I had a strange realization the other day.
As someone who shares dessert recipes almost exclusively, I was pondering the origin of my adoration for sweets and I came to the strange awareness that I could not remember many desserts from my childhood. I can remember my mom making her favorite bbq chicken, complete with homemade sauce. I vividly recall heaping plates of rice drenched in a pea and ham studded cheese sauce. My mom wasn’t smitten with the culinary arts, but she kept a rotation of about 10 comforting meals that I fondly remember. But desserts? All I remember is the candy jar placed high in the cupboard, filled with sixlets, jawbreakers, suckers, and other such child-friendly fare.
My dad made the Sunday dinners. Usually a rich, hearty spread featuring a beef or pork roast, potatoes, honey butter soaked carrots, and my favorite lima beans cooked in bacon fat. With the memory of those meals come two desserts I recall with perfect clarity: Yellow cake baked from a boxed mix, assembled in two layers with a thick coating of canned chocolate frosting. My Dad’s favorite.
The other was a caramel custard. Egg-y, decadent, and coated in a thick layer of Mrs. Richardson’s Caramel Sauce. He made the custard from scratch and I remember how perfectly the little custard looked on their plates. Smooth little circular shapes that glistened with that golden caramel. I can recall the flavor as if I had one right in front of me.
The memory brings with it a nostalgic pang of childhood past.
My Dad’s caramel custard remains a confection that can only be his. My fond memories of the dish have led me to craft my own version.
My revision adds in chocolate and cardamom with a classically crafted caramel sauce underneath all the creme.
Cardamom pods are steeped in coconut cream, with turbinado sugar to sweeten. High quality dark chocolate is whisked into the hot cream which is in turn, whisked in to well beaten eggs and vanilla.
Poured into caramel-coated ramekins, the custards are baked in a water bath and then left to chill in the fridge for several hours so that that caramel at the bottom can dissolve into a syrupy caramel sauce.
A sharp knife is run around the sides of each caramel creme and they are inverted onto plates where the caramel sauce that was trapped underneath now runs free over the dessert and around the plate.
A FEW TIPS:
*If you do not have access to coconut cream, cans of coconut milk will work. Place them in the fridge for 24 hours and simply use the thick cream that has settled at the top of the can. If you use coconut milk, the custards will be more likely to break. Coconut Cream ensures that they have enough fat to hold together.
* If you do not want to use coconut cream, heavy cream will work perfectly in it’s place.
*Whole cardamom pods are preferable for use in this recipe. Their flavor is more mild and subtle than the ground variety. If you do not have access to them (and I reeeeeally recommend that you try), use just a pinch of ground cardamom. Taste, and add more if desired. It is much more intense.
*Use a high quality chocolate. Chocolate chips or cheap chocolate will not melt down the same way that a good chocolate will and may leave you with tiny, un-melted speckles. Plus, good chocolate will give you the most beautiful tasting creme caramels.
*You can use all maple syrup for the caramel, or cane sugar in place of the turbinado. Do not, however, use all turbinado sugar. The resulting syrup is much too thick and will be difficult to work with as it will be hard to fully coat the ramekins before the syrup hardens.
- FOR THE CARAMEL:
- 2 tablespoons Water
- 1 tablespoon Maple Syrup
- ¼ cup Turbinado Sugar
- FOR THE CUSTARD:
- 1½ cups Coconut Cream (not milk - use the thick, solid cream at the top of the can of coconut milk or specifically buy coconut cream)
- 4 Cardamom Pods, crushed
- ¼ teaspoon Sea Salt
- 3 tablespoons Turbinado Sugar
- ½ cup 70% Dark Chocolate (use a good quality chocolate. I used Valrhona's 70%), chopped
- 2 Egg Yolks (large)
- 1 Egg (large)
- ¾ teaspoon Vanilla
- FOR THE CARAMEL:
- Place the water, maple syrup, and turbinado sugar in a saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium/high heat, swirling the pan every now and then to dissolve sugar.
- Let the syrup boil for about 2 minutes, or until it thickens and becomes a slighty darker amber color (this can be tricky since the sugars used are already dark. Another way to test if it's ready is to drop a tiny bit of syrup in cold water. If it hardens, it's ready. Take care not to burn, as this can happen easily).
- Pour the syrup into 4-5 ramekins, dividing evenly between them, Working quickly, swirl the caramel around the bottom of each ramekin so that it is evenly coated.
- FOR THE CUSTARD:
- Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Place the caramel coated 4-5½ cup ramekins in an 8x8 baking pan.
- Place the coconut cream, cardamom pods, sea salt, and turbinado sugar in a saucepan and bring just to a boil over medium heat, stirring to dissolve sugar.
- Immediately remove from heat and cover. Let the cream mixture steep for 10 minutes.
- Heat the cream again over medium heat, just to steaming. Remove from heat and add in the chopped chocolate. Whisk until the chocolate is fully melted and mixture is sooth (there should be no speckles of chocolate remaining). Set aside.
- Place the egg yolks, egg, and vanilla in a mixing bowl.
- Whisk until smooth, about 1 minute.
- Strain the chocolate mixture over the egg mixture, whisking the chocolate mixture into the egg as it drizzles in. Discard solids remaining in sieve .
- When mixture is smooth, divide it equally among the caramel coated ramekins in the baking pan.
- Place the pan in the preheated oven on the center rack. Carefully pour very hot water into the pan so that it comes ⅔ of the way up the sides of the ramekins.
- CAREFULLY slide the rack back in the oven and bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the centers jiggle only slightly when shaken.
- Carefully remove the baking pan from the oven and remove the ramekins from the pan. Let cool on the counter for about 30 minutes, then place in the refrigerator.
- Chill the creme caramels for at least 6 hours and up to two days.
- TO SERVE:
- Slide a sharp knife around the sides of a custard and invert it on a dessert plate. Let the syrup drizzle out on top of the custard. Serve chilled with whipped cream, if desired.