Sunday, November 12, 2006
No Cowardy Custard!
Nope, this is no cowardy custard! It looks like the usual crème caramel but is flavoured with saffron and pepper, and omits the vanilla totally! This is my entry for November’s The Spice is Right hosted by Habeas Brulee.
You need to use a hefty dose of saffron and freshly ground pepper for the flavours to come through. It did smell eggy when it came out of the oven but not later. I once made caramel custard with orange zest and saw a recipe for one that included ginger — have to try that out when it’s binge time next!
The rules for the event demand that I mention a few facts about saffron and pepper – I’m sure most of you know but here’s my spoke anyway — Saffron is the dried stigma of the crocus flower (crocus sativus) and is used to colour and flavour food including biriyanis, pulavs and desserts. It’s very aromatic and combines well with milk-based desserts. Apart from its medicinal qualities, in Ayurveda, it’s believed to lighten skin so many fairness creams and soaps in India use saffron! It’s one of the most expensive spices, and that makes this an expensive dessert to make and eat – talk about hurting one’s own interests!
Pepper has a host of therapeutic applications as well, apart from culinary. It is supposed to act as an appetizer, and a drink using pepper and hot milk is used as a remedy for cough. As for why I chose them this month, I'm not sure - probably because I came to know about this event only this month and thought the spices would be a nice variation.
The recipe for the custard is a synthesis of various recipes that I’ve followed over time but the spices were my own idea. My experiment resulted in a mildly flavoured, set-just-right custard that tasted great after chilling for 3-4 hours. So, on with the show!
What you need:
1.5 cups heavy cream
3/4 cup milk
3/4 cup sugar
2 egg yolks (the whites can go into an omelette)
A tsp or more of saffron (soak in 2 tsp of hot milk)
1-2 tsp of pepper powder, freshly ground
A pinch of salt
Around 1/2 cup sugar for the caramel
Oven temperature: 180 degrees C
Here’s how: Scald the cream and milk in a saucepan (until you see tiny bubbles on the sides of the pan). Meanwhile, in a mixing bowl, slowly beat the 3/4 cup of sugar into the eggs and yolks. Even more slowly, whisk the cream-milk mixture into this egg-sugar mixture. Strain it through a double-lined/fine sieve. Stir in the salt. Add the saffron and pepper at this stage.
In a baking dish with deep sides, arrange some ramekins. (I used six because I had six, and found that I had some custard left over.) Put sugar for the caramel in a saucepan. Add just enough water to cover the sugar and put it on high heat. Very soon, it will come to a roiling boil, then thicken, and turn colour. Watch it very carefully at this stage, it can easily burn – when it is an even golden brown, carefully pour it into the ramekins. (It’s a good idea to wear oven mitts during this process as the saucepan will be very, very hot.) Make sure each ramekin has a thin layer of caramel.
Pour the custard into the ramekins, fill the baking dish with water enough to come halfway up to the sides of the ramekins. Bake until just set – it took me an hour but keep checking. Once it’s done, cool, cover with cling film and refrigerate.
To serve, run a knife around the edges and invert on to a plate. If you want to impress your diners, and yourself, float some strands of saffron and a few peppercorns in the caramel sauce around the custard, or sprinkle some saffron on top. I’d even go a step further and recommend you use only yellow lighting, not white, as long as this feasting is going on :) so that the glossy creams and browns of the custard are intensified! Ridiculous suggestion? Going too far? Who cares?