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Black and orange puddings.

Tara O'Brady/Globe and Mail

A stovetop pudding has an after-school, weeknight charm. It speaks to my childhood and the cool gel of pudding cups, rather than the elegant wobble of baked custards at grown up dinner parties. In the aim of inspiring a similar adoration, I feel a need to provide a lineup of individual treats in the fridge.

Consider these my acquiescence to that compulsion and an attempt to revitalize the often-maligned combination of coffee, warm spices and, yes, pumpkin. (In truth, my ideal is squash over pumpkin, but I’ll come to that in a moment.)

Pumpkin and its kin get along swimmingly with spice, of course. And the addition of coffee provides a needed contradiction to their harmony.

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In my seasonal ode, the pumpkin custard exists between ethereal and earthy. Roasted purée offers a concentrated, aromatic sweetness, highlighted with a confident assertion of spice. The caramel is a speckled ooze that provides dramatic backdrop to all manner of garnishes.

I recommend you make your own purée rather than choosing store bought; the flavour will be rounder and more pronounced, the texture far more robust. You can use a small pie pumpkin, or, as is my preference, a butternut squash or a sweet potato instead. Whatever your choice, prick its flesh all over with a fork. Place on a baking sheet in a hot oven, 400F or in that neighbourhood, and roast whole until tender enough to take the tip of a knife. Split the pumpkin, squash or potato in half lengthwise, then continue to roast, seeds and all, as the case may be, face down until supple all the way through. The time that takes will vary, of course. When cool enough to handle, peel the skin, discard any seeds and press the flesh though a food mill on the finest blade, or mash.

The pudding is made in a typical custard method; cornstarch-thickened yolks marry warm milk and then the combination cooks on the stove. From there it diverges from tradition, as the squash purée and cream are whirled in a blender with maple syrup. This slurry cools the warm pudding, hastening its set. I’d apologize for the additional washing up, but the extra step of blending and straining the pudding affords the most velveteen finish.

The pudding requires a few hours to set, preferably overnight. The caramel can be made in advance, as well.

Black and orange puddings

Serves: 8

Spiced Puddings

  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 cups heavy cream, divided
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 1 cup butternut squash, sweet potato or pumpkin purée, see headnote
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 3/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1/2 teaspoon medium-grained kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 6 egg yolks

Black Coffee Caramel

  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon finely ground coffee
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon medium-grained kosher salt

Gilded seeds

  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • Scant 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup hulled green pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
  • Medium-grained kosher salt, as needed

Options to serve

  • Whipped cream
  • Black coffee caramel
  • Gilded seeds
  • Sesame brittle, smashed
  • Granola
  • Candied pecans or other nuts
  • Gold sanding sugar
  • Chocolate-covered espresso beans

Start with the puddings, as they’ll need a few hours to set. Combine 1 cup of the whipping cream with the milk in a saucepan. Slit the vanilla pod down its length. Scrape the seeds into the milk mixture with the back of the knife and drop the pod into the liquids. Warm the liquids on the stove over medium heat until barely steaming. Set aside and steep for 5 minutes.

While the milk mixture infuses, blend the squash purée in an upright blender with the remaining 1 cup heavy cream and maple syrup. Set aside. Place a sieve over a large bowl.

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Whisk together the brown sugar, cornstarch, salt and spices in a medium bowl. Pour in the egg yolks and beat until airy and lightened in colour, maybe 2 minutes.

Fish the vanilla pod from the milk mixture and discard. While still whisking the eggs, slowly introduce the warm milk in a thin, steady stream. Once combined, pour everything back into the saucepan and return to the stovetop with a medium flame. Cook, stirring regularly, until the mixture comes to a boil and thickens, 5 minutes or so. Immediately pour the hot custard into the blender and run on low for 15 seconds, with the pouring lid ajar to release steam. Pass the pudding through the prepared sieve. Divide between 8 small glasses or bowls. Press cling film directly onto the surface of the pudding to prevent a skin from forming, if desired. Chill until truly cold and set, 4 hours. Overnight is preferred.

To make the caramel, microwave the heavy cream in a 2-cup heat proof measuring cup until barely steaming. Stir in the coffee and leave to set to one side.

A deep pot is important for making caramel, as when the cream is added it will sputter and expand. Pour the water into a tall, heavy-bottomed saucepan. Add the sugar into the centre of the water (no sugar should touch the sides of the pan). Set the pan over medium and cook, swirling the pan until the sugar is completely liquid. Turn the heat to medium-high and continue to cook until the sugar turns tawny, 5 to 8 minutes; swirl – never stir – to maintain even colour as it develops. Once the sugar is deep amber, pull the pan from the heat and carefully pour in the coffee-stained cream. After the eruption has spent itself, add the salt and whisk the sauce smooth. If the sauce sticks in the corners of the pan, place back over low heat and stir until melted. Set aside at room temperature to cool slightly, until warm. If making in advance, cover and refrigerate. Rewarm gently before using.

Candy the seeds. Line a baking sheet with parchment or a Silpat. Melt butter in a heavy saucepan over medium heat. Stir in sugar, then cook, undisturbed, until the sugar takes on colour, 2 to 3 minutes. Swirl the pan, and cook until fully golden, around 1 minute more. Swirl in the spices. Carefully tip in the pumpkin seeds and cook, stirring with heat proof spatula or wooden spoon, until the seeds are toasted and crackling, 90 seconds or so. Spread seeds onto prepared sheet pan, keeping fingers away from the molten sugar. Season with salt. Cool completely.

To serve, adorn the puddings with a pour of caramel, the gilded pumpkin seeds, whipped cream and any and all other dressings desired. Pass spoons and dive in.

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