As I write this (Thursday) the Big Bad Wolf howls about our house, a slavering gale sniffing out chinks, probing for weaknesses. The temperature is expected to plunge to 5 or 6 above zero by morning, with Boston adrift in over a foot of snow before the blizzard subsides Friday evening. In our current larder we have bread, sweet potatoes and bitter greens that Jody made tonight, chewy papardelle noodles with smoked goose and tomato sauce–the last hurrah of our Christmas birds–and a few precious survivors of this week’s post, Salted Butterscotch Custards. We couldn’t be snugger.
Last week’s Sadie’s Gingersnaps notwithstanding, we haven’t devoted a lot of time to desserts on The Garum Factory. It’s hard to put a lot of energy into the main event and do dessert, especially when a choice bit of runny cheese and a few dates or sliced pears makes a nice conclusion. Also, we don’t believe in doing dessert by halves. If it doesn’t taste and feel like a treat why bother?
Butterscotch is a tricky thing. I labor under the handicap of a humble culinary birthright, where the benchmark against which all future butterscotch flavors would be measured came in a small cardboard box (like that other blue and gold marker from childhood, mac and cheese). On the other hand, Jody, as she acidly informed me, grew up eating the real thing. It can take a bit of humility to set aside one’s childhood tastes, especially if you’re not even aware they are childhood tastes unless a helpful partner points it out. My observations that Jody’s initial efforts didn’t taste sufficiently butterscotch-y were not received with the warmth that one anticipates in cooperative efforts. Butterscotch pudding, I follied on, ought to evoke an echo butterscotch hard candy. To which Jody replied that of course I would think that way, since most butterscotch candies are little bombs of artificial flavoring. Ouch!
During my enforced respite in the culinary reeducation camp Jody conjured up a dessert that pleased both of us, a custard, not a pudding. An intense butterscotch flavor rests atop a foundation of cream and eggs, lingers, then finishes with an exquisitely salty bite. What?! Too soon? We have our resolutions, you have yours, and with 12 inches of snow coming down this is no time for kale smoothies. Reform and resolutions can wait while the wind huffs and puffs a welcome to 2014. Me, I’m going to gather my custards while I may, for tomorrow we shovel. Enjoy. Ken
SALTED BUTTERSCOTCH CUSTARD
- 1 cup whole milk
- 1 bay leaf
- ¾ cup raw turbinado sugar
- ¼ cup light brown sugar
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 7 egg yolks
- 2 teaspoons vanilla
- 1 teaspoon coarse sea salt
- Preheat the oven to 300ºF.
- In a small saucepan, heat the milk with the bay leaf over medium heat. Simmer 1 minute and then allow to steep off the heat while you caramelize the sugar. Alternatively, put the bay leaf in the measuring cup with the milk. Microwave 1 minute. Let it steep while you caramelize the sugar.
- In a large saucepan, cook the turbinado sugar over medium-low heat until it melts and deepens in color, about 4 minutes. Don’t let it smoke. Add the butter and stir until smooth. Add the brown sugar and cook until smooth, stirring all the while. It will resemble melted chocolate. Remove from the heat. CAREFULLY stir in heavy cream, ¼-cup at a time. If the cream is added too quickly the mixture will bubble up and boil, threatening to overflow. Whisk in the milk.
- In a small bowl, whisk the egg yolks. Temper the yolks by adding several ladles of the warm cream mixture to the beaten egg yolks. Then whisk the egg yolk mixture into the cream mixture. Add the vanilla and ¾ teaspoon of salt. Strain into a large measuring cup or pitcher.
- Pour into 8 custard cups.
- Set the cups in a baking dish and then on the oven rack. Add warm water to come halfway up the cups. Bake 50-60 minutes or until only a little wiggle remains in the center of each custard. Remove the pan from the oven and allow the custards to cool for 15 minutes. Set the custards on a rack to cool completely. Sprinkle with the remaining sea salt.
This started out as Butterscotch Pudding, but after I wrestled the recipe to the ground over the course of 24 hours it morphed into Butterscotch Custard. It sounded so simple, when Ken said, “Let’s make butterscotch pudding for the Garum Factory.” Although I’d never made it before, I thought, how hard can it be? Well, to get that flavor and texture you all remember from the Jello Pudding box, isn’t that easy. A pudding is a custardy dessert stirred in a pot over a flame. It has milk, cream, butter, eggs, egg yolks, light or dark brown sugar, vanilla, salt and a starch, like flour or cornstarch, in varying amounts. I tried it 5 different ways and hated each one more than the last. I won’t bore you with the details of the process. I stormed out of the kitchen, blaming Ken for wasting 24 hours of my life on butterscotch pudding, and went to the gym. Upon reflection and calm, I said to myself, “Hate is a very strong word for a childhood dessert. You can do this. Do what you know and love–custard.” So I switched it up, took out the cornstarch, changed the proportions of the ingredients, snuck in a bay leaf, and, after 3 tries, came up with this perfect recipe. My friends Eric and Jon–both restaurant pros–referred to it as “custard crack”–high marks from my peeps.