Abuela’s Pumpkin Flan with Caramel Sauce for Thanksgiving!

Women that grew up in countries outside of the United States, immigrated to America as young adults, raised families and have grandkids, capture my imagination. They’ve escaped war, poverty and oppression, many bringing only the shirts on their back and the recipes from their homelands. And their stories? Makes my life look like a pony ride at a country fair.

The recipe yields four ramekins and one pie mold, that can be sliced.

The recipe yields about 10 servings. I made four ramekins and one mold, to be sliced into 6 pieces.  Whatever works for you.. I’m serving it for 2 meals to different guests.

Having lived my adult life in a multi-cultural college town, I’ve befriended  many of these women who’ve immigrated to the United States. And they’ve expanded my culinary horizons. Immeasurably.

I’ve posted hundreds of blogs borrowed from their memories through the years. Most recent posts–Babcia’s Stuffed Cabbage Leaves, and  Abeula’s Pumpkin Flan below…these recipes are from my  (semi) fictionalized Polish and Cuban grandmothers who express their love for their family with food.

I just received a comment on a recent cookie post. Julie was channelling her Belfast gran’s sage advise for making cookies, and sharing it with us. Thank you, Julie. Thank you, Gran! R.I.P.

To all of you–I’d love to hear your grandmother’s culinary words of wisdom. It’s some granny thing I’ve got going these days–makes me feel cuddled, safe and loved!

Molds must be baked in a water bath (bain marie).

Molds must be baked in a water bath (bain marie).

Last week I posted that prior mentioned recipe for stuffed cabbage leaves. Abuela’s Pumpkin Flan, as well, needs advance thought and planning. Unless, of course, you are an Abuela, which is the Cuban endearment for grandmother. (Or Aubuelita, or Lita. Depending.) An Abuela can whip up a flan as fast as she can denounce Fidel’s dictatorship. Abuelo’s are greased lightening. Poetry in motion.

If you want to laugh out loud, seriously laugh out loud for four solid minutes, take a look at this YouTube. It compares a grandma raised in the American South to an Abuela raised in Cuba. Maybe it’s because I had Alabama grannies, whatever, but this was sidesplittingly funny to me.

Melting the sugar...

Melting the sugar…

I asked my friend, Guillermo, whose mother was born and raised in Cuba, if this Abuela is a stereotype. I’ve met his mother, a lovely women, and she didn’t seem to fit the category.   He said, indeed, his mother was not so easily pigeon-holed. But this YouTube’s rendering of a typical Abeula, from his experience with his Cuban family and friends was accurate, he said. And very amusing.

The caramel is ready! Careful! It can yield a nasty burn.

The caramel is ready! Careful! It can yield a nasty burn.

Back to flan. Not only have I been in Grandmother nostalgia land of late, I’ve also been craving pudding-ish desserts. Perhaps it’s the comforting texture. I adore Creme Brulée and Panna Cotta, yet, until now, haven’t made a custardy flan. Flan is enjoyed in various guises all over the world, most certainly Cuba.

Besides the ubiquitous Cuban Black Beans and Rice, flan commands center stage at the end of every meal, at every home and restaurant on the island. It can be dolled up with guava cheese, coconut, rum, pumpkin, or expresso. I”m thinking cranberry for next month? Nah. Just seems wrong.

The garnish is optional, but the cardamon mixed into the glaze is a masterful palate pleaser.

The garnish is optional, but the cardamon flavors in the pumpkin seeds take the dish from delicious to extraordinary.

As I do with all recipes that tread foreign soil, I scrutinized many, many recipes for  flans prior to making this. I made the first draft (the recipe below) and, honestly, can stop. Done. It doesn’t need another walk around the park. It is simply delicious. Especially with the optional garnish. Promise.

It’s a combination of half a dozen recipes from Cuban home kitchens that I found on-line. It will be the perfect finish to my Thanksgiving table, or rather two Thanksgiving tables (it’s complicated)–a creamy, lighter departure from the more traditional pumpkin pie.

So, friends, Happy Thanksgiving!  I am thankful for you, dear readers, who enjoy this blog. I am thankful for the myriad folks  from around the world who have found safe haven in the United States, and whose recipes have made their way into my kitchen. I am, especially, thankful for grandmothers.

 You’ll find my favorite holiday recipes  by clicking the gold holiday ball in the right hand column.

Recipe: Abuela’s Pumpkin Flan


  • 5 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup white granulated sugar
  • 12 ounces evaporated milk
  • 14 ounces sweetened condensed milk
  • 3 tablespoons mascarpone or cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • Pinch of kosher salt
  • 1 cup white granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/2 teaspoon crème of tartar (to prevent sugar syrups from crystallizing)
  • 1/2 cup pumpkin seeds
  • 1/4 teaspoon cardamom
  • 2 tablespoons honey


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. To make the custard, in a large mixing bowl, whisk eggs until combined. Whisk in sugar, milks, mascarpone or cream cheese, pumpkin, cornstarch, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla and salt. (If mascarpone or cream cheese don’t incorporate well, give it a few whirs in a food processor.) Stir to release air bubbles. Reserve.
  3. To make the caramel, place sugar, water and crème of tartar in a small, heavy bottomed sauce pan over medium heat. Stir constantly until sugar is dissolved, about 2 minutes. Increase heat to medium-high and boil, without stirring, until caramel turns the color of apple cider, 6-8 minutes. Watch carefully as it is very easy to burn caramel. (At this time, you will also want to bring a separate pot of water to a low boil for the bain marie.)
  4. Remove caramel from heat and carefully pour mixture into mold or ramekin. Even a small bit of errant caramel may cause a bad burn. Swirl it around to coat entire bottom and sides. Let caramel cool and harden, 2-3 minutes.
  5. When caramel has hardened, pour custard into mold or ramekins.  Pour hot water into the baking dish so it cover 2/3’s of the mold or ramekins.
  6. Carefully place baking dish(es) on the center rack of oven. Bake until the center of the custard is set and firm to the touch, about 45 minutes.
  7. Remove from water bath and transfer to a rack until cool. Refrigerate 4-24 hours.
  8. To make the garnish, if using. in a pre-heated 350 degree oven, toss the pumpkin seeds with cardamom and honey. Line a cooking sheet with parchment paper and spread with seed mixture. Bake until seeds are toasty, 5-7 minutes. Cool.
  9. To plate the flan after it has been chilled: Shimmy a spatula around the sides of flam. Place a plate large enough to incorporate flan and hold firmly over flan. Flip the pan, and let flan slide onto plate, allowing caramel to drizzle over the top. For ramekins, do the same thing.
  10. Garnish with honeyed pumpkin seeds, if using, and serve.

* EQUIPMENT: You will need a pie pan, individual ramekins or another mold of your choice. You will also need a baking dish large enough to accommodate the mold or ramekins. It will be used as a bain marie for baking the custard in hot water.

 35 minutes to make the custard and caramel

45 minutes baking time

4-24 hours resting time in fridge

Number of servings (yield): 8-10 SERVINGS

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