a twist on tradition

Thanksgiving is incontrovertibly a time to hold fast to tradition. Although our family is an experimental and innovative bunch in the kitchen, we’ll be damned if Aunt Susan’s broccoli casserole, mom’s sausage and parmesan stuffing, and the corn thing aren’t on the table year after year. But every now and then we take liberty to make little tweaks on tradition. The one I made this Thanksgiving brought together two traditional dishes—my mom’s pumpkin pie and my great grandmother’s flan—to create a new dessert that just may have forged a new tradition for years to come.
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My great grandmother, Mamamama (actually my papa’s mama’s mama), was an incredible cook. Although I was too young when she passed away to remember her dishes myself, stories of her homemade dulce de leche and stacks of her elegantly handwritten recipes keep her memory alive. Of all her specialties, the recipe I hear about most is her flan, which uses cream cheese to make an even more decadent version of this sugary, smooth, and creamy Cuban dessert.
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I made a version of Mamamama’s flan for a potluck dinner right before heading home for Thanksgiving. With a new dessert to add to our usual spread on the brain, the idea to make a pumpkin flan in lieu of traditional pumpkin pie came to mind. Apparently in Florida, I’m not alone on the pumpkin flan (or flan de calabaza) train.

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I made a bold move that I’m not sure Mamamama would approve of, but certainly my medical colleagues would: substituting an entire can of sweetened condensed milk (fear not, there was still an entire can included!) for a can of pumpkin puree and tossed in some dashes of pumpkin pie spice. What emerged was a delicate, silky, decadent, yet light custard. The warmth of the spices played perfectly with the burnt sugar topping, and the smoothness of the filling was quite reminiscent of pumpkin pie, so as not to completely trump Thanksgiving tradition.
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I’m thankful that the main meal filled everyone up too much so that there was at least a quarter of the flan leftover for me to enjoy for days to come—and I think with time, it only got better. So while we may stand our ground in disallowing certain dishes to never fade from our Thanksgiving smorgasbord, I think this pumpkin flan, new to the table yet steeped in tradition, just may have earned its spot in our repertoire.

Pumpkin Flan
adapted from Mamamama

2/3 cup sugar

1 tbsp water

8 oz cream cheese, softened

1 14 oz can sweetened condensed milk

1 5 oz can evaporated milk

1 15 oz can pumpkin puree

4 eggs

zest of one lemon

1 tsp vanilla

2 tsp pumpkin pie spice

Preheat oven to 350. Grease a 9” round pie or cake pan.

To make caramel topping: Place 2/3 cup sugar and 1 tbsp water in a small saucepan over medium high heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until sugar is melted and golden brown. This will take about 5-7 minutes. Be careful to not burn it, which can happen quickly! Pour caramel into greased pan.

Place cream cheese, sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk, eggs, lemon zest, vanilla, and spices into a blender. Mix on high speed until completely smooth (Mamamama said 5 minutes, but I think the blenders of today are a little more powerful, so much less time is needed).

Pour batter into pan over caramel mixture. Place pan into larger round or rectangular baking dish and fill with hot water halfway up side of pan to create water bath. Bake for 50-60 minutes, until mixture barely jiggles in center when pan is moved. Remove from oven, take pan out of water bath and place on a cooling rack. Allow to cool to room temperature and then wrap with plastic wrap and place in refrigerator. Refrigerate at least 12 hours, preferably overnight.

Before serving, loosen edge of flan with a knife and invert onto a platter (choose one with a good rim, as the caramel should drip along the sides!) Buen provecho!

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