I’ve never been a big fan of pumpkin pie. To me they’re chalky and mushy in texture and overly spiced in flavour and yet they lack any depth or richness. This year I had a gluten intolerant guest coming to Thanksgiving, so I wanted to create something he could eat too.
This dessert is impressive looking yet it’s really simple to make. The custard inside is creamy and silky smooth (like chawanmushi or silken tofu). The cardamom, nutmeg and orange peel give it a warm slightly floral aroma that is vaguely reminiscent of a more traditional pumpkin pie and yet has more depth and character. The pumpkin shell adds its own nutty sweetness and the firm fleshy texture gives the dessert structure.
I like to serve this cold so it holds its shape, but you could certainly serve it warm in a bowl. The first night I poured some grade B maple syrup on top along with some freshly grated nutmeg, but you could also serve it with acacia honey and cinnamon. The second night I sprinkled some sugar on top and got the blowtorch out to give it a crisp burnt sugar crust on top.
Crustless milk and cardamom “pumpkin pie”
1 small pumpkin (such as kabocha or small sugar pumpkin)
14oz can sweetened condensed milk
1 C milk
7 green cardamom pods smashed
1 whole nutmeg seed (or 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg)
3 egg yolks
2 whole eggs
Thoroughly wash the outside of the pumpkin then cut a round hole in the top around the stem. Lift the “lid” off and use a spoon to scrape all the seeds and stringy stuff from the inside surface of the pumpkin and lid.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Fill the bottom of a large pot with about 1/2″ of water and place a steamer basket at the bottom. Put the pumpkin on top and make sure the pot lid will close (don’t worry about the lid to the pumpkin, you can cook it on the side).
Combine the two types of milk in a saucepan and gently heat until you see steam rising (but not boiling). Turn the heat down as low as it will go then add the cardamom, nutmeg and orange peel and steep for 3 minutes. Turn the heat off and allow the spices to continue steeping in the milk until the milk is lukewarm (about 10 minutes).
Whisk the egg yolks and whole eggs together then whisk this into the milk mixture. Use a fine mesh sieve to strain the mixture straight into the pumpkin leaving about 1/2″ of room at the top. Depending on the size of your pumpkin you may not be able to fit all the custard.
Cover the top of the pumpkin with a piece of foil to prevent moisture from getting in the custard and put the pumpkin lid next to the pumpkin. Cover the pot with a lid and bring to a boil. Transfer the pot to the oven and cook for about 1 hour. You might want to test it at 50 minutes. You can do this by sticking a knife in the custard (if it comes out clean it’s set), you’ll also want to make sure the pumpkin is cooked.
When the custard is done, remove it from the oven and allow it to cool with the lid off until it is cool enough to lift out of the pan. Cool to room temperature then put it in the fridge for a few hours to set. Serve by slicing wedges and plating.