At the back of the hill

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Thursday, August 31, 2006


A simple custard.

One of the dishes which the British took with them wherever they went, as the imperialist power of their age, was caramel custard - a simple, unassuming little sweet which they really thought that they, and they alone, had invented.

Which was certainly not the case. It seems rather Iberian, much like many other sweet dishes composed of eggs and sugar. And cane sugar was unknown to Europeans until the Arabs introduced it to them.
Prior to the colonial age, Europeans got their cane sugar from Sicily, Southern Spain, and the Arab traders in the Levant. So it is more than likely that caramel custard was made in Spain ages before the English even heard of it.

Europeans introduced caramel custard to Latin America and the Caribbean, India (where during the British Period it was often called 365 - because the khidmatkar would make it 365 days of the year), and the Philippines, where it has pretty much become the national dessert.

Now skip forward four centuries - The best Caramel Custard in the Bay Area can be found in Philippino eateries. But it tastes even better if you make it at home. Especially during winter.

[This recipe makes enough for one or two normal people, or four-plus cholesterol conscious health-nuts. Double it as appropriate. ]

One egg.
One egg yolk.
One cup heavy cream, heated to more than blood temperature.
Two TBS sugar.
Pinch salt.
Pinches cinnamon and nutmeg or mace.
Dash vanilla.
Dash Scotch whiskey.

For the caramel crust: more sugar.

In a metal or pyrex mixing bowl which is significantly larger than the volume of all the ingredients, mix the egg and egg yolk. Add sugar, salt, spices, vanilla, whiskey. Slowly add the warm cream, while stirring briskly. When the sugar is entirely dissolved, place the vessel containing the mixture inside a larger vessel with warm water to surround the custard bowl up to the level of the custard mixture (bain-Marie) and bake in a preheated oven at 325 degrees (Fahrenheit) for 45 minutes.

Remove the custard from oven.

While it cools, heat four TBS sugar in the deep ladle from the wok-set your aunt Murgatroyd gave you ten years ago but which you haven't used in nine years and eleven months. The sugar will melt, turn transparent, and caramelize. Stir with a long cocktail spoon or icetea spoon to ensure an even melting. Be careful doing this - melted sugar is extremely hot and can cause some nasty burns. When it has reached the desired level of caramelization (dark red brown) , pour it quickly over the custard in a circular motion. Tilt the bowl to coat the entire surface. Let it cool completely before serving.

If you use heavy whipping cream to make the custard, it makes a marvelous topping for freshly baked pie.

Especially pecan pie, with a buttery, flaky crust.

Note that any partially burnt sugar deposits on the ladle will be difficult to remove - but traces of same promote caramelization the next time you use the ladle for that purpose.

Bon gusto y'all.

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