My brother-in-law Kinh drove down from Toronto when we were at our cottage, and as I had only limited ingredients in the kitchen I decided to make caramel custard for dessert. It takes about fifteen minutes to make and needs only the most basic kitchen staples. Caramel custard was a childhood favorite, and it's a dessert I still love to make. I've got two basic styles - family-style and individual ramekins - and there's one difference that changes the taste significantly. With caramel custard, the family-style dessert I grew up with, the caramelized sugar is added to scalded milk, making the whole custard a rich brown color, and flavoring it throughout with that yummy burnt sugar taste. When I make crème caramel, I pour the burnt sugar into the bottom of each ramekin which, when flipped over onto a dessert plate, is a lovely and elegant dessert. The ingredients are identical and we use the two names to differentiate them. Kinh loved the dessert (and the Vouvray that we had with grilled chicken) and I told him I'd send him the recipe.
Kinh, here's how I make it:
3/4 cup sugar
3 cups milk
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla
Preheat oven to 350°F and put water in kettle to boil. Butter a 1 or 2 quart casserole or other bowl. (When I made it at the cottage we had no bowls so I made it in a 9x9 pyrex pan.)
1. In mixing bowl that can eventually accommodate the milk, mix eggs, and add salt and 1/4 cup sugar.
2. Scald 3 cups milk in a sauce pan. Boy oh boy. I grew up with milk and eggs but when I make this with fresh eggs and milk from grass-fed cows the difference is enormous! I use either whole milk or 2%. Let the milk just begin to come to a boil; it'll probably get a little skin on it as it heats up. I use a whisk to keep it smooth. So, scald the milk as you caramelize the sugar. Then, turn off the burner and keep it there until the sugar is burnt.
3. Caramelize 1/2 cup sugar in heavy frying pan. If you haven't done this before, use a dry, cast iron fry pan. Put the heat on medium high and add sugar. I use an oven mitt as the pan gets hot, and slowly stir the sugar with a spoon. As it heats up it clumps a bit, then melts. I stir it because I don't want the sugar in one spot to burn while another clump is still granulated. Although this is sometimes called burnt sugar, we're just browning it. We bring it close to the edge but if it burns it's nasty. As it gets hot and everything starts to melt, remember that anytime it seems like you think it'll burn, you can always remove the pan from the heat. But have confidence! It goes from white to tan to brown in a very short time, so pay attention at the end.
4. When the sugar is a nice rich brown (it's probably beginning to smoke a bit) begin to whisk the milk pretty vigorously and pour the now-liquid sugar in a thin stream into the milk. Sometimes it froths up like Prospero's sea in the Tempest, but remember, no one's going to get hurt and love prevails. The sugar is hot! Stir/whisk until the sea is becalmed.
5. Now, start whisking the egg mixture with enthusiasm. What we're going to do is add the scalded milk/burnt sugar into the eggs, but we don't want the eggs to curdle with the sudden temperature difference! So, whisk the eggs and slowly pour a thin stream of hot milk into the egg mixture. Keep doing it, bit by bit. If all goes well, you can start pouring the milk in a heavier stream after you've got a cup or two into the egg mixture.
6. Add 1 tsp. vanilla.
7. Pour the now-consolidated mixture into the buttered bowl. Put the bowl into a larger 9x13 pan that has a paper towel or two on the bottom. Put it in the oven and pour boiling water into the 9x13 pan, letting it come an inch or two up the side of the custard. The water bath keeps the temperature constant and low and prevents the eggs from getting rubbery. Close the oven and bake 45-50 minutes or until a plain butter knife come out clean. Remove from water bath.
Let cool to room temperature and then refrigerate. Serve cold.
Butter 6-8 ramekins and when sugar is caramelized pour a swirl of hot melted sugar into each of the ramekins (instead of into the milk.) Follow caramel custard recipe, and pour consolidated egg/milk mixture into each ramekin. Put into paper towel-lined 9x13 pan. Bake 30-40 minutes or until knife comes out clean. Cool and then chill. To serve, run a knife around the edge of individual ramekin. Put small dessert plate on top of ramekin and turn over quickly. Sometimes you have to give a little shake to the ramekin so the custard comes out of the ramekin and settles onto the plate.
I usually use a bit less than the 3/4 cup sugar the recipe calls for, and sometimes add an extra egg. I keep the flavoring simple and occasionally don't even add vanilla.
We eat this dessert
when we need love or comfort
to be shared with all
birch and grasses alone on the snow, grey sky indistinguishable. the flat world falls into the edge of time, lifeless, dull wedge of horizon and soundless ...