I was going to title this recipe Little Vanilla Custards, but due to a frisson brought on by the food media I’ve been indulging in lately, I had to change course a bit. It started with the food-celebrity crush I have on Rachel Khoo. Have you seen her show Little Paris Kitchen?
My almost-sixteen year old daughter and I were having some girl time; lazing around on a Sunday afternoon and finally getting caught up on episodes of the show I’d recorded a while back on The Cooking Channel.
“Oh! Look how cute she is, mom! Can I have bangs like that, and red lipstick, and pouty lips, and that little apartment in Paris? And can I draw those fun pictures with watercolors and talk with her accent?” I won’t lie; part of me knew exactly how she felt.
The word “darling” makes rare appearances in my vocabulary, but that’s the one that describes Rachel Khoo and her adventures cooking on two gas rings, in a charming old Paris kitchen hardly bigger than a pack of Gauloises.
I just got The Little Paris Kitchen cookbook from the mail carrier. There’s no recipe for little vanilla custards – pots de creme en Francais – in there, but that’s what came to mind while I flipped through it. The book is as appealing as the show, and I’m sure it will inspire more little French food for me to cook. Rachel trained in patisserie so there’s lots of sweet, simple recipes in the dessert chapter.
The other twist in today’s recipe story comes from Nigella. I’ve also managed to acquire her new book Nigelissima, and I really like it. I believe Nigella when she says “It was when I was sixteen or seventeen that I decided to be Italian.”
I was browsing through it, hearing her dusky Nigella voice as I read through the recipe introductions. I’d already planned to make my vanilla custards, but got caught up in the photo and description of a drop-dead gorgeous, mascarpone whipped-cream layered, pomegranate and pistachio-strewn Italian Christmas Pudding Cake on page 250. Nigella soaks panettone slices for the cake in Tuaca, the Italian vanilla liqueur which she says seems “panettone in alcohol form.”
Hmmmmm. Okay. I think the last time I sampled Tuaca was back in the 1980’s, while on a date with a guy who drank amaretto sours. But I could see how that brandied-buttery-vanilla-citrus flavor sensation that is Tuaca would work in a rich custard just as well as in the creamy filling of Nigella’s spectacular cake.
I had to go on an extended journey to find Tuaca, which turns out is not available in just any old grocery store, or even three (booze is sold in food stores where I live), but required, finally, a visit to the liquor mega-mart in the suburb one over from mine.
Good thing, too. Because damn if that liquid panettone doesn’t taste like a beautiful thing in these little vanilla custards.
My choice to drizzle olive oil over this smooth-as-silk custard concoction came about because I heard someone whisper “olive oil gelato” in my ear as I was falling asleep one night. No, not really.
I am enticed by the idea of olive oil gelato and will get around to making it soon. I just wanted to add a tiny bit more luscious mouthfeel.
I was sent some olive oil to sample from The Village Press, a New Zealand boutique producer. They have an innovative way of packaging their cold-pressed oil; it’s date-stamped and sealed both in a bag and a black box to protect it from light and oxidation. The oil is golden and tastes buttery and peppery, like an estate oil from Tuscany. It’s pretty special and I will be using this as a finishing oil while it lasts.
olive oil and vanilla pots de crème
You can use 8 espresso cups (3 - ounce capacity) if you have them. Otherwise bake the pots de creme in 6 (4-ounce) ramekins.
- 6 egg yolks
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1 ½ cups heavy cream
- ½ cup milk
- 1 tablespoon Tuaca liqueur or 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1 vanilla bean
- Extra-virgin olive oil, the best you have
- Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Place custard or espresso cups in a roasting pan or baking dish large enough to hold them so they don't touch. Bring a kettle full of water to a boil.
- Whisk the egg yolks, sugar and salt together in a bowl until the sugar is dissolved.
- Combine the cream and milk in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil and then immediately remove from the heat.
- Very gradually, dribble the hot cream mixture into the eggs, whisking at the same time. Stir in the Tuaca or vanilla extract. Split the vanilla bean lengthwise with a small, sharp knife; slide the dull edge of the knife along the bean to scrape out the seeds and add them to the bowl. Pour through a mesh strainer into a 3 or 4 cup measuring cup.
- Divide the custard among the cups and put the pan on middle oven rack; pour enough boiling water around the cups to come 2/3 of the way up the sides. Cover with a piece of aluminum foil and bake 35 – 40 minutes, until the edges are set and centers are a little quivery when you jiggle the cups.
- Carefully remove the cups from the water bath and cool on a rack 30 minutes. Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours or overnight.
- Just before serving, drizzle a teaspoon or so of olive oil over each pots de crème.
Based on a recipe in the Joy of Cooking.
Hi there! I’m Karen, a mother of two and a professionally trained cook certified in holistic nutrition.
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