High Altitude Baking: Lemon velvet custards (recipe)
High Country Baking
Editor’s note: 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 presents recipes and tips that make baking in the mountains successful.
This is a big-bang-for-the-buck lemon dessert! It’s lush and creamy, like velvet on the tongue, and ooooh, so easy to make. It’s a perfect choice any time you want a rich, company-worthy finale that can be made a day before serving.
Leave your electric mixer in the cabinet; this beauty is ready for the oven in a few stirs with a whisk and about 10 minutes of active time. Just remember that you must use real white chocolate (check to be sure it’s made with cacao butter) — no substitutions! If you prefer completely smooth custard (we do), use lemon oil rather than zest, which adds a little texture to the mouth feel. Use the smaller amount of lemon oil for a mildly citrus taste; increase it to your liking, though I’ve never ventured beyond a scant quarter teaspoon.
(Yields two; the recipe can be doubled. Make in two 4-ounce ovenproof ramekins.)
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons heavy cream
2 tablespoons whole milk
3 ½ ounces real white chocolate, finely chopped
2 large egg yolks
1 ½ teaspoons superfine granulated sugar
1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon lemon oil or 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
Fresh raspberries, optional
Mint leaves, optional
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees with a rack in the center position. Make a water bath by placing an 8-inch-by-8-inch metal baking pan filled with half an inch of water in the oven. Start heating more water on the stove to add to the water bath.
Combine the cream and milk in a saucepan or microwave safe bowl, and heat (on stovetop or in microwave) to almost boiling. Remove, add the chopped white chocolate all at once, stir briefly so all of the chocolate is covered with liquid, and let stand for about 2 minutes, until the chocolate melts. Stir until smooth. Set aside.
In a mixing bowl, preferably one with a lip or spout, whisk the egg yolks, sugar, lemon oil or zest and salt until blended and smooth. Slowly add the cream-milk mixture in a thin stream, whisking constantly. Divide the mixture evenly between the ramekins. Open the oven, place them in the water-filled baking pan, spacing them so they don’t touch the pan walls or each other, and then add more boiling water until it comes halfway up the sides of the ramekins.
Bake until the custard is almost set but still slightly soft in the middle (jiggles just a little when you gently shake the ramekin). This usually takes 27 to 33 minutes, but the time depends on the temperature of the water bath. Remove the pan from the oven, let it sit on a rack for 15 minutes, and then remove the ramekins from the pan. Cool the ramekins for about 30 minutes before refrigerating them, loosely covered, for at least 4 hours and up to a day. For the creamiest texture, let the desserts warm up to slightly cooler than room temperature before serving. Top with raspberries and mint leaves, if using.
This is a variation of a Giada de Laurentiis’ recipe. Vera Dawson, author of the high-altitude cookbooks “Baking Above It All” and “Cookies in the Clouds” (available at The Bookworm of Edwards and Gorsuch in Vail), is a chef instructor with Colorado Mountain College’s Culinary Institute. Her recipes have been tested in her Summit County kitchen and, whenever necessary, altered until they work at our altitude. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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