I love pumpkin, but I’m no fan of pumpkin pie.

Poorly made, it’s pasty and cloying. Well made, it’s still (to my taste buds) a dense, heavy-handed dessert. Nothing I want to eat after a meal of roast bird, gravy and butter-laden vegetables.

Still, I love pumpkin. I love its earthiness. I love the way it pairs with cinnamon, ginger, cloves, nutmeg … all those warm, essence-of-fall spices.

I decided a few weeks ago to forego pumpkin pie this Thanksgiving. But I wanted some kind of pumpkin to grace our dessert buffet.

The solution?

These custards. Laden with cinnamon, nutmeg and maple, they’re bracing, light and (I hope) a lovely accompaniment to the caramel apple pie that’s taking center stage. Best, they can be made two days in advance and take next to no time to assemble.

If the family agrees tomorrow, these may become our pumpkin dessert of choice.

Sorry, pumpkin pie.

Maple Pumpkin Pots de Creme (“The Best of Gourmet 2003”)

I halved this recipe, using 3 1/2 egg yolks, which isn’t as weird as it sounds: One yolk fell apart as I was separating it, so measuring a half was pretty simple! The recipe calls for 2-ounce ramekins, but mine hold 4 ounces. That bigger size was no problem. Regardless of the size you use, divide your custard evenly among your ramekins, knowing that it will only come halfway up the sides of a 4-ounce container. Also, don’t be alarmed when your pots de creme settle in on themselves after cooling. They’ll still maintain their buoyant texture.

  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 3/4 cup whole milk
  • 3/4 cup pure maple syrup
  • 1/2 cup canned solid-pack pumpkin
  • 7 egg yolks
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt

Preheat your oven to 325 degrees. Heat a kettle of water to boiling.

Whisk the cream, milk, maple syrup and pumpkin in a heavy saucepan and heat just until simmering.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt.

Slowly add the hot pumpkin mixture to the yolks, whisking constantly. Pour the resulting custard through a sieve into a large measuring cup.

Place 10 ungreased ramekins into a large pan with 2-inch sides. (You may need to use two pans.) Divide the custard among the ramekins. Carefully pour the boiling water into the pan, until it reaches halfway up the ramekins’ sides. Be careful not to splash water into the custards!

Cover the pan (or pans) tightly with foil and place in the oven, being careful not to splosh the water. Bake for 40 minutes.

When done, remove the foil and move the ramekins to a rack to cool. When cool, move to the refrigerator. Chill, covered, at least 2 hours and up to 2 days.