Maple-Pumpkin Crème Brûlée

November 5, 2015

Annnd, I’m back! (Annnd, to be honest, I never really left.) I’ve been right here the whole time, learning, and relearning some things that I thought I already knew.

I’ve equated this relative reclusiveness here with learning to surf.  I do actually know something about it because a.) I’m a movement enthusiast and b.) I have little recreational hand-eye coördination, so I tend to seek out anything I can do with my hips + heart + torso over my limbs. Somewhere along the way, I got hold of a surfboard and went for it. 

Before I can tell you how to learn to surf, let me tell you how NOT to learn to surf – in the world, in the water, or anywhere else. Do not pick up the shortest board you can find because you hear it will help you go faster. Do not throw yourself into the ocean on a shallow reef after a typhoon passes through because “how big can it really be?” Particularly do not do this if you are somewhere along the coast of the South China Sea and speak minimal Japanese, specifically when it comes to conversing in surf lingo. Do not assume that just because you are a pretty damn good swimmer, that your “raw athleticism” will keep you safe in these uncharted waters. Do not ignore the movement of the ocean. Do not ignore the surge. Do not sit in the impact zone; there aren’t any waves there, so you’ll never catch one, you’ll just get pummeled again and again. These are all surefire ways to find yourself sucked out to sea, held down by a wave, unable to breathe and unsure of how you’ll escape the relative destructive and deadly mess you’ve gotten yourself into. 

Crème Brûlée up close and personal

Instead, pick up a board that will float you. Feel it – it’s weight, find its center. Then carry it to the shore and watch; watch the waves, their rhythm, take note of their patterns. Mind the weather, know the wind. Then, when you see an opening in the surf big enough for you to paddle through, and you find the place on the wave meant for you to stand on, head out. Sit tight, and wait for your moment to come. When the water starts to pull beneath you, paddle as hard as you can, keeping the momentum of the water within you, feel your center, trust your core, and hop up. With luck, you’ll stand, or fall, it doesn’t matter. If you find yourself being pushed by the ocean towards the shore – hold on, dig into it, center yourself and smile. And if you don’t, still smile, paddle out again, always watching the water and feeling the waves. Eventually, you’ll find your place and you’ll ride. 

And if you don’t ride, you don’t stand? Climb out calmly. Stand again by the ocean, watch the waves, find the pattern, and chart your course again. 

The past few months I’ve watched myself transition from feeling trapped in the mind and body of that same eager, amped, confident surfer (who really did nearly drown somewhere off a reef in Okinawa. I  was growing accustomed to being un-concerned with the movement in the wave, instead to flinging myself into any wave I could catch, determined not to fail. It wasn’t that I didn’t know how powerful the ocean was, it was just that I didn’t know how deeply it could hold me under.

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Once I went, I wasn’t under for long. I never lost confidence that I could stand, or ride. I never grew fearful of the ocean. I just lost confidence that I was sitting on the right wave in general. And, with the help of a few other surfers nearby, I feel like I’m watching the right place to find my wave again.

The thing about surfing, no matter how you learn, is that the surfer never climbs from the ocean cursing it. Once on shore, we always turn back to look at the waves, either thanking them for the ride, or thanking them for letting us live to surf again another day. And as such, I’m not cursing this process. The path that I took, the waves that I missed, the motion that I ignored. They’re all part of my learning to be a mindful, agile, careful with myself. More ready to ride that big wave all the way home. 

Now of course, my metaphor is only worth so much because the truth is that I’ve been in Colorado – land locked – these past months. And the waves I’ve been surfing have been little waves of life, not tidal waves of water. Since I last wrote, my world looks very different — much like this website. I’m in a new place, with a fresh outlook on what “waves” I’ll be surfing next, and a whole new appreciation for that drowning feeling. A whole new confidence that can only be gained when one rescues themselves from moments of pure panic and has others around to help wipe the sand from their mouths. 

I don’t say this to scare you, or to make you feel like I’m living in a deep dark place never to return. In fact, I’m living in a pretty open little apartment. With a big kitchen. Snuggled up near the foothills in Boulder, and with lots and lots of light coming in from all directions. 

In the months to come, I’m sure you’ll see and feel the residual effects of this transition in my words, my process, the things I think about and do, the things I cook and how I tackle that. As always, I’ll do my best to be candid because I don’t know that there really is another way for me to be in the world. This little website is all part of that, and so it’s only natural that this is an outward expression of wiping the slate clean. Fresh start: here we are. 

Getting acquainted in the kitchen is something I’ve always done when I move into a new place, and something I couldn’t wait to do in this one. I find myself cooking almost every night, even if just for myself, and the things I’m dreaming up, and creating are somehow different from they were before. It’s almost as if – now that I’m watching the waves, I’m seeing more within myself that had been held down by the frantic paddling I was practicing as a silly surfer. There’s a sense of whimsy, of possibility where a very serious tone towards all things edible was developing. I spent a couple of weeks working on building a gingerbread house out of cookie dough, for example. I made a new candy bar, and had dreams about tiny pies dropped by carrier pigeon on the doorsteps of my loved ones. (Ok, that was probably too much bourbon that one night instead of whimsy.)

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When I found these pumpkins at the patch last week I couldn’t think of anything to do with them BUT bake custard inside. And so, when I had a dearer-than-dear dinner guest last week, this was our dessert. Because they take nearly no time at all, they’re far more delicious than they are impressive (which is saying something. IN a pumpkin!) and totally rebelling against the “decorative gourds” swirling around just now (meh) I strongly suggest you put them on your dessert list for upcoming holiday celebrations (holy cow – egg nog is in the grocery store! What the actual f*ck?!) 

A couple of notes on the crème brûlée: you’ll notice that I don’t use any pumpkin purée in the custard itself….which means that a little spoonful from one of these pumpkins pulls a heaping taste of custard AND sweet, maple-y pumpkin. I used straight up maple sugar here and recommend you do the same because the maple nuance is divine. If you don’t have maple sugar, or can’t come across it, turbinado or brown sugar will also work. Be sure to rub the inside of the little pumpkins amply with spices and sugar before you pour in the custard. Lastly, if you don’t own a culinary torch, buy one. Not only do you need one to make this dish properly, it’s really fun to torch other foods you might be eating (grilled cheese, marshmallows on hot chocolate, maple sugar on bananas…you get me?) Lastly, you’re about to bake crème brûlée IN a pumpkin! Neat!

One more thing: if you don’t feel like tackling holiday dessert yourself, and if you’re in Boulder, I’m offering pre-order pies this holiday season! Click here to see the menu, then fill out the contact sheet to submit an order. I can’t wait to share a few great recipes I’ve been hoarding with your holiday tables. 

Back to smart surfing. Enjoy this one, and more soon! – xo L

Maple + Pumpkin Crème Brûlée
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for the pumpkins
  1. 8 little pumpkins
  2. 1/4 cup maple sugar
  3. 1 tablespoon cinnamon
for the brûlée
  1. 2 cups heavy cream
  2. 1/2 cup maple sugar (or brown sugar,) plus 4 teaspoons for serving
  3. 8 large egg yolks
  4. 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  5. 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  6. 1/8 teaspoon chinese five spice OR nutmeg
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
  2. Cut off the tops of the little pumpkins, de-seed them, and rub the insides with maple sugar and cinnamon. Arrange the prepared pumpkins in a large metal or glass baking pan where the lip of the pan comes up to the top of the pumpkins (typically, a roasting pan or two 9x13 inch baking pan will do the trick.)
  3. In a medium saucepan, combine the cream, brown sugar, and 1/2 cup maple sugar. Bring to a bare simmer over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar completely. Once tiny bubbles appear along the edges of the pan, remove the pan from the heat.
  4. In a medium bowl, whisk the egg yolks until frothy and lemon-colored. You want them to appear light and airy and this happens by whisking in air so be sure to give them a good whipping!
  5. Next, temper in the hot cream mixture. This is an important step because you don't want to scald the eggs (you'll end up having scrambled egg bits in your custard. Ick!) Slowly add 3/4 cup of the hot cream mixture, whisking constantly. Add the egg mixture to the remaining hot cream, and whisk to combine. Next, add the vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, and pumpkin, and whisk until smooth. Strain through a fine mesh strainer into a large bowl (just in case you did scramble any of the eggs!) Divide the custard among the prepared pumpkins.
  6. Add enough hot water to come halfway up the sides of the pumpkins, then carefully transfer the water filled pan to the oven. Bake until the custards are just set in the center but not stiff, 45 minutes to 55 minutes. Remove from the oven, VERY carefully remove the pumpkins and put them on a plate. Refrigerate until well chilled, at least 3 hours or overnight.
  7. Just before serving, sprinkle each custard with 1/2 teaspoon of the remaining maple sugar. Using a kitchen torch, caramelize the sugar. You'll have best results if you do this carefully and slowly, making sure that the entire surface of the custard is evenly coated with sugar, and being careful as you introduce the flame so as not to burn any one spot. (If you don't have a kitchen torch, preheat the broiler, and broil until the sugar melts and caramelizes, watching closely to avoid burning and rotating the cups, about 1 to 2 minutes.) Place the pumpkins on small dessert plates and serve!
LentineAlexis http://LentineAlexis.com/

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4 Comments

  • Reply ldpaulson November 6, 2015 at 2:20 pm

    Welcome back, Lentine! You have been missed! In your absence, wasn’t able to share various of your snack and other recipes with hungry acquaintances during your refurbishing period. Your new online home looks wonderful. With you on the board length and the yoinks! reaction to stores already having winter holiday decor up and food items in!

    More importantly … can’t wait to try this recipe. We are huge lovers of creme brulee, but can this recipe be halved? Yes, why would you want to? We simply aren’t expecting a big holiday crowd this year.

    Best,

    ldp

    • Reply Lentine Alexis November 6, 2015 at 4:22 pm

      Yes! I missed you all too. : ) The recipe can absolutely be halved, or even quartered. I’ve made the recipe for just two people and it works beautifully so modify away!

  • Reply Ed Whitehorn November 7, 2015 at 7:32 am

    I can certainly understand & appreciate the surfing metaphors. I feel like I’ve been chasing the ‘line-up’ for some time, but never quite seeming to get there (personally, professionally, culinarily…I feel in a rut). I hate that your heart has been hurting. But we bear our scars & carry on…it’s how we do. I’ve got to come visit y’all at the Lab, a forced vacation if nothing else. I need to stop making excuses and make it happen.

    Your adventures & ideas always put a smile on my face.

    Ed

    • Reply Lentine Alexis November 11, 2015 at 12:05 pm

      Ed – it’s pretty comforting knowing that someone else out there knows what I mean by learning to surf. : ) Thanks for sending good vibes. Absolutely! Come visit us! Your comments and virtual high fives always put a smile on MY face! : )

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