High Country Baking: Simple butterscotch custard to please holiday guests young and old
High Country Baking
High altitudes make cookies spread in the pan, cakes fall, and few baked goods turn out as they do at sea level. This twice-monthly column, published on Thursdays, presents recipes and tips that make baking in the mountains successful.
Who will join you at your holiday table this Christmas? Even if you’re keeping it small, you may be feeding a group of widely varying ages, from young children through senior citizens. That’s a time for Butterscotch Custard.
A simple, old-fashioned dessert, it evokes fond childhood memories from adults and is loved by youngsters for its straightforward taste. With a silky, smooth texture and brown sugar-vanilla flavor, it has universal appeal. The little people like it plain; the grown-ups favor it topped with sweetened whipped cream and a sprinkle of crushed English toffee. If you want to add a touch of sophistication, splash a little Frangelico or dark rum in the cream while whipping it.
The custard comes together very quickly, with ingredients that are probably already in your kitchen, and can be made up to a day before serving, so it’s easy on the baker during the busy holiday season. And, the recipe can be doubled successfully.
What could go wrong? Very little, if you attend to two things: First, use high quality ingredients: soft, fresh brown sugar and excellent vanilla. They provide the dessert’s only flavoring, so they need to be good. Second, don’t overbake the custards or they’ll lose their velvety texture, which accounts for much of their charm. Remove them from the oven and their water bath when they are just set with centers that still quiver.
Works at any elevation
Makes 6 five-ounce servings
Make in five-ounce ramekins or custard cups
2 cups heavy whipping cream
¾ cup dark brown sugar
4 large egg yolks
1 ¾ teaspoons of vanilla extract
Sweetened whipped cream
Crushed English toffee
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, with a rack in the center position. Place the ramekins, with about an inch of space between them, in a roasting or baking pan with sides that are at least two inches high. If they slide around, put a kitchen towel in the bottom of the pan and set the ramekins on the towel, it will hold them in place. Heat a kettle of water to use as a water bath.
2. Pour the heavy cream into a saucepan and add the brown sugar. Place the saucepan over medium heat and stir gently and continuously until the mixture comes to a low boil and the brown sugar dissolves fully. Remove the pan from the heat. In a large bowl, whisk the egg yolks briefly. In a slow, thin stream, add the cream-sugar mixture to them, whisking constantly until the ingredients are fully combined. Stir in the vanilla.
3. Strain the mixture into a large measuring cup or a bowl with a lip that allows you to pour from it easily. Straining the mixture assures any lumps are removed. They may have formed if some of the egg cooked in the hot cream, so it’s an important step.
4. Carefully pour the custard into the ramekins, filling them equally, to a level not more than a quarter of an inch from their tops. Place them, in the baking pan, in the preheated oven and add boiling water to the pan until it comes half way up the sides of the ramekins. Take care not to get any water on the custards.
5. Bake the custards only until they are set, with centers that jiggle like jello when you gently shake them. This takes 24 to 29 minutes. Using tongs, remove the custards from the oven and the water bath. Let them cool to room temperature on a rack. Once they’re cool, cover them lightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate them four to 24 hours before serving. Top them with the optional sweetened whipped cream and crushed toffee right before serving.
Dr. Vera Dawson is a high-elevation baking instructor and author of three high-altitude cookbooks (available at The Bookworm in Edwards and Next Page Bookstore in Frisco). She’s lived in the mountains since 1991 and has been developing and adjusting recipes so that they work at our altitude ever since. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.