High Country Baking: A simple, old-fashioned dessert
Three to eighty-three…that’s the span of ages we might find around our dining tables when families come together for holidays and special occasions. The mixture of generations is usually a warm and rewarding experience, but it can be a challenge for the cook; it’s not easy to come up with a menu that will please everyone.
When I’m in that situation, I turn to simple, old-fashioned desserts….the ones that evoke childhood memories from the older folks and are acceptable to the kids because of their straightforward taste. This butterscotch custard is a fine example. With a silky, smooth texture and brown sugar-vanilla flavors, it has universal appeal. The little people like it plain; the adults favor it topped with sweetened whipped cream and a sprinkle of crushed store-bought English toffee. If you want to add a touch of sophistication, splash a little Frangelico or dark rum in the cream while whipping it.
The custard comes together very quickly, with ingredients that are probably already in your kitchen, and can be made up to a day before serving, so it’s a great dessert for dinner parties. And, the recipe can
be doubled successfully.
What could go wrong? Very little, if you attend to two things: First, use high quality ingredients: soft, fresh brown sugar and excellent vanilla. They provide the dessert’s only flavoring; they need to be good. Second, don’t overbake the custards or they’ll lose their velvety texture, which accounts for much of their charm. Remove them from the oven and their water bath when they are just set with centers that are still quivery.
Vera Dawson, a chef instructor with CMC’s Culinary Institute, lives in Summit County, where she bakes almost every day. Her recipes have been tested in her home kitchen and, whenever necessary, altered until they work at our altitude.
Makes 6 five-ounce servings, make in five ounce ramekins or custard cups
2 cups of heavy cream
3/4 cup of dark brown sugar
4 large egg yolks
1 3/4 teaspoons of vanilla extract
Sweetened whipped cream
Crushed English toffee
Step One: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, with a rack in the center position. Place the ramekins, with a little space between them, in a roasting or baking pan with sides that are at least two inches high. If they slide around, put a kitchen towel in the bottom of the pan and set the ramekins on the towel (it will hold them in place). Heat a kettle of water to use as a water bath.
Step two: Pour the heavy cream into a saucepan and add the brown sugar. Place the saucepan over medium heat and stir gently and continuously until the mixture comes to a low boil and the brown sugar dissolves fully. Remove the pan from the heat. In a large bowl, whisk the egg yolks briefly. In a slow, thin stream, add the cream-sugar mixture, whisking
constantly until the ingredients are fully combined. Stir in the vanilla.
Step three: Strain the mixture into a four-cup measuring cup or a bowl with a lip that allows you to pour from it easily. (Straining the mixture assures the removal of any lumps that may have formed if some of the egg yolk cooked in the hot cream). Carefully pour the custard into the ramekins, filling them equally, to a level not more than a quarter of an inch from the ramekins’ tops. Place them, in the baking pan, in the preheated oven and add boiling water to the pan until it comes half way up the sides of the ramekins. Take care not to get any water on the custards.
Step four: Bake the custards only until they are set, with centers that jiggle like jello when you gently shake them. This takes from 24 to 29 minutes in my oven. Using tongs, remove the custards from the oven and the water bath. Let them cool to room
temperature on a rack. Once they’re cool, cover them with plastic wrap and refrigerate them four to twenty-four hours before serving. Top them with the optional sweetened whipped cream and crushed toffee right before serving.
Vera Dawson’s column “High Country Baking” publishes biweekly in the Summit Daily News. Dawson is a high-elevation baking instructor and author of three high-altitude cookbooks. Her recipes have been tested in her kitchen in Frisco, where she’s lived since 1991, and altered until they work at elevation. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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