Salted caramel burnt creams – perfect make ahead dessert

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I first made this dessert in the run up to Christmas.  It got such rave reviews from my friends that I made it again and again.  When I was thinking about what to post on here for Valentines day these silky creatures sprang to mind immediately.  By mid February, after all that kale and quinoa I think we’re all in need of something decadent to eat, no?

The best thing about this recipe, aside from the fact it is blummin delicious, is the fact you can (and must) make it the day before you eat it, making it brilliant for parties.  In fact you can make it two days ahead of time.  I know that everyone and their Grandma are making things with salted caramel now but that is because the addition of salt to sweet things is a genius way to make sweet things taste sweeter without being too sweet.

This recipe came from Bon Appetit magazine.  I tinkered with it a little bit as I think their recipe makes a lot more than the 8 servings they suggest.  I love dessert but even I found and eighth of the mixture in their recipe too much to eat.  So I cut their recipe in half and ignored the whipped cream they suggest topping the pots with.  You’ll be just using egg yolks and will be left with egg whites.  So either use them straight away in a meringue or egg white frittata or freeze them (label how many are in the container) for another day.

I made a huge batch of these for my Christmas party and used up all my ramekins to cook them in.  Then I ended up rummaging through my  cupboards for all sorts of containers to fill – espresso cups, tea cups, water glasses, jam jars.  In the end the mixed bag of containers made it look lovely – I served them all on a big silver tray with a jar of equally mismatched teaspoons.  It is lovely to serve some shortbread biscuits alongside to dunk in too.

Making caramel and using a bain marie may sound daunting but it really isn’t once you break the recipe down.  I’d advise weighing everything out up front and reading the recipe a couple of times first so you’re sure of the steps.  This is one of those recipes that makes you feel very clever and chef-like even though it isn’t that tricky.

Ingredients (serves 6)

475ml (2 cups) double cream [heavy cream]
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
130g  (half a cup) granulated sugar

Plus a further 2 tablespoons granulated sugar

3 large egg yolks, room temperature

half a teaspoon Maldon salt, or other flaky sea salt

To make

1. Preheat the oven to 150C/300F .  Line a deep roasting pan or lasagna dish with a couple of  sheets of paper kitchen towel or a small tea towel and set aside.

2. Place the cream and vanilla in a medium saucepan and bring to the boil over a medium heat.  Once it is bubbling, turn the heat off and set aside.

3. Put the half cup (130g) sugar plus a tablespoon of water in a second large saucepan.  Heat over a medium high heat and stir until the sugar dissolves.  Then boil the mixture, swirl the pan occasionally until the mixture turns a dark golden caramel colour.  This should take around 4 minutes.  If the sugar starts to colour too fast or is a little too golden, dunk the base of the pan into iced water to stop the cooking process.

4.  Add the vanilla cream mixture to the caramel – be careful, it may spit a little.  Whisk really well then heat over a medium heat for around 2 minutes until it is smooth. Take the pan off the heat and set aside.

5.  In a large bowl, use a whisk (hand whisk not electric) to mix the egg yolks and salt with the remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar.  Whisk them for around 2 minutes until the egg yolks are starting to turn fluffy.

6. Pour the warm caramel cream into the egg mixture, whisking as you pour.  If your cream is too hot your eggs may scramble.  I tend to put the bowl with my eggs in on a damp tea towel to hold the bowl still so that I can use one hand to whisk and the other hand to pour the pan of cream.  If you have a friend close by they can pour for you or hold the bowl while you whisk.

7.  Divide the mixture between ramekins or heat proof cups or glasses and put the ramekins into the paper lined roasting pan or deep lasagna dish.  The paper will stop them wobbling around as they cook.  Once they are all in the roasting pan, pour cold water into the surrounding pan (but not into the ramekins!) until it comes half way up the side of the ramekins.  You’re basically making a bain marie so that your dessert cooks gently and evenly.  Use cold water and not hot so that it heats gently and reduces the bubbles in the creams.  Then bake until the custard is set but still has some wobble – it will firm up as it cools.  Depending on the size of the ramekins, this will take from 40-50 minutes.

8.  When they’re done, carefully lift them out onto a wire rack to cool.  I usually wear rubber gloves to protect my hands or scoop out some of the hot water with a cup first.  Once cool, cover them with plastic wrap and chill them for 3 hours or ideally overnight.  I like to pull them out of the fridge an hour before serving and give them a final dust of sea salt flakes.

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