Sunday, November 7, 2010

Egg Custard, a Small Comfort

Today was one of those days when I was reminded of something my children loved when they were little.  I used to make egg custard, the simple, basic, smooth-as-silk comfort dessert, slow-baked in the oven, and chilled to perfection in the refrigerator.  In my mind, there's no other dish that conveys love as much as a little, chilled glass pyrex dish of custard, sprinkled with nutmeg.

The other night, my son Jeffrey and I had dinner at Wheatfields in Saratoga Springs.  For dessert, I chose creme brulee, my absolute favorite dessert to order out, loved just a little bit more than Key Lime Pie.  I've been thinking about it ever since.  What is it about creme brulee that calls my name?  Is it the crunchy, sugary top?  Is it the velvety-smooth egg custard within?  More than that, my love of this dessert is due to the memories it evokes.  When my son  Joe was a little boy, he loved custards and puddings.  He loved egg custard, especially, and he loved butterscotch pudding.  I would make egg custard for him whenever he was having a tough day.  He's a grown man now, but today would have been a good day for custard.  Instead, we had dinner out together, and tried to make sense of the ups and downs of life, the things that are worthy of our energy, and the frustrations that are better left behind.  He did most of the talking -- he's an enthusiastic spectator of current politics, and many of his ideas are not those I embrace -- but it didn't matter what the discussion was about.  What mattered is that today was a day to spend some time, to listen, to make sense of the world, if that is indeed possible.  Neither one of us could even consider dessert, but I couldn't help but think, as I looked across the table at this handsome, strong man who was once my little boy, that custard would have been perfect.

 Easy Egg Custard

Epicurious, March 2007

From Epicurious: "This classic dessert remains a standout for its sophisticated yet mild flavor and its creamy texture. Ideally sized for a kids' snack but worldly enough for a dinner party, it takes just 15 minutes of prep time and can be stored in the refrigerator, covered, for up to 3 days. (It's even better the afternoon after you've made it.)"

Yield: Makes 6 servings

2 cups whole milk
2 eggs (preferably free-range)
2 egg yolks
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Freshly grated or ground nutmeg
1. Preheat oven to 300°F.
2. Place six 4-ounce ovenproof cups (you can use ramekins, or coffee cups marked as oven-safe) in a deep baking pan just large enough to hold them.
3. In a medium saucepan, bring the milk to a simmer over medium-low heat.
4. Meanwhile, in a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, yolks, sugar, and vanilla.
5. Slowly pour the egg mixture into the simmering milk, whisking gently to combine.
6. Pour the mixture through a fine strainer into the cups (if the strainer clogs, use a spoon to scrape it clean), then sprinkle lightly with the nutmeg.
7. Pour hot (not boiling) water into the pan until it reaches halfway up the sides of the cups.
8. Bake until the custard is just set (it can still be a little loose), 30 to 35 minutes.
9. Let the custard cool in the water bath for about 2 hours before serving.

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