When I was a kid growing up in small town India, I knew what a custard was since my mom used to make that often and we used to relish its creamy sweetness, with added fruits and even tutti frutti. In a way I was also impressed that this quintessentially continental staple has made successful inroads into the nooks and corners of India. Of course this was before the Indian economy opened its arms to western capitalism, making MTV the mantra of a generation and McDonalds the new haute cuisine for the young. Even that seems ancient now, what with a couple of decades having passed and India being a part of the BRIC economy that is supposedly the saviour of giant (western) MNCs. I love the progress the country has made and the increase in the standard of living, but somewhere I also crave the simplicity, clarity and focus of my preteen days… But wait, I digress !
Coming back to custard, it took a trip to Mumbai during my undergrad days for me to discover the joys of caramel custard. Way richer, flavorful and delicate than the traditional custard, it made me fall in love instantly, a love affair that continues to this day (but for the shackles of calorie consciousness). On the way I also found out versions and variations, from creme bulee to flan to creme caramel to crema catalana, and loved each one of them. As if resisting was not challenging enough, I have a husband who never fails to order this dish if it is in the restaurant menu !!! Needless to say I have tried various version of this dish many a times at my home and no matter which version I bake, it always turns out ravishing. I have my favorites of course, but that is only because I am forced to choose. Otherswise I could have them all and not burp once 🙂
This version is taken from Sara Jenkins & Mindy Fox authored Olives and Oranges where they mention the flavors are inspired by the coffee houses of Beirut. Combined with the French classic creme brulee, it is a great fusion from the former colony. Now I have never been to Lebanon but one bite at a shawarma roll is enough to make me want to go there. Add this desert and don’t be surprised if I am already planning a trip to that great country !!!
Ingredients: Serves 6
1/2 cup superfine sugar ( if you are using the regular granulated sugar, it will work too but if you are using much larger crystals then increase the amount to 3/4 cup)
1/4 cup water
1 heaping tbsp green cardomom pods
1.5 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup whole milk
3 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp instant coffee
1 large egg
3 large egg yolks
Pinch of salt
Preheat oven to 300 degree F and set 6 ramekins in a baking dish.
1. Heat sugar and water in a saucepan over medium heat , stirring till sugar dissolves completely.
2. Increase heat to medium high and boil the sugar syrup till it turns golden brown, around 5-6 mins. Swirl a couple of times and remove from heat.
3. Now this is where you have to be real fast and efficient to ensure the caramel does not harden before you are done. Using either a very hot serving spoon or pouring straight from the pan, divide the caramel evenly amongst the six ramekins, ensuring the caramel coats the bottom of each one. remember too slow and the caramel will solidify even before you can spell that word 🙂
4. Toast the cardomom pods for abotu 4-5 mins. Remove from heat, put in a mortar and pestle and crack them open.
5. Heat the cream, combined with milk, cracked cardomom pods and sugar over medium heat. Just as it starts boiling, remove from heat and whisk in the coffee granules thoroughly. Let teh mixture steep uncovered for about 10-15 mins.
6. Strain the mixture into a bowl. At this point you can discard the cardomom if you want but I usually save it to flavor my regular coffee. Believe me, it is so worth it.
7. Lightly beat the egg and the yolks together. Add 1/4 cup of the cream mixture and whisk to combine. Then whish in the rest of the cream mixture and the salt.
8. Pour the mixture evenly into each ramekin, set in the baking dish. Pour enough hot water into the baking dih to come halfway up the ramekins taking care not to spill water into the ramekins. Cover the dish with aluminium foil, make a few holes on top of the foil for steam to escape and set the entire thing in the oven.
9. Bake until custard is set, around 55-60 mins.
10. Remove custard from water bath and let cool completely. Chill in the refridgerator for at least 6 hours, or upto 2 days.
11. To serve, unmold into serving plates and garnish with orange peel if you wish.