What do you do with leftover pumpkin pie filling? Make Pumpkin Custard Brûlée. This is a super-easy and incredibly delicious way to use up any leftover pumpkin pie filling you may have. And the telltale crackly caramelized sugar crust takes this pumpkin custard way beyond ordinary. Pumpkin brûlée is an elegant fall or winter dessert.
I recently found myself in a situation where I had more pumpkin pie filling than pie pastry… Something about a math miscalculation (don’t ask). You know I don’t like to waste food — but at that moment, I also wasn’t in the mood to roll out more pie dough. Enter plan B. Pumpkin Custard Brulee.
Now I know that “technically” this isn’t a custard. But hey, it’s got eggs and milk and if you bake it in a water bath — well, that feels custard-y to me.
I used my grandmother’s filling recipe for the pumpkin pies, so it’s also what I used for these pumpkin custards. If you’re wondering if your leftover Libby’s pumpkin pie filling will work here too, it will. And hey, you might want to add a few more (optional) ingredients to it to make it that much better. Just sayin’.
Ingredients needed for Pumpkin custard brûlée
- Leftover pumpkin pie filling
- Superfine sugar (method given)
I know this post is about using up leftover pumpkin pie filling, so theoretically, you shouldn’t have to “make the pie filling” as it’s already made.
However, just in case you don’t have leftovers — but you do want to serve this for dessert, I’m including the recipe for the pumpkin custard in the recipe card. Assembling it is easy.
How to make pumpkin pie filling custard
- Whisk the eggs in a large bowl, then add the pumpkin puree and whisk until they’re combined.
- Add the brown sugar, salt and spices and mix well.
- Stir in the bourbon (can also use brandy or cognac), butter and milk and mix until smooth.
- Place the prepared baking ramekins in a large pan with 2 to 3-inch sides. Fill the ramekins with pumpkin pie filling.
- Add enough hot water (called a water bath or bain marie) to the baking pan to come about halfway up the sides of the ramekins and bake.
Why do you need to bake the pumpkin custard in a water bath?
Custards are a delicate lot — and although this is more “pie filling” than custard, we still want to treat it with a little respect.
You see, traditional egg custards are typically cooked in a water bath to maintain a moderate heat that gently cooks the mixture so you have a silky, creamy custard instead of gritty scrambled eggs.
I use the same method when making these pumpkin custards and it does a great job of setting the dessert without cracking the dome or having an unpleasant texture on the inside.
How to tell when it’s done
Traditional custards are normally removed from the oven before they’re cooked all the way through and still slightly jiggly in the middle. The reason is that the residual heat will continue to cook them and — again, classic custards are delicate.
This isn’t quite the same thing, though and I recommend cooking the pumpkin custards just until they don’t jiggle in the center. Depending on your oven, that could be anywhere from 35-45 minutes.
Start checking at 35 minutes , by carefully nudging one of the custards on the side of the dish and seeing if it it looks like a physics wave pool or not. Add a few minutes of baking time in small increments (3-4 minutes) until it’s just set.
After the custards are baked, they need to cool completely. Remove them from the water bath and let them rest on the counter until they come to room temperature, then cover and refrigerate. You want the pumpkin custards to be cold before adding the sugar brûlée.
Speaking of… let’s talk about the best part of this dessert. The caramelized brûlée crust. Oh, yeah, baby.
The shattering caramelized sugar crust is the difference between ho-hum leftover pumpkin pie filling repurposed as a custard and a “real dessert”.
And it’s easy to do. All you need is a kitchen torch and superfine sugar.
What is superfine sugar?
Don’t worry, you don’t have to hunt local gourmet stores for a specialty ingredient. All you need is granulated sugar and a blender or food processor.
How to make superfine sugar:
- Add about 3 tablespoons of sugar to your mini food processor and pulse in 5 second increments until the sugar is very fine and there’s a cloud of wispy sugar “smoke” swirling around after you’ve processed it. Voila. Superfine sugar that’s perfect for brûléeing.
In order to properly brûlée, the pumpkin custards, you’ll need a torch. You can use a kitchen torch or a full on welder’s torch for this. A kitchen torch is less powerful and will take a little longer. A welders torch will caramelize in seconds. Unfortunately, all I have is the boring kitchen torch variety, but maybe for Christmas…
Note: Brûlée the pumpkin custards just before serving them. Don’t do it in advance because the caramelized sugars won’t stay in that crackly burnt sugar state if you put them back in the refrigerator.
How to brûlée pumpkin custard with a kitchen torch
- Sprinkle a teaspoon of superfine sugar over each of the pumpkin custards. Gently shake the ramekin so the sugar settles into an even layer on top.
- Turn on the torch and get the flame close enough to the sugar until it starts to melt and bubble.
- Make sure that the sugar is fully dissolved and starting to brown (or even burn – yeah, that’s caramelization, baby).
- Continue to brûlée the other pumpkin custards in the same manner.
Variations on brûlée topping
If you don’t have a torch (kitchen or otherwise) but you want a caramelized topping, try one of these variations:
- Make spun sugar and serve with a sugar nest on top of the pumpkin custard.
- Make sugar shards and artfully arrange a few shards so that they stand up in the ramekins.
- Sprinkle with the custards with candied pecans, to add crunch and flavor.
I’ve never had success with this method. Theoretically it should work, but in my experience, it’s been lackluster at best. Invest in a torch or use one of the variations mentioned above. (or just serve the pumpkin custards with a cookie or two on the side.
Yes. You can (and should) make the custard ahead of time, but don’t brûlée the tops until just before you’re going to serve it.
They’ll keep for up to 5 days if they’re well covered.
More pumpkin desserts you might like:
- Mini Pumpkin Pies
- Aunt Lynne’s Famous Pumpkin Bread
- Thanksgiving Pumpkin Pie with Gingersnap Crust
- Pecan Brickle Pumpkin Blondies
- Pumpkin Spice Snickerdoodles
Pumpkin Custard Brûlée
- 8 half-cup ramekins
- kitchen torch (or broiler)
FOR THE PUMPKIN CUSTARD (if you don't have leftovers)
- 2 large eggs
- 15 ounces pumpkin puree homemade or store bought
- 1/2 cup + 2 1/2 tablespoons brown sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
- 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1 tablespoon brandy, cognac or bourbon optional
- 3/4 cup + 2 tablespoons hot milk warmed in the microwave in short bursts or heated over medium heat on the stovetop.
- 2 tablespoons melted butter
- 8 teaspoons superfine sugar
FOR THE BRÛLÉE:
- 8 teaspoons superfine sugar
- Preheat the oven to 375°F.
FOR THE PUMPKIN CUSTARD:
- Whisk the eggs in a large bowl and add the pumpkin puree. Whisk to combine.
- Add the brown sugar, salt, cinnamon, ginger, allspice, nutmeg and cloves and whisk to combine.
- Stir in the liquor (if using), the hot milk and melted butter until the filling is smooth.
PREPARE THE RAMEKINS & WATER BATH:
- Spray the ramekins with vegetable spray and divide the pumpkin filling between them.
- Place the ramekins in a baking pan with 2-3" sides. Fill the pan with enough hot water so that it reaches about halfway up the sides of the ramikens.
- Carefully transfer the pumpkin custards to the oven and bake for 40-45 minutes or until the custards are set.
- Remove the custards from the water bath and cool to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate for several hours or overnight.
MAKE SUPERFINE SUGAR:
- To make superfine sugar, add the sugar to a mini food processor and pulse several times until the sugar has much finer granules and aerates a bit in the machine.
- Just before serving, sprinkle 1 teaspoon of granulated sugar over each custard. Use the kitchen torch to caramelize the sugar and serve.