True to this column’s name and to my life’s work as a culinary nutritionist, the recipes I serve up here each week are especially nutrient-rich and healthful, or at least a better-for-you version of what you might be craving. But nourishment is more than a collection of vitamins and minerals. Equally important, I believe, is the emotional well-being food provides, and that’s what compelled me to create this recipe. These delightful custard cups check the boxes on the numerical and whole-food criteria of a more healthful dessert, but they also transport me to my childhood, to the comfort of my grandmother’s kitchen, where I could reliably find them in little glass cups in her refrigerator whenever I searched for a treat.
They are a simple pleasure, made with basic ingredients. (There is something soothing about that in and of itself.) To make them, you gradually whisk heated milk into a bowl of beaten eggs flavored with vanilla and honey. (My grandmother used white sugar, but I prefer to go the more healthful, unrefined route. Besides, because honey browns faster than sugar, it ultimately gives the custards a gloriously golden top.) The mixture is poured into ramekins, which are then nestled into a towel-lined baking dish, so the ramekins don’t move around. The baking dish is then filled with hot water and then placed in the oven until the custard is just set. The water bath (bain-marie), which ensures even, gentle cooking, is easy, so don’t let it intimidate you if you haven’t tried it before.
The creamy custard cups are delicious plain, and they can be served shortly after cooking while still a bit warm or chilled. Though stellar on their own, they are even better topped with the fragrant compote here. It’s a simple pleasure, too: Just blueberries, fresh or frozen, simmered with a bit of honey and a pinch of cardamom until bursting. The cardamom brings an incomparable heady, fruity fragrance to the compote, but if you don’t have it, ground cinnamon will work, too.
The result is a perfectly portioned, homespun dessert that, I hope, brings you at least some of the nostalgic comfort it gives me.
FOR THE CUSTARD
2 cups (480 milliliters) whole milk
2 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
1/4 cup (60 milliliters) honey
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 pinch kosher salt
FOR THE COMPOTE
1 cup (145 grams) blueberries, fresh or frozen
2 tablespoons honey
1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom
Make the custard: Position a baking rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 325 degrees. Meanwhile, bring a kettle of water to a boil on the stove, and place a clean kitchen towel on the bottom of a 9-by-13-inch baking dish.
In a small saucepan over medium heat, heat the milk until very hot but not boiling. In a medium bowl whisk the eggs, egg yolk, honey, vanilla and salt.
Discard any skin on the top of the hot milk. Whisk about 1/4 cup (60 milliliters) of the milk into the egg mixture to temper the egg, then gradually whisk in the rest of the milk. Pour the mixture into six (6-ounce) ovenproof custard cups or ramekins. Place the ramekins into the baking dish on top of the towel. Position the cups so they are not touching each other or the sides of the pan. Place the baking dish onto a rack in the middle of the oven (it prevents the ramekins from moving around) and pour hot water into the pan around the cups so it come a little more than halfway up the sides of the cups.
Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, or until the custards are set and the tops are golden, but the custard still jiggles a little in the center when you gently shake the pan. Remove the custard cups from the water bath and let cool for 30 minutes before serving.
Make the compote: In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine the blueberries, honey and cardamom and cook, stirring frequently, until the berries begin to burst, about 6 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool. The compote will thicken as it cools.
Serve the slightly warm custard topped with the warmed blueberry compote, or chill both the custards and the compote and serve both cold.
Recipe from dietitian and food columnist Ellie Krieger.
Tested by Olga Massov; email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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More dessert recipes from Voraciously:
Calories: 168; Total Fat: 5 g; Saturated Fat: 2 g; Cholesterol: 101 mg; Sodium: 92 mg; Carbohydrates: 25 g; Dietary Fiber: 1 g; Sugars: 24 g; Protein: 5 g.