Old-Fashioned Pumpkin Flan

I’ve always wanted to make a “Flan” and was excited when I stumbled across a recipe for “Pumpkin Flan” in a vintage cookbook. It is another prefect recipe for Thanksgiving and the holidays. A custard-type dessert with caramel topping is by far my husband’s favorite dessert. In Louisiana, custard flans and a similar dish, crème brûlée, are standards on most traditional restaurant menus. I can always guess what dessert we will order when we go out to eat. This recipe for “Pumpkin Flan” is a baked custard using whole eggs, spices, cream and pumpkin puree. It includes a hard caramel glaze. This recipe, or at least the caramel glaze, is tricky to make. I included fresh pumpkin pulp from my “sugar pumpkins” in the custard which gives this flan a definite Thanksgiving “pumpkin pie” taste. The “Pumpkin Flan” turned out great including my caramel glaze. Creamy and smooth. Delicious.

Flan vs crème brûlée

What is the difference between a flan and crème brûlée? They appear have several similarities. Both are baked custards, rich and silky, and are made with egg yolks and heavy cream. Both have caramel glazes. Both can be tricky to prepare, with the proportions of ingredients and baking method being very important. Crème brûlée is of French origin. The custard is baked in individual ramekins and has a crisp, hard caramel topping. The dessert is served in the individual ramekin that it was baked in. Here is Jacques-Imo’s Cafe’s version.

Crème brûlée is a very popular dessert in restaurants in New Orleans and the surrounding area.

The best crème brûlée which I ever ate came from the very popular New Orleans restaurant, Jacques-Imo’s Cafe, serving “Nawlins” style cooking. It is one of my most favorite restaurants and you are in for a treat if you get to eat there. The owner-chef was trained at K-Paul’s restaurant owned by Chef Paul Prudhomme. The restaurant is located in a “shot gun” house in the Riverbend-Carrollton area of New Orleans. A “shot gun” house is one room wide (as the French taxed by the width of a home along the street) and it is very deep. You walk by the kitchen to get to the dining rooms. The walls and ceilings are painted and the place is noisy but the food is excellent — from fried rabbit, alligator cream cheese appetizer to lamb’s neck and grouper with pecan verde sauce; the menu is original and always a treat. And if you wish, you can eat at the table in the flat bed of the truck which is parked in front of the restaurant. I am sure that Jacques-Imo’s Cafe’s vanilla bean crème brûlée recipe, which is served for dessert along with bread pudding, is a prized secret.

On the other hand, flan’s are prepared differently. Here is my “Pumpkin Flan.”

Flans have Spanish origins and are very popular in Latin America. Flans have a creamy caramel glaze and are often served on a platter rather than in individual ramekins.

Vintage Cookbook Recipe

My recipe for “Pumpkin Flan” comes from a vintage cookbook, The Sesquicentennial Celebration Cookbook 1835-1985, Bridgewater, Virginia. If you do the math, this means that the town was celebrating their 150 year birthday since founded. We are several years later, so the town is now about 185 years old. This is the little town where I grew up. The area has lots of history — including Revolutionary era and Civil War. My ancestors were of German origin who came to settle in this area of the Shenandoah Valley from Pennsylvania while this country was still a series of colonies in the 1700’s. The cookbook includes favorite recipes contributed by those living in the area and is a cross-section of traditional Virginia cooking — English, Germans, Scots-Irish — and 1980’s style of cooking. Lots of interesting recipes, some very unique, in the cookbook.


I am not sure how the recipe for “Pumpkin Flan” made it into the cookbook since Flan’s are of Spanish origin and the Spanish did not settle in the Shenandoah Valley. Perhaps is was a family favorite. The recipe for “Pumpkin Flan” uses whole eggs rather than egg yolks. With the whole eggs and pumpkin pulp, the texture will be different than traditional flans, but I am going to use the recipe ingredients as listed. This flan isn’t as “giggly” and has less egg flavor — it is very smooth and dense. I like it! I did, however, substitute half-and-half cream in the recipe for the heavy cream. I wanted to lighten up just a bit on the fat and calories. The recipe includes “pumpkin pie” spices making it quite fitting for the holiday.

The Art of Making Candy and a Caramel Glaze

Making candy is an art form and takes alot of practice, in my opinion. Flan recipes include a caramel glaze which is a type of sugar candy. It is made by boiling sugar on a stove until it superheats and caramelizes. This takes patience and attention to the boiling sugar on the stove. I ruined the first batch of caramel and had to start over. Here are two tips for successfully making candy. (If you can make this caramel candy, you can also make pralines which are very similar.)

The first tip to making caramel and other candies is to resist the temptation to stir the pot. The goal is to have a creamy, smooth caramel texture. Stirring the caramel concoction on the stove results in a grainy texture as sugar crystals from the stirring spoon “seed” the caramel making the candy taste course and grainy. Here’s my grainy caramel. Look closely and you can see the sugar crystals on the rim of the skillet and on the edge of the wooden spoon. If this happens, either add more water and boil the caramel down again or start over. (I started over.)

The second tip is to keep a close eye on the temperature of the sugar solution, or in this case, the color of the sugar. As the sugar boils, it superheats. This occurs slowly at first, then the sugar rapidly changes color to a golden brown as the temperature of the candy literally “shoots up.” It is ready at this point. If you lose track of things, the caramel will continue to brown and then it will burn. You will have a hard, sugar mess. I’m doing it right this time. No stirring. Just giggle the frying pan back and forth.

When the caramel turns a nice golden color, pour it into a 2-quart Pyrex loaf pan or casserole dish. I used an 8″ x 8″ dish with deep 2″ sides. The caramel layer will harden almost immediately. Then pour in the prepared custard.

To make the custard, beat the eggs and sugar until pale and frothy with an electric mixer. Add in the other ingredients and beat. Pour into the Pyrex casserole dish.

Flans are baked in a water bath. I set the Pyrex casserole dish in a roasting pan and filled it with water to half the depth of the casserole dish. This custard baked for one hour and 15 minutes.

Refrigerate the flan overnight. Yes, it must be baked ahead of time. Then invert onto a serving platter. Cut and serve either with whipped cream or Cool Whip topping.

This “Pumpkin Flan” is delicious. And, hum. It has a similar texture to the dessert served at Jacques-Imo’s Café. (Neither the cafe’s dessert or my dessert giggles or taste like eggs.) Maybe I’m on to something. Enjoy this old-fashioned “Pumpkin Flan” by way of a vintage Virginia cookbook. Happy Holidays!

Pumpkin Flan by Thomas P. burgess, DVM

  • Servings: 12
  • Difficulty: difficult
  • Print

Ingredients for Pumpkin Flan:

  • 1-1/3 cup sugar
  • 6 large eggs
  • 2 cups canned (or fresh) pumpkin puree
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground all-spice
  • 2 cups heavy cream (or substitute half and half)

Ingredients Cinnamon Whipped Cream*:

  • 1 cup chilled heavy cream
  • 2 Tbsp sugar
  • 1 tsp cinnamon

Instructions and Steps:

  1. In a small skillet, combine 3/4 cup of the sugar and 1/4 cup water and bring the mixture to a boil, stirring and washing down sugar crystals clinging to the sides with a brush dipped in cold water until the sugar is dissolved.
  2. Cook the syrup, swirling in the skillet, until it is a deep caramel. (Do NOT stir with a spoon, wire whip or other utensil.)
  3. Pour it into a 2-quart glass loaf pan (I used a 2-quart 8″ x 8″ x 2″ Pyrex casserole dish), tilting the pan to coat the bottom evenly, and let the caramel harden.
  4. In a bowl, beat the eggs with the remaining 2/3 cup sugar. (I beat on medium-high speed of electric mixer until the eggs were pale and light),
  5. Beat in the pumpkin, salt, ginger, all-spice, cinnamon, and the cream (or half and half).
  6. Pour the custard into the loaf pan (or Pyrex casserole dish). Set the loaf pan in a deep baking pan, add enough hot water to the baking pan to reach half up the loaf pan.
  7. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 1 hour and 15 minutes or until firm in the center.
  8. Cool. Chill overnight covered.
  9. Run a thin knife over the pan and invert the flan onto a platter.
  10. Serve, cut into slices with cinnamon whipped cream.

Instructions for Cinnamon Whipped Cream*:

  1. Beat the cream in a chilled bowl until foamy.
  2. Beat in the sugar, a little at a time and the cinnamon.
  3. Beat until the cream holds stiff peaks.
  4. Transfer to a chilled serving bowl.

Source: “Pumpkin Flan” by Thomas P. Burgess, DVM, SESQUICENTENNIAL CELEBRATION COOKBOOK 1835-1985, BRIDGEWATER, VIRGINIA, published January 1, 1985, Editor,  Cheryl Fairchilds, pp. 224 – 225.

*NOTE: For convenience, substitute Cool Whipped Topping for serving, sprinkle on ground cinnamon as a decoration.

NOTE: If desired, double the caramel glaze increasing the sugar to 1-1/3 cups and the water to 1/2 cup.



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