Custard, pudding and souffle are delectable cousins

January 22, 1995|By Richard Sax | Richard Sax,Los Angeles Times Syndicate

Simple puddings, custards and souffles are actually variations on a soothing theme. The simplest puddings are starch-thickened mixtures (usually made with milk and sometimes with eggs) stirred in a saucepan until smooth. A true custard, on the other hand, is set by eggs alone and baked. And souffle is nothing more than a custard-like base that's lightened with beaten egg whites, baked and served immediately.

Coffee Cup Creme Caramel

Stephen Lyle, chef of Odeon in New York City, bakes his creme caramel in thick restaurant coffee cups; any ramekins or heat-proof custard cups will work fine.

Makes 6 servings

CARAMEL:

1 1/2 cups sugar

1/4 cup cold water

CUSTARD:

3 cups milk

2 vanilla beans, split lengthwise

3/4 cup sugar

3 large eggs

6 large egg yolks

To prepare caramel, place 6 heavy coffee cups, ramekins or custard cups in roasting pan. Cook sugar and water in heavy saucepan or skillet, stirring, until sugar dissolves. Increase heat and bring syrup to full boil. Cook, without stirring, until syrup caramelizes to medium-dark amber color, 8 to 10 minutes -- timing can vary. Immediately immerse bottom of pan in cold water to stop cooking. Pour caramel into cups, swirling to coat bottoms. Set aside.

To prepare custard, combine milk and vanilla beans in heavy saucepan. Bring mixture to boil. Remove from heat and let steep about 15 minutes. Remove vanilla beans. Scrape seeds from pods into milk.

Whisk sugar, eggs and egg yolks in bowl. Gradually whisk in hot milk mixture. Strain mixture into pitcher or large measuring cup. Pour custard into caramel-lined cups, using about 3/4 cup for each.

Place roasting pan on center rack of oven. Pour in enough hot tap water to reach halfway up sides of cups. Bake at 325 degrees until custards are just set but still slightly wobbly in center, 50 to 60 minutes (timing can vary -- do not overcook). Carefully remove custards from water bath and cool to room temperature on wire rack. Cover and chill until cold, at least 2 hours. To serve, run tip of knife gently around edge of each cup. Invert creme caramel onto dessert plates. Serve, spooning liquid caramel over tops.

Butterscotch Pudding

Makes 4 servings

3 cups milk

4 large egg yolks

3/4 cup dark brown sugar, packed

1/4 cup cornstarch, spooned lightly into measuring cup (do not pack tightly)

2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces

2 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

whipped cream flavored with vanilla extract, optional

Rinse heavy nonreactive saucepan with cold water and shake out excess water (this helps prevent milk from scorching). Bring 2 1/2 cups milk nearly to boil.

Meanwhile, whisk together remaining 1/2 cup milk, egg yolks, brown sugar and cornstarch in mixing bowl until smooth.

Pour about 1/2 cup hot milk into egg yolk mixture and whisk vigorously. Repeat process 2 more times. Pour yolk mixture into pan of hot milk and bring to boil, whisking, over medium heat. Boil, whisking almost constantly (be sure to stir at edges of pan), 2 minutes. Remove from heat. Whisk in butter and vanilla.

Strain pudding through fine sieve into clean bowl. Transfer pudding to 4 individual serving dishes. Chill 2 to 3 hours. Serve topped with vanilla-flavored whipped cream.

Edna Lewis' Chocolate Souffle

This was Edna Lewis' signature dessert during the heyday of Cafe Nicholson in New York City.

Makes 4 to 6 servings

SOUFFLE:

1 cup milk

1/2 vanilla bean or 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 tablespoons flour

4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, grated

1/3 cup hot water

3 tablespoons granulated sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 large egg yolks

5 large egg whites

HOT CHOCOLATE SAUCE:

1 1/2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, grated

1 cup water

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

small piece vanilla bean or 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

powdered sugar, for sprinkling

whipped cream, for serving

To prepare souffle, scald milk in small saucepan with vanilla bean. (If using vanilla extract, do not add it now.) Remove from heat and set aside. Melt butter in heavy-bottomed saucepan. Add flour and cook over medium heat, stirring, 3 minutes, until opaque but not brown. Remove vanilla bean and add milk, whisking vigorously. Cook mixture, whisking occasionally, until thick and smooth, about 5 minutes.

Add chocolate and whisk until melted and smooth. Remove pan from heat. If using vanilla extract, add it now. Whisk in hot water, granulated sugar and salt until blended. Add egg yolks, stirring vigorously, until smooth and satiny. Cover chocolate base with wax paper, pressing it directly on surface and set aside in warm place.

Beat egg whites in medium bowl until stiff but not dry. Fold a little egg white into chocolate base, then gently fold in remainder. Spoon gently into 2-quart unbuttered souffle dish or 4 to 6 (1-cup) ramekins. In either case, dishes should be about 3/4 full.

Bake at 450 degrees on center rack until puffed and browned, 20 to 25 minutes for large souffle, 12 to 13 minutes for individual ones.

Meanwhile, prepare hot chocolate sauce. Combine chocolate, water, granulated sugar and vanilla bean in small heavy-bottomed saucepan. (If using vanilla extract, do not add it now.) Simmer, stirring occasionally, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove pan from heat. Remove vanilla bean and keep sauce warm until needed. Stir in vanilla extract, if using, just before serving. Sprinkle souffle with powdered sugar and serve immediately with hot chocolate sauce and whipped cream.

Richard Sax is the author of "Classic Home Desserts," Chapters Publishing, from which this article is excerpted.

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