I will start off with an apology to my friend Béa, as she wrote a sprightly, colour-filled, beautiful book, and I've gone and taken the brownest, simplest, comparatively-plainest photos to show you today. That is not, however, to say that I make any apologies for choosing this recipe for Cardamom-flavoured Chocolate Crème Caramel, as that choice is one of which I'm resolutely proud.
For a moment though, the custard can wait. First, let me tell you about Béatrice Peltre.
I came to know Béa through her site, La Tartine Gourmande (through that link, you can read a little more about her, her family and work). We both started writing the same year, and I don't really remember a time when I wasn't reading her words and admiring her photographs. What's more, she's got a great sense of food, and a unique background that offers up diverse influences on the plate. It was through her that I was introduced to savoury crumbles, and her Autumnal Butternut Squash Crumble is a must in our October/November rotation.
Now this is where I'll apologize to you, kind reader, as I can't pretend this conversation about her book isn't written with a distinct and specific bias born out of an affection for its author; nonetheless, even if you've never met Béa, you'll fall for her book just the same. It makes a fine introduction.
La Tartine Gourmande: Recipes for an Inspired Life is Béatrice through and through. There are glimpses of her life with her husband and adorable daughter Lulu (heart-meltingly-sweet, that one) along with her parents and stories of her French childhood. These personal anecdotes are effortlessly woven into recipes, written clearly in Béa's distinctive voice; it is dulcet, conversational writing, peppered with phrases charmingly en français.
For all her softness of tone, Béa's book is full of exuberant life. She has a way with colour, texture and layered patterns such that her images make you imagine that Boston must always be sunny, even in deep winter. This book is categorically cheerful.
It's also full of tasty things, like a watercress and orange salad that is bright and punchy, a classic hachis parmentier refreshed by lime and coriander, and a crab soufflé that while delicate, is dressed-to-the-bold-nines with saffron. There are, of course, tartines, and some picture-perfect verrines too. Her breakfasts and brunch suggestions are among my favourites - fresh museli or sweet-potato and carrot pancakes? I'm in.
Gluten-free, and encouraging the use of whole grains, Béa brings together recipes that bridge the everyday and the fancy, without ceremony or fuss.
It's a thoroughly inspiring collection.
And now, finally, this custard. As said, it is a crème caramel; a quietly elegant dessert, a custard baked upon a layer of caramel, that's then turned out on its head. Here the custard is softly-set, which is my preference, with the perfect suggestion of wobble as it is spooned. Fragrant with cardamom, the bitterness of dark chocolate mollified but maintained by the caramel that puddles over when served. The dusting of cocoa is not only for show, as that downy, dark layer offers an ephemeral contrast to the softness beneath — it melts quickly though, so sieve it over at the last possible moment and dive in right away.
Not that any such encouragement is needed.
Cardamom-flavoured chocolate crème caramel
From the book La Tartine Gourmande: Recipes for an Inspired Life. (Roost Books, 2012).
"This attractive desert is made for people like me and Philip who cannot resist anything described with words like 'dark chocolate' and 'custard'. Maybe you are one of these people too? It offers a rich silky aromatic chocolate flanlike cream balanced by a light caramel sauce that you'll want to dip your fingers into." - BP
Canola oil, for the ramekins
For the caramel
1/2 cup (100g: 3 1/2 oz) fine granulated white sugar
2 tablespoons cold water
1 tablespoons hot water
For the chocolate custard
2 1/4 cups (530 ml) whole milk
1 vanilla bean, split open and seeds scraped out
5 green cardamom pods, crushed
3 oz (90g) dark chocolate (70% cocoa)
3 large eggs
2 tablespoons blond cane sugar
Unsweetened cocoa powder, to dust
You will need: six 6-ounce ramekins
Oil six 6-ounce ramekins; set aside.
To prepare the caramel: Heat the sugar and cold water in a small pot. Swirl the pot in a circular movement so that the sugar absorbs the water. Bring to a boil, then simmer at a medium heat - do not stir the sugar at this point, although you can swirl the pot occasionally - and watch the caramel develop. It will be ready when it's golden in colour, which takes about 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from the heat, add the hot water, and stir quickly. Pour the caramel into the oiled ramekins, making sure to coat the bottom and sides; set aside.
Preheat the oven to 300°F (150°C).
To prepare the custard: In a pot, combine the milk with the vanilla bean and seeds and cardamom pods and bring to a boil, making sure that it doesn't overflow. When it boils, remove from the heat and add the chocolate, whisking quickly so that the chocolate melts evenly. Cover and let infuse for 20 minutes. Discard the vanilla bean and cardamom, and using a fine sieve or chinois, strain the chocolate milk.
In the meantime, using a stand mixer, beat the eggs with the sugar for 1 minutes. Pour the chocolate milk in and stir quickly. With a spoon, remove any foam that might have formed at the surface.
Divide the chocolate custard among the 6 caramel-filled ramekins and place them in a water bath. Place the custards in the oven and cook for about 50 minutes. To check if they are ready, jiggle the ramekins a little - the centre of the cream should be almost set but not fully (they'll finish setting once they cool down). Remove the ramekins from the oven and let cool completely. Cover each ramekin with plastic wrap and refrigerate for a few hours, or overnight, until the custard is completely set.
To unmold the crème caramel easily, dip the ramekins in boiling water for 1 to 2 minutes, taking care to not let the water spill in. Run the blade of a knife between the custard and the edge of the ramekins. Turn onto a plate and serve with dusted cocoa on top.
Note from Tara:
- As you can see, I made our custard in one large dish (though I did also make the recipe as written, for research purposes of course ... surely not greed). In the case of the larger, it was a 9-inch pan used, and the baking time was about 65 minutes. If you go this way, keep checking after 50 minutes, baking until the centre lazily sways.