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Help: separated pumpkin flan/creme brulee

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I've made hundreds of flans and cremes brulees successfully, and last night made them with pumpkin for the first time, and both of them separated. They tasted great, but were unsightly. A friend said that pumpkin is so wet that it causes the mixture to separate; however, I'm not sure that my usual trick of de-wetting the pumpkin on paper towels would work, because the pumpkin floated up to the top, leaving the thin wet cream on the bottom.

Does anyone have any tricks for incorporating the pumpkin successfully? (Please don't suggest cheesecakes, which I also like, but these are so much more delicate in texture and flavor.) TIA!

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  1. Are you wondering what to do with the now separated pumpkin flan and creme brulee or do you want to know what to do for future reference? Also, did you use fresh or canned pumpkin. All I know is that for fresh you really should strain it out on a fine mesh sieve until all you have is pulp. For the leftover brulee, try whisking the cream and pumpkin back together and adding an egg to bind or something and I guess you could fill up puff pastry and make littlle empanada type things.

    1. I'm not sure why you couldn't achieve a successful flan or brulee with the addition of pumkin...how did you go about it?
      I know in years past, I've roasted the pumpkin to get it nice and soft, then scraped out the flesh and pureed it before adding it to my custard base. Never had the problem with seperation, and I am intrigued as to how you went about it.
      Also, what's your ration of dairy to eggs?
      Hopefully we can all troubleshoot this, sounds like a great thing to make this time of year.

      1. Drying out the pumpkin on paper towels is a good idea. Put the dewetted pumpkin into a bowl, and then temper it -- add a small amount of the custard mixture to it, incorporate it well,
        then another ladle or so and incorporate that well, then add the pumpkin mixture back to the
        custard mixture. This method makes sure the two blend together...

        Any chance you might have overcooked your custard?

        6 Replies
        1. re: maria lorraine

          Thanks to all three of you for replying.

          digkv: I wanted to know how to keep it from separating in the future (we already ate the mistakes) I used canned pumpkin, which is a lot more convenient and less wet than fresh (it's a long story). Way too much cream to do the fluffy thing you suggested, but it's a good idea...

          rabaka: See note above about fresh pumpkin; how come yours didn't separate? I'm jealous. Ratio of 2 cups cream:7 yolks:1 cup pumpkin for creme brulee, and 2 cups cream:7 oz condensed milk:1 cup milk:5 eggs:2 yolks:1 cup pumpkin for flan (with sugar, spices, etc.) The flavors were delicious (I used honey in place of some of the sugar) so it's worth experimenting, as you noted.

          maria lorraine: In 30 years, I've never overcooked custard (it did not curdle) - but it was always super jiggly, and never set like my unpumpkined flans and brulees do. I did temper and incorporate very well (in fact, my arthritis makes me use my KA mixer these days). I dewetted the pumpkin for the flan but not the brulee, but it didn't make any difference. Grrrrrrr.

          Thanks again!

          1. re: Claudette

            Don't know if you used honey in both recipes, but this could be part of the problem. I love honey in flans/brulees, but have always been told to whisk it in to your base at the end. Warm it gently so it pours and will incorporate into your base, and whisk into the whole thing off heat, before baking.
            Something about cooking the honey with the dairy can cause things to curdle/separate, although it hasn't ever actually happened to me, so not sure what it looks like.
            Hope you find a solution!

            1. re: rabaja

              rajaba - I think you're on to something: what you suggested were exactly the techniques I used, and they looked curdled in the oven, even though they weren't even cooked yet! If I can find Harold McGee's email address, this would be a good mystery for him.

            2. re: Claudette

              Thanks, Claudette, good to know you use good technique, and I like that you're such a creme brulee lover, like me. It's a mystery then. Do you think there could be something in pumpkin itself that makes it separate from the eggs/dairy custard mixture?

              1. re: maria lorraine

                I wondered that, too, but I just had a pumpkin flan last night at a restaurant, and it was fine. I rabaja is on to something with the honey, though.

              2. re: Claudette

                Correction: I used only 1/2 cup of pumpkin per recipe, not 1 cup. I did use about 1/4 cup honey.