Editor’s note: Cook Like a Chef is a feature designed to help you master cooking techniques that will give your homemade meals professional style and carefully crafted flavor. Each month, a chef instructor from Cascade Culinary Institute at Central Oregon Community College walks us through a skill or recipe.

It’s not Thanksgiving dinner without something made with pumpkin for dessert.

Go ahead and make, buy or assign the traditional pumpkin pie or pumpkin cheesecake, but consider kicking it up a notch this year to impress your guests with your culinary skills.

Cook like a chef and wow your family and friends with individual pumpkin creme brulees (krem brew-LAYS).

This dessert is a showstopper, but it’s pretty simple to put together. It’s a lot easier than a pie, honestly!

“I like the contrast of textures. If you pull a creme brulee off well, the silkiness of the cool cream contrasts really well with the warm, crackly caramel topping,” Cascade Culinary Institute Chef Instructor and Certified Pastry Chef Laura Hagen said.

The literal translation is “burnt cream,” and you’ll need a small butane or propane torch to achieve the caramelized sugar top. Some home cooks use their oven broilers to finish off creme brulee, but it’s hard to get uniform caramelization that way.

So we’re including only the torch technique here.

But if you’re like a lot of us, you’ve always wanted that tool in your kitchen arsenal anyway. Creme brulee is a good excuse to spend about $30 for the torch and fuel canister. (Check out America’s Test Kitchen’s equipment reviews to research some different brands: www.americastestkitchen.com.)

You may want to practice making creme brulee well before the kitchen is busy with holiday meal preparations on Nov. 24. It’s good to know that the custard part (the pumpkin creme) can be made up to five days in advance.

To make the pumpkin creme, pumpkin puree (fresh or canned, not pie filling) is combined with egg yolks, sugar and spices. Heavy cream is warmed up separately over medium heat until it’s steaming, and then the heavy cream is whisked into the puree mixture.

“Stir the cream occasionally as it’s heating. The proteins in the cream will scorch if you’re not attentive. Once the cream starts to steam, I shut the heat off the burner,” Hagen said.

After the hot cream is combined with the pumpkin puree mixture, it’s strained through a sieve. Then it’s time to bake the custard in the oven or store it in the refrigerator until you’re ready to bake it.

The pumpkin cremes take 30 to 40 minutes to bake, so plan to pay close attention to them as they get close to being done. Hagen told us that when the custard starts to set, it goes fast.

“It’s done when you have a slight wetness in the middle. They should be set around the edges, and just a teeny bit jiggly in the middle,” Hagen said.

When you take the pumpkin cremes out of the oven, remove them from their water bath. Cool them and then place them in the refrigerator for at least two hours before serving.

“After you bake them, the custards can be held in the refrigerator for up to five days (before the tops gets bruleed). I put them in a Pyrex dish with a cover,” Hagen said.

When you’re ready to serve dessert, sprinkle a heaping tablespoon of sugar evenly over the top of each ramekin, and, using a blowtorch, slowly melt the sugar into a layer of caramelized crackle.

“Spread the sugar all the way out to the edge. Get a good, sandy layer on top. Make sure every area has sugar on it, not just the middle. Get the blue part of the flame, the hottest part, about 2 to 3 inches from the surface and wave it over the top of each ramekin to get the top evenly warmed up. You’ll see the sugar start to melt, and it’ll start to melt over the other sugar crystals. It will get nice and syrupy. Once you see the sugar starting to brown a little, move to another area of the same dish, and then come back to the first part. You want the top to be nice and brown and caramelized,” Hagen said.

If you overdo it and get some little burned, black areas, don’t fear, said Hagen. That won’t ruin your burnt cream at all. Be patient. Hagen said it takes her a couple of minutes to brulee each creme with the torch.

As with most recipes, it’ll take a couple of tries to master your technique, so be patient and enjoy the learning curve.

We hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving Day, filled with friends and family and good food.

We’re thankful for our chef instructors at Cascade Culinary Institute who help us to become better home cooks all year long.

— Reporter: ahighberger@ mac.com