Low-Fat Caramel Pumpkin Flan

Low Fat Caramel Pumpkin Flan Cleaning out my recipe cabinet has been a work-in-progress that I started last May; then halted in June, July, and August…and most of September and October. I like to think of it as prudence instead of procrastination. Combing through a collection of twenty years worth of cookbooks, magazines, and recipe binders takes great care.  It’s like digging through a treasure trove.

I went back at it this past weekend while in the mood to make a dessert that wouldn’t require any additional treadmill time.  The pumpkin flan recipe  in The Low-Fat Way to Cook – a hardcover from 1995 – looked promising and I’m happy to report I struck gold!  Smooth and indulgent with roughly 195 calories per serving following my preparation (185 calories following the standard recipe), this low-fat caramel pumpkin flan is a guilt-free satisfying dessert that is too good to not pass along.  Enjoy!

Guilt free low-fat Caramel Pumpkin Flan Recipe

I made only three modifications to the original recipe: (1) I wanted to make  individual pumpkin flans instead of one large  8-inch flan,  (2) I reduced fat caramel topping that I had on hand instead of cooking sugar to make caramel, and (3) I used real eggs instead of egg substitute. The result? Creamy delicousness!


  • 8 individual 6-ounce ramekins or custard cups -or- one 8-inch round cake pan coated with cooking spray
  • Low fat caramel sauce OR 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 (12-ounce) can evaported skimmed milk
  • 1/2 cup skim milk
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 egg + 2 egg whites OR 3/4 cup egg substitute
  • 1 1/2 cups cooked, mashed pumpkin
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice OR 1 teaspoon cinnamon and 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • Lite whipped topping (optional)


1.  Spread a scant tablespoon of low-fat caramel sauce at the bottom of each ramekin (or cook 1/2 cup of sugar over medium heat, stirring constantly until the sugar melts and turns a light brown, then pour into cakpan, tilting to coat evenly).

2.  Combine milks and 1/4 cup sugar in a medium saucepan; heat just until bubbles form around the edge of your sacucepan, stirring until all sugar dissolves. Remove from heat.

3.  Gradually stir one-fourth of hot milk mixture into eggs/susbtitute to temper it; add to remaining hot mixture, stirring constantly. Add pumpkin and spice; stir well.

4.  Place ramekins (or cakepan) in a large shallow baking pan; pour pumpkin mixture to top lip of ramekin (if using cakepan, it will be very full). Pour hot water to a depth of 1 inch into large pan.

5.  Cover and bake at 325F for 1 hour or until a knife inserted near center comes out clean.

6.  Remove flan(s) from water and cool on a wire rack. Cover and chill at least 4 hours. To serve, loosen edges with spatula and invert onto serving plate. Top with a dollop of lite whipped topping and sprinkle with cinnamon.


Magnetic pull

When it comes to storing fat calories my thighs have the magnetic pull of a neodymium magnet. I have often wondered if  my genes are extraordinary in a not-so-great-way. Perhaps my femurs are fortified with something. A piece of pie? Whoomph. Slice of torte? Clear the runway, to the thighs we go.

Wouldn’t it be scrumptous for women over 40 to have the metabolism of teens? As you may have guessed, my treadmill has become a very close friend over the years as has my stepper.  To that end, I maintain that life is too short to not savor sweet treats.  The Slav in me craves a delicious dessert paired with a good cup of coffee on a daily basis, which has ultimately forced me to find healthier delights to satisfy my sweet tooth and save the indulgences -and thereby my sweat glands- for true decadence.

Sweet and satisfying can be synonymous with low fat and guilt-free.  The proof is in the flan; the Low Fat Caramel Pumpkin Flan I made this past weekend.  It was too good not to share. Meanwhile, I’ll keep hoping my metabolism moves out of reverse.

What will tomorrow bring?

It was hard not to notice the streak of colors that painted the sky this evening.  With Hurricane Sandy looming, it was beautiful and errie at the same time.  What will tomorrow bring to all those living on the East coast? My prayers are with you.

Spiced Pumpkin Knots

Spiced pumpkin knots are a great addition to the Thanksgiving table, though I enjoy making them well before it’s time to shop for the turkey.  The mood to bake these delights hit me as I was hanging out my bathroom window, photographing what was left of the autumnal beauty in my backyard.  Why not keep the lessons coming? Spiced pumpkin knots provide double duty benefit: they fulfill a taste for the flavors of fall and, as with any yeast bread, provide a lesson in patience to those of us who need a boost in that virtue.  There’s just no rushing yeast dough.

Spiced Pumpkin Knots from Passing the Relish

These knots provide a warm fall-y taste with just a hint of sweetness and also make a yummy breakfast or afternoon treat, especially warmed and slathered with butter or, if I’m being good, Brummel.

Spiced Pumpkin Knots Ingredient List

1 package yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon all-purpose flour
1/3 C sugar
1 Tablespoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup pumpkin puree
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup whole wheat flour
3 – 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
optional egg wash (1 lightly beaten egg mixed with a tablespoon of milk or water)

Step 1: Start by making the yeast sponge (technically referred to as proofing the yeast) by dissolving 1 package of dry yeast in 3/4 cup warm water (105 to 115F). Stir in 1 teaspoon sugar and 1 teaspooon flour to get the yeast ‘happy’.  Let this stand at least 5 minutes until you see foam floating above cloudy milky water (technically, a chemical reaction is taking place but I’ll spare us both).

Since I am not very good at kneading, I rely on my trusty KitchenAid.  So…move to the mixer.

Step 2: Pour the yeast sponge into the mixer bowl and add: 1/3 C sugar, 1 Tablespoon cinnamon, 1 teaspoon nutmeg, 1 lightly beaten egg, and 1 cup cooked pumpkin (puree if you’re using the real thing, canned pumpkin if you’re opting for help from the cannery – not pie filling). Give this a gentle stir before adding 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1 cup wheat flour, and 3 to 3 1/2 cups of all purpose flour until a soft dough forms.

Knead the dough-Spiced Pumpkin Knots

If you’re a good kneader, move the dough out onto a work surface that has been sprinkled with a few tablespoons of flour and knead away, roughly 8-10 minutes. If you’re not a stellar kneader (like me), let the dough hook work its magic. Either way, in the end you should have a nice smooth ball of dough that’s anxious to get rising.

Step 3: Get out your favorite dough-rising bowl and add about 2 teaspoons of oil, coating the bowl on all sides. Place the dough in the bowl, turning to coat it on all sides, and let it rise until double in bulk (45-60 min.)

Rising dough for spiced pumpkin knots

Step 4: Punch the dough down and prepare to divide it into 24 equal portions. To do this, I divide the dough in half. Working with one chunk at a time, I take one portion and divide that in half – knowing I’ll need to get 6 chunks from each half.

Divide dough for Spiced Pumpkin Knots

Step 5: Shape each little chunk into a 10-inch rope and tie each rope into a loose knot. (What can I say, I’m analytic. A bit linear. My measuring tape is a dear friend.)

Measure rope to form Pumpkin Spice Knots


Forming the knot for spiced pumpkin knots

Step 6: Place knots onto baking sheets that have been coated with spray and let these babies rise until double in bulk, roughly 35-45 min.  Bake at 425F for 12 minutes or until lightly browned. Just before removing from oven, brush with beaten egg and bake for another 2-3 minutes. Remove onto wire racks and enjoy!

Raising the spiced pumpkin knots

Whenever I make a batch of these pumpkin knots, I freeze half to enjoy in the coming weeks. They freeze beautifully and thaw in a jiffy either  – on the counter or in the microwave – especially the latter if you aren’t patient and need to speed things up.

Just the other day I was enjoying a warm pumpkin knot with a cup of my favorite tea (vanilla madagascar) in my perch (aka my home office).  Daughter 1 provided musical entertainment in the background as she sang her heart out, rehearsing Broadway songs in preparation of auditioning for the upcoming school musical.

Pumpkin, who can live without it? I ask in all honesty.

Hubby often tells me my sense of humor was removed along with my adenoids decades ago. The big lovable creep.

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This recipe was adapted from The Low-Fat Way to Cook, which lists each knot as having 115 calories, 0.8 g total fat (0.2 sat, 0.2g mono, 0.3 g poly), 9mg cholesterol, 23.1 g carbohydrate, and 77 mg sodium.  Differences between our two recipes include the spices, my using all-purpose flour versus bread flour, and my using 1/4 teaspoon of salt versus 3/4 teaspoon. Yes, I live up to the “salt police” title that my family bestowed upon me  (I’ll explain another time); therefore, these pumpkin knots likely contain in the neighborhood of 57 mg of sodium, which allows for a nice slather of Brummel. Enjoy!

Hanging out

Valuable lesson learned: Never procrastinate when it comes to hanging out the bathroom window to photograph anything if you live in Wisconsin. Well, not necessarily anything, but most definitely a beautiful wall of fall foliage.

One would think I’d know better being a born Wisconsinite, well versed in its wishy-washy weather. Just the other week the tree line bordering our backyard was a vibrant wall of gold, crimson and orange. The leaves were showing their true identifies and marking the changing season. It was gorgeous. More than once I made a mental note that I needed to grab the camera. But that note was misfiled.

Fast forward after a bout of rain showers and strong winds and suddenly there are large gaps of bare spots.

Fall colors

Next year I solemly swear to make a concerted effort not to misfile my mental note and hang out the bathroom window in a timely and prudent manner.

But, there’s always sweetness following sour, which leads to:

Valuable lesson #2.  If you hang out the bathroom window just so (while twisting and contorting and praying to not drop the camera), you might get lucky and capture more autumnal color.

Colorful Callery Pear tree

I absolutely LOVE Callery Pear trees. They retain their leaves well into fall and come spring they fill the air with sweet smelling blossoms.  (I know I only captured a small part of the tree, but if I hung out any further I’d have risked getting stuck. And most likely would have droped the camera. Now that would have been ugly.)

After my photographing escapade, I was in the mood to bake something fall-y – something warm, something homey. Being in a contorting mode, spiced pumpkin knots seemed a perfect fit. If I could twist myself through a bathroom window, I could certainly twist knots!

Zucchini Spice Cupcakes with Caramel Frosting

I’m convinced that teenagers will eat anything that has frosting on it. Sprinkles help but frosting is key.

Knowing I would need to bake for the band concert in early October, these cupcakes were the perfect way to use up the final straggles of zucchini from this year’s bumper crop.  Sans frosting they make pair wonderfully with a cup of coffee, having only a hint of sweetness. But slather on some caramel frosting and  voilà – cupcakes that teenagers will dive into and never realize they are scarfing down a bit of veggie with every bite.

zucchini spice cupcake with caramel frosting

These cupcakes (or muffins) combine the tastes of summer and fall and freeze well. Just thaw overnight and frost the next day.


3 cups shredded zucchini
1 C sugar
2/3 cup canola oil (or vegetable)
2 teasp. vanilla
4 eggs
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teasp. baking soda
1/2 teasp. baking powder
1 1/2 teasp. ground cinnamon
1/2 teasp. ground nutmeg
dash of mace

Heat oven to 350F and place 20 liners in standard size muffin pans.
Stir first five ingredients in a large bowl until well blended. Stir in remaining ingredients just until wet. Fill each muffin liner 2/3 full and bake for 20 min. or until tested done.

Cool completely before frosting. If freezing, place in ziplock freezer bags and thaw at least 4 hours before frosting.

Caramel Frosting: In a small saucepan, combine 1/4 cup butter, 1/4 C milk, 3/4 C packed brown sugar and a dash of vanilla. Stirring constantly, bring to a complete boil. Cool for 10 minutes and then add to a large mixer bowl with 1 3/4 C confectioners sugar. This makes a very thick caramel frosting. If you prefer a creamy texture, add another 1/4 C butter with 2 tbsp milk and beat well.

The zucchini keeps coming, and coming….

Despite a severe drought that clobbered the Midwest this summer, my family hit the motherload of all harvests. Yes, I know, even one healthy zucchini plant can yield a heap, but the amount of squash my garden produced in drought conditions is utterly amazing.

garden produce

June and July are typically months of vibrant color in Wisconsin. Except this year. We had brown dinge. Everywhere.  Once lush green landscapes took on a scorched look with only random splotches of color provided by flower beds and hanging baskets. Our lush spring lawn withered to a crunchy bed of straw that pained anyone who had the brainy idea of walking on it barefoot.  (At least I’m open about it.)  The lawn mower stayed parked in the garage and Hubby’s fireworks stayed packed in the basement.  The hose, however, stayed unreeled for days on end with no worries of leaving any mark on the lawn. Watering was strictly relegated to parched shrubs, flowers, and, of course, the garden, to which I am happy to report the fruits of our water bill have paid off!

Was it the hot sun? Watering only at nighttime? Watering only the roots? My theory is that the plants flourished because they enjoyed cozying up to one another: zucchini and butternut squash on one end, yellow squash and delicata on the other. Hubby is the official seed sower in our family and has never sowed squash in such close proximity before. Thus, coziness is the only undocumented scientific explanation I can garner.

Whatever the reason, I’m thankful for such bounty. This seemingly bottomless supply of squash has had me sprinting to the kitchen for weeks on end.  There’s something so satisfying about freshly baked zucchini bread in all its simplicity, eating it while it’s still warm and gooey and paying no mind to the temperature outside. I really don’t need to ingest it. One look and it goes straight to my thighs, but I digress. I was happy to share my motherload harvest with others just as I am happy to share these recipes with you, taste tested and teen approved. Enjoy!


Cheddar Zucchini Drop Biscuits

My spin on Cufte, the Serbian equivalent to enlarged Swedish meatballs

Serbian Zucchini Pita Rolls

Summer Pasta – my favorite go-to meal

Zucchini Meatballs

Zucchini Meatloaf


Vegan Zucchini Bread

Zucchini Spice Cupcakes with Caramel Frosting

Ooey Gooey Chocolate Zucchini Cake

Vegan Zucchini Bread

Sweet breads are one of my indulgences. Give me a big slice alongside a cup of coffee of three and I’m a happy mama. This recipe can be adapted for vegans and non-vegans alike, though one bite of the vegan version and you’ll be hooked.

Vegan Zucchini Bread

A combination of wheat and white flour gives this bread a slightly nutty texture. Delicious!

3 cups shredded zucchini
1 1/3 cups sugar
2/3 cup canola oil
2 teasp. vanilla
3 heaping tablespoons applesauce (or 4 eggs)
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups wheat flour
2 teasp. baking soda
1/2 teasp. baking powder
2 teasp. ground cinnamon
1 cup carob/vegan chocolate chips (or semi-sweet)

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease a 9-inch load pan with cooking spray.
In a medium bowl, combine zucchini, sugar, oil, vanilla and applesauce until well blended. Stire in teh remaining ingredients until mixed and pour batter into pan.
Bake 70-80 minutes or until it tests done. Cool 10 minutes before inverting onto a cooling rack.

My family can never wait until the bread cools completely. Sometimes, you just need to break the rules and dig in!

Ooey Gooey Chocolate Zucchini Cake

chocolate zucchini cake


2 1/2 cups regular all-purpose flour, unsifted
1/2 cup cocoa
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 cup soft butter
2 cups sugar
3 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups coarsely shredded zucchini
1/2 cup milk


  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  2. Combine the four, cocoa, baking powder, soda; set aside.
  3. With a mixer, beat together the butter and the sugar at medium speed until well blended. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.
  4. Stir in the vanilla and zucchini.
  5. Alternately stir the dry ingredients and the milk into the zucchini mixture, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients.
  6. Pour the batter into a greased and flour-dusted 10-inch tube pan or bundt pan.
  7. Bake for 50-55 minutes, testing after 45 minutes as every oven bakes differently. Be sure to cook the cake in the pan for at least 15 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack or the cake is likely to come out in chunk — delicious nonetheless, but not exactly pretty looking for the time and effort.

When the cake has fully cooled, add 6 oz. semi sweet chocolate, 4 tbsp butter  and 1 Tbsp corn syrup to a small saucepan and stir over low heat until the chips have fully melted. Frost the cake and enjoy!

Cheddar Zucchini Drop Biscuits

I feel obliged to forewarn you that if you’re hoping for leftovers, well, one can always hope. These zucchini drop biscuits bake up light and tender and require tremendous will power to eat just one.

We recently had my best friend and her two teenage sons over for dinner and I knew zucchini wasn’t anywhere on  the guys’ top 40 list of favorite veggies. In early summer they enjoy the zucchini I share with their mom who bakes up sweet bread loaded with walnuts or pecans, but they wouldn’t consider ingesting it as a savory side dish. By the time August rolls around they plead with me not to share any more zucchini and one mention or look at my garden deluge causes them to take on a green hue. That is, until they tasted these scrumptious morsels.

Update 1 year later (8/17/13):  Hey all,  yellow summer squash is an official family-approved substitute for zucchini in these drop biscuits. More accurately, it is a preferred substitute for zucchini and I’ve been advised to consider renaming my recipe “yellow squash drop biscuits.”  I have baked three batches within the last week and the winning drop biscuit combination is yellow squash paired with finely shredded Italian cheese blend. The cheese seemed to melt into the dough and add a new level of richness.  Yum!

Cheddar Zucchini Drop Biscuits

2 Cups all-purpose flour (I prefer to use 1 1/2 C white flour and 1/2 C Wheat Flour)
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 cut butter, cut into small pieces
1 Cup cheddar cheese, shredded (or any other cheese if you’re not a cheddar person)
1 bunch green onions, thinly sliced (if you don’t have any, replace with 2 Tbsp dried chives)
1 Cup grated zucchini or yellow squash
1 C 1% or skim milk


  1. Preheat oven to 400°F and coat a large baking sheet with cooking spray
  2. Combine flour and baking powder in a large bowl and cut in the butter using two knives to make coarse crumbs. (You could be modern and use a food processor but I prefer the old fashioned way.)
  3. Add the cheese, green onions or chives, and the zucchini.
  4. Stir in the milk to make a soft, sticky dough.
  5. Use a 1/4 cup measure to drop the biscuit portions onto the prepared baking sheet.
  6. Bake on middle rack for 18 to 20 minutes, or until edges are golden. Transfer biscuits to a rack to cool.