High Altitude Baking: Maple cream custards (recipe)
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.
Wrestling with a Thanksgiving dessert dilemma? If you’re thinking you might augment, or even forgo, the pumpkin pie, then consider these maple cream custards. Light and cool, they’re a fine way to end a heavy meal, and the sweet maple flavor coupled with the silky-smooth consistency is pleasing to just about everyone. The cook will like them, too: They demand very little active time, dirty very few bowls and utensils and can be made up to a day before serving… just what we’re looking for during the busy holiday season.
A few things guarantee their success: Use pure maple syrup and try to find Grade B (Whole Foods carries it as do a number of online sites, including Amazon); it has a stronger, more full-bodied taste. Bake in a water bath, so that the custard doesn’t overcook and dry out, and for the ethereal texture, remove the custards when they’re set but still slightly soft in the center.
Maple Cream Custards
(Make in 5 six-ounce ramekins.)
¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon pure maple syrup, preferably Grade B
5 large egg yolks
Generous ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup heavy whipping cream
½ cup whole milk
½ cup heavy whipping cream, cold
2 teaspoons confectioners’ sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla
2 to 3 tablespoons pure maple syrup, preferably Grade B
¼ cup pecans, toasted and chopped fine
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees with a rack in the lower third of the oven. Start heating a kettle of water to boiling to use as a water bath. Locate a baking pan that will hold the five ramekins with at least a half-inch of space on all sides (this will allow the hot water to circulate around them), place the ramekins in it, and set it aside.
In a four-cup measure or a mixing bowl with a spout, whisk the maple syrup, egg yolks and vanilla until blended. Combine the cream and milk in a small saucepan, and heat until almost boiling. While stirring with a silicone spatula or wooden spoon (you don’t want to create air bubbles so don’t whisk), add the hot cream and milk to the maple syrup mixture, about a tablespoon at a time. Go slowly so you don’t cook the egg yolks, and stir until thoroughly combined.
If the mixture has any lumps, no matter how small, then strain it to remove them. Pour it into the ramekins, dividing it evenly. Add boiling water to the baking pan until it rises three-quarters of the way up the sides of the ramekins. (To prevent splashing hot water on the custards when pouring it into the pan, I remove one of the ramekins, pour the water into the vacated space, and then replace the ramekin once the pan is filled). Bake until the custards are set but still jiggle slightly in the center when moved. This usually takes from 30 to 45 minutes, but the time can vary due to the water temperature, so check often.
Remove the ramekins from the water with tongs, cool them at room temperature for about 30 minutes, and then refrigerate. They’re ready to serve after chilling for 3 hours. Cover loosely if storing for more than 3 hours and up to overnight.
For optional topping: Whip the cream with the sugar and vanilla until soft peaks form (doing this with chilled beaters in a chilled bowl speeds up the process). Dollop some on each custard, drizzle maple syrup over it, sprinkle with chopped nuts, and serve.
Yields 5 servings.
This is a variation of a recipe in “Martha Stewart’s Dinner at Home.” Vera Dawson, author of the high-altitude cookbook “Cookies in the Clouds” (available at The Bookworm of Edwards), is a chef instructor with CMC’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 email@example.com.