Saturday, February 12, 2011

Call Me Old Fashioned, Valentine.

Now before you think I'm getting too romantic with the big holiday just around the corner, give me a moment to explain.  For Cupid's annual holiday this year, I thought an old fashioned egg custard was in order. You see, my valentine has never had it.  It is something grandmother's used to make regularly in days gone by.  But today it has largely been replaced by other similar dishes such as the famous crème brulée, crema catalana (traditionally served on St. Joseph's day which is March 19), flan, cream pies and custard and egg tarts.  These desserts are all really variations on a theme, having more or less egg in the mixture, sometimes flour, cornstarch or neither, and usually having a vanilla flavor but sometimes also flavored with citrus, chocolate and caramel.

As I was listing the variations recently, Kevin humoured me and asked questions about what made them different.  During his 20 or so years in the USA, he had enjoyed all of them except the egg custard.  He had heard of, but not had, the egg tarts famous in Hong Kong (likely from British or Portuguese influence), but they weren't exactly the same thing anyway having a bit less egg and a pastry crust.

So I thought for his Valentine's Day dinner, egg custard cups he should have.  And of course, hanging out in the back of my cupboard was a set of heart shaped ramekins I had used on a Valentine's Day long ago to make crème brulée (for a prior romance... so you know how long it's been since I've used these ramekins!)

As I remembered it, preparation of the dish was pretty simple. But I decided to check a few online recipes anyway.  I was actually amazed that there were not that many recipes out there for a true egg custard.  So after perusing a few, I  came up with the following which worked quite well.  It provides for a nice 'eggy' flavor and won't be confused with crème brulée.  If your love hasn't had this dish, isn't it time you gave him/her a little holiday treat?

Ingredients
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 2 eggs (large whole)
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1/3 cup sugar (or a little more if you like it more sweet)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract (plus a vanilla bean if you are so inclined)
  • dash ground nutmeg (or freshly grated if you have it)
Preheat the oven to 300F.  Select a roasting pan or baking dish that will hold six ramekins each of 4 ounces.  Place the ramekins in the pan and begin heating a kettle of water, to very hot but not boiling. 

Place the eggs and egg yolks in a bowl and whisk to combine.  Continue whisking and slowly add in the sugar and vanilla.  Set aside.

In a saucepan, bring the milk to a simmer stirring constantly ensuring it does not boil or scorch.  If you wish to use the vanilla pod, slice it length-wise, strip out of the tiny sides from the inside.  Place the seeds and the pod into the milk.

When the milk is simmering, slowly pour the egg mixture in while constantly whisking.  Continue to whisk on heat for one minute, then remove from heat.  Placing a sieve (fine screen) over a large spouted liquid measure with handle and pour the mixture through.  It should still be very thin.  If the mixture is already too thick, use a spoon to push it through the sieve.

Pour the hot water around the empty ramekins, until it is half way up the sides of the dishes.  Remove the sieve with the solids, and pour the mixture into the ramekins.  Bake for 30-35 minutes until the custard is set.  If it is a little loose in the center it will still be fine. 

Remove from the oven and let the custard stand in the water bath for two hours before serving.  It may be served at room temperature at this stage, or if you prefer it can be covered and refrigerated and served at a later time.

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