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. 

IMG_86405

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.

Félicitations, Béa!

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.

Serves 6.  

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. 
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My goodness, it has been five times already. Five times Pim has rallied the food blogging community together, the first time in aid of those effected by the catastrophic tsunami that hit Southeast Asia on Boxing Day 2004. In each of those five times her campaign, Menu for Hope, has grown exponentially - last year we managed to raise over $90,000 for the United Nations World Food Programme. An astounding number of dollars offered in help, to be sure, as well as an astounding testament to the generosity of our online community and the impact we are able to make when we work together.

This year, I am once again proud to be involved through a prize donation. What's this about prizes you might ask? Well, this is how Menu for Hope works - food bloggers, food producers, publishing companies and many more organizations donate prizes to be put up for raffle. Raffle tickets are then sold, at the low, low price of $10 each, for each of those prizes. These virtual tickets are then compiled, and at the end of the campaign a winner is chosen at random, with the results announced at Chez Pim. Easy peasy, no?

Further details on Menu for Hope, and answers to frequently asked questions are available on Pim's site.

I know that this past year has been a difficult one for many, and our global economic crisis has many of us feeling unsure about the future. If you are unable to participate in this year's campaign, it is wholly understandable and I only ask that you might pass the word onto anyone and everyone you believe might be interested. For those of you that feel that they can spare the money to donate, I thank you.

Now, I said something about prizes - must get back to that. In partnership with the fine folks at Whitecap Books, I am happy to be donating two bundles of cookbooks, all from Canadian authors (see below for summaries and cover images).

The first, prize code CA06, is a wonderful set of two cookbooks in celebration of all that Canada has to offer. Taste of Canada by Rose Murray is an epicurean love letter to the country, with thoughtfully-chosen recipes that reflect the scope of our cuisine. It is a beautiful book, with elegant and evocative images and an obvious affection for its subject matter. The second book is great guide to treasures from your local wine shop, The 500 Best-Value Wines in the LCBO 2009 by Rod Phillips.

CA07 is a collection of books from authors who have all participated in the "Seven Questions With..." series from this site, and have all reached some level of celebrity in the Canadian culinary scene. Anna Olson of Canada's Food Network has brought together a fantastic collection of recipes for the home cook, full of family favourites with a modern twist; truth be told, it is a book I have kept in my kitchen since I got it. Dominique and Cindy Duby, true masters of pastry and sugar, let us in on their recipe for the perfect crème brûlée (along with 50 sweet and savoury variations) in their book of the same name. In Marty's World Famous Cookbook, Marty Curtis reveals the secrets of his famous buttertarts, and many of the favourites from his popular cottage country café.

A full list of prizes being donated by Canadian food bloggers is available at our regional host site Hooked on Heat. My thanks to the wonderful Meena for all her hard work.

So, now that I've tempted you with all this fabulous stuff, here is how to contribute:

Donation Instructions

1. Choose a prize or prizes of your choice from our Menu for Hope at Chez Pim.
2. Go to the donation site at First Giving and make a donation.
3. Each $10 you donate will give you one raffle ticket toward a prize of your choice. Please specify which prize you'd like in the 'Personal Message' section in the donation form when confirming your donation. You must write-in how many tickets per prize, and please use the prize code.
For example, a donation of $50 can be 2 tickets for EU01 and 3 tickets for EU02. Please write 2xEU01, 3xEU02.
4. If your company matches your charity donation, please check the box and fill in the information so we could claim the corporate match.
5. Please allow us to see your email address so that we could contact you in case you win. Your email address will not be shared with anyone.

CA06: The flavours of Canada

CA07: Great recipes from famed authors

  • Courtesy of Whitecap Books and seven spoons, a three (3) cookbook prize bundle with the latest books from famous Canadian authors; In the Kitchen with Anna ($29.95 CAD) by Food Network Canada's Anna Olson , Marty's World Famous Cookbook ($29.95 CAD) by Marty Curtis of the popular Bracebridge, Ontario café that bears his name, and Crème Brûlée ($19.95 CAD) by Dominique and Cindy Duby, acclaimed pâtisiers and chocolatiers.
Permission to print cover images also courtesy of Whitecap Books.