bring a kettle of water to a boil.
In the bowl of a food processor, combine the squash puree, 1/2 cup sugar, eggs, nutmeg and salt. Puree until very smooth. Strain the dairy into the bowl of the food processor and blend to combine. Strain the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve or chinois and into a 4-cup measuring pitcher, working the mixture through with a rubber spatula. You should have about 4 cups of batter. (The mixture can be kept, chilled, for a few days.)
Divide the mixture among the ramekins, filling them 1/4 - 1/2" below the top. Cover the roasting pan tightly with a piece of aluminum foil and pierce with a knife in a few places. Place the pan on the oven rack, peel back a corner of the foil, and carefully pour enough hot water into the pan to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Re-cover with the foil and close the oven door.
Bake the flans until slightly puffed and set when jiggled, 30 - 40 minutes (longer of the mixture was chilled before baking.) You don't want them to wiggle wetly at all in the center. Remove carefully from the oven, uncover, and use a pair of tongs to remove the ramekins from the water bath. Let the flans cool for about 30 minutes, then chill in the fridge for at least 4 hours, preferably overnight, or up to 4 days.
To serve, run a thin knife around the inside of a ramekin and invert onto a small plate or shallow bowl. Grasp the ramekin and plate in both hands and jiggle firmly a few times in a downward manner until the flan releases. Garnish with a few pumpkin seeds, if you like.
Inspired by Chow.To roast your own winter squash, slice a 1-pound squash (pumpkin, butternut, kabocha, etc.) lengthwise with a sturdy chef's knife. Lightly oil a rimmed baking sheet, and place the squash, cut-side down, on the sheet. Bake at 400º until very tender when pierced with a knife, 45 minutes to 1 hour. Let cool until handleable, scoop out the seeds and strings and discard. Scoop out the flesh and measure out 1 cup.Extra squash can be eaten as is, perhaps with a bit of butter and salt.I usually use organic turbinado sugar for baking, but the large crystals make it prone to crystallizing when making caramel. Super-fine white sugar is thus my choice for the caramel in this recipe.I baked six flans in 3/4 cup ramekins, but for smaller flans, you could bake these in eight 1/2-cup oven-safe cappuccino cups.Nutritional values are based on one of six desserts.