Maple Pots de Creme (Baked Maple Custard)

I had been turning the thought of making custard over in my mind even before November’s monthly mingle (hosted by My Custard Pie) was announced. But, I always hesitate a bit about custard–not because I’m worried about the classic concerns, such as a glum pudding that resembles runny scrambled eggs (though I worry about that too) or that comes out overcooked (also angst-worthy)–but because it feels a bit profligate to use all those egg yolks. I feel bad wasting whites, so I keep them in my freezer until…

Yes, the guilt. (What is that old saw about women feeling needlessly guilty all the time?) My husband, who is very encouraging of my making of custard, has been trying to convince me this is silly and to just make some already. (Might I note that he also is blissfully unaware of my constant reshuffling of the fridge, shifting expiring items forward and sliding unopened milk cartons and orange juices jugs towards the rear).

Maple Custard (4 of 6)

Much as some of us buy new gym clothes to encourage us to work out (with not always stellar effect) I not-so-recently bought some miniature cocotte pots at Williams Sonoma’s (ahem) Christmas clearance sale (ahem) last January. (Another takeaway from this is to never doubt the power of the words “50% off already reduced prices.” Please note I was only seduced by very deep discounting: I don’t want you to think I spent the originally stickered $50 each).

And while you might think the fact that I had to pull those stickers off of them last week to make this custard could be the irrefutable proof that they were an unwise impulse buy, I have no regrets. They are just too charming. You know how it goes with things in miniature. And in my defense, it could have been worse. I could have decided I needed a kitchen blowtorch for creme brulee while I was at it. (Oddly, my husband thinks this would be a sensible purchase. This seems to beg another cliché about men and fire).

Now that this preamble is out of the way, on to the custard.

Maple Custard (3 of 6)

I can’t help but love this whole genre: creme caramels, pots de creme, crema catalana, flan, puddings…I went through a period where I just kept ordering creme brulees on the restaurant menu, until I realized I was becoming far too predictable and it was time to stop neglecting the other desserts out there. But one resists change: if dessert is about comfort, it’s hard to get more at that essence than this.

With just three components, using good ingredients matters, as does technique (for more on that, please see Shuna Lydon’s very helpful video tutorials over at food52.) I used my favorite Berkshires Jersey cream and local maple syrup. (Sadly, my source for free-range eggs has dried up, as chickens don’t lay as much when the days are shorter).

As for the technique, please see those videos I mentioned above, but here’s a few comments of my own. You’ll need to place your custard cups in a water bath: set your filled cups in a large cake pan, and then fill up about an inch or so with hot water. Make sure it’s hot, or it will never finish cooking (as I learned with a bad bread pudding episode). And make sure not to add too much water, or you risk splashing yourself–ouch–or your custards–sniff–with it when you go to remove the finished product from the oven. (Again, I learned the hard way). A hot water bath ensures your custards bake gently, resulting in a creamy, gliding texture.

Maple Custard (2 of 6)

The other potential misstep is making a custard that more closely resembles oversweetened, runny scrambled eggs. The same principle of the water bath applies: You want to be sure you do not allow the yolks to cook too quickly when they first come into contact with your hot milk or cream. Temper the eggs by stirring only a bit of the hot cream into your eggs, whisking well to prevent lumps. Add a bit more, whisk, and then you can finally completely combine all the cream–but keep whisking! Tempering merely means bringing two items of differing temperatures to the same temperature (it’s often done with chocolate as well).

As further insurance, strain your custard mixture through a fine mesh sieve. This will strain out any large cooked egg particles, as well as those stringy fibrous bits of egg white that can cling to even a well-separated yolk. (The technical name is chalazae, but please don’t ask me how to pronounce it).

Maple Custard (6 of 6)

This dessert: subtle but delicious. The maple was almost a background note, floating lightly and delicately in the rich pudding. The custard tasted almost nutty to me at first, which was startling, but then made perfect sense: why else would maple pair so pleasingly with nuts, from pecans to walnuts?

Baked Maple Custard (adapted from Lindsay Shere’s Chez Panisse Desserts)

  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1/2c maple syrup
  • 6 egg yolks

Preheat the oven to 325F.

Heat the cream until steaming hot. Whisk the syrup into the egg yolks (do not allow the mixture to sit unmixed as the sugar will chemically “cook” the yolks). Pour about a 1/4 c or so of the hot cream mixture into the yolk-sugar mixture, whisking all the while. Add about another 1/4-1/2c and whisk. You can now add this back into the hot cream, continuing to whisk.

Pour into your custard cups (anything ceramic or cast iron will work well). Use a kitchen scale to make sure you pour the same amount into each cup, so that everything bakes evenly. Set your cups into a cake pan, and fill halfway up the sides of your custard cups with hot water. Place in the oven. (You can also add the water after you put the pan in the oven). Lay a piece of aluminum foil over your cups.

Bake for 45 minutes or up to 60 minutes or more (a deeper pot, like mine, will cook more slowly). Your custard will still jiggle when it is done, and you can use a tester to double-check. (If it comes out clean, it’s definitely done and hopefully not overdone). Chill before serving. (We ate it warm, and it’s certainly good that way, though better cold).

Notes: Since maple syrup is the star here, it’s worth saying a few words. Maple syrup comes in various grades. Grade A “Fancy” is perhaps the most well-known, but Grade B (which is preferred by “real” New Englanders) has a more robust flavor. (This recipe in fact suggests Grade C maple, which I have never seen for purchase) I usually buy only Grade B, but here I used a mix of A and B, for no other reason than that I was trying to use up a small jar of Grade A syrup I bought at the farmer’s market last year. Please don’t tell me if maple syrup doesn’t keep that long. I don’t want to know).

You’ll notice, if you watch the videos (which I hope you do) that I did not incorporate all of Shuna’s suggestions. Namely because I started these custards too late in the day! But I hope to try all of her tricks very soon.

Chicken Liver Pate

Most of us wouldn’t think of eating chicken liver if we had to think about it.  It’s ingrained in childhood that liver is a food we’re supposed to hate, after all, along with broccoli and brussels sprouts.  But oddly enough, then we go out and buy pate in the gourmet deli or greedily gobble it up when it’s served as an appetizer.  It’s as if  pureeing permits us to engage in a bit of denial, ensuring we don’t have to admit to ourselves what we’re eating, when its powerful flavor and texture (too strong for a meal, but just right for a starter) is so, as they say in the UK, “more-ish.”

Well, it’s time to get over squeamishness about organ meats, save a lot of money (liver is  cheap), and make your own (it’s easy)–and feel very haute cuisine about the whole thing while you’re at it.

I always pick up a small container of chicken liver when we go out to get our birds from Pete and Jen.  I particularly like the fact that they have organic liver, given as it is that we are talking about organ meats here.  There’s no need to feel that I’m indulging because even pastured chicken liver is very economical.

And remember what mom told you, liver is good for you!

Well, my husband’s mom may have told him, but he and his dad still turns up their nose at the idea (though both will happily down foie gras, and see no inconsistency in their views I fear).  So it’s up to me and my mother-in-law to do something about it.  And the obvious recipe to try was a recipe from Darina Allen’s Forgotten Skills of Cooking, being that it was a her birthday gift to me and all.  (Minor digression:  wouldn’t it be fun to go take a course at Allen’s Ballymaloe Cooking School someday?)

Chicken Liver Pate (1 of 1)

And it’s so easy to make:  basically sautee a few ingredients, throw it in the food processor, saute a few more ingredients, throw it into the mix, puree, season, enjoy.  Not bad.

Besides my mother-in-law’s visit being a great chance to enjoy this pate, our little kitchen foray was well-timed for October’s Monthly Mingle.  This month it’s hosted by Art & Lemons and the theme is Russian appetizers, or “little plates” called  Zakuski!  I’m looking forward to seeing what everyone else brings to the party.

Chicken Liver Pate from Darina Allen’s The Forgotten Skills of Cooking

  • 8 ounces chicken livers
  • 4T butter, divided
  • 2T brandy
  • 1T fresh thyme leaves
  • 1 large garlic clove, crushed
  • one small onion, sliced (optional)
  • freshly ground pepper
  • salt to taste

Wash the livers and remove any membranes or green-tinged bits.  Melt 2T of the butter and saute the livers over low heat.  Although there should be no pink, be careful not to overcook either or the livers could develop a crust.  Pulse the livers a few times in the food processor.

Return the pan to the stove, and add the brandy.  Deglaze the pan by using the liquid to scrape off bits sticking to the pan, while cooking off the alcohol.  (We couldn’t figure out how to flame such a small quantity of brandy to cook off the alcohol and instead went to the next step when the pan went dry (which happened very quickly).)  Be careful not to burn.  Add the remaining butter, thyme, and garlic and saute briefly.  Add to the food processor and pulse again.

Now add your sliced onions to the pan, and brown over low heat.  Add to the mix in the food processor, and puree again until smooth.  Taste and season, adding more butter if needed to smooth out the texture or more salt to bring out any muted flavors.

Serve with toasted brioche or country bread.

Note:  I think there were some translation issues when this recipe was converted into American units–most notably, my mother-in-law took a double-take when we saw the recipe called for two sticks of butter.  We decided this was meant to read 2 tablespoons and it turned out fine.

We made the  variation with caramelized onions, but you can leave this out if you want.  We found that the slightly sweet taste of the browned onions complemented the liver component quite well.  We also found that it’s key to salt well to bring out the flavors–always true, but especially important to keep in mind here.

Darina Allen says this will keep 4-5 days in the fridge or can be frozen for up to a month.  (Eat immediately upon defrosting).