Like most people, I love chocolate desserts. However, sometimes I’m craving something a little different and caramel fits the bill perfectly, Maple syrup goes well with the caramel, making the flavour even deeper and richer. A sprinkling of sea salt to finish adds a bit of crunch and further enhances the caramel. It sounds a little strange but trust me, it’s good!
I have been intimidated by custard in the past, after a bad experience with hollandaise sauce that turned into a clumpy, scrambled egg mess. However, if you take your time and follow the instructions carefully, you shouldn’t have any problems. The key is to add the hot cream slowly to the egg yolks, whisk constantly and strain the final custard to get rid of any stray lumps. Cooking the custards in a water bath will ensure they don’t scorch in the oven.
To plate the desserts: If you’re in the north and happen to live anywhere near trees, there are probably a million leaves on the ground right now. Maple leaves have a beautiful shape and colour so I collected a few from my yard to dress up the plate a bit when serving the custards. They’re thematically appropriate and cost nothing so you can’t go wrong!
Maple-Caramel Custards with Sea Salt
This dessert has two complicated sounding components – making the caramel and preparing the custard. However, it’s not difficult if you take it step-by-step. Placing a dishtowel at the bottom of the water bath will keep the ramekins from slipping around and spilling on their way in and out of the oven.
Makes 6 desserts
For the Custard:
- 5 large egg yolks (save the whites for another use)
- 2 Tablespoons golden brown sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- A pinch of regular salt (kosher or table salt)
- 1 cup whipping cream
- 1 cup milk
For the Caramel:
- 1/2 cup white sugar
- 1/4 cup water
- 1 teaspoon butter
- 1/4 cup pure maple syrup, preferably #1 Medium (I use Ontario or Quebec syrup)
To Cook and Finish the Custards:
- 6 small ramekin dishes (about 3″ to 4″ in diameter)
- A dish towel
- A pitcher of water
- A roasting pan with high sides that can accommodate 6 small ramekins
- Sea salt
- Large maples leaves, to dress the plate (optional)
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
- In a large bowl, add egg yolks, brown sugar, vanilla extract and a pinch of salt. Whisk together until smooth. Set aside.
- To make the caramel: In a large saucepan, add 1/2 cup white sugar and 1/4 cup water. Heat on medium-high. The sugar will dissolve and the mixture will begin to bubble within a couple of minutes. Occasionally lift the pot off the burner and carefully swirl the mixture but do not stir it with a spoon.
- Cook sugar mixture until it begins to brown- about 7 to 8 minutes. Once it starts to turn golden it will darken VERY quickly so do not leave it unattended! Continue cooking for another minute or two, until the caramel is about the same colour as the maple syrup (a medium-dark amber colour) and remove the pot from the burner.
- Carefully add the butter and maple syrup. It will bubble up a bit as the ingredients are added so use caution. Stir mixture and return to the burner on medium-low heat.
- Slowly whisk the whipping cream and milk into the caramel. Remove the caramel mixture from the heat and let cool slightly for about 1 minute.
- Very slowly pour the caramel/cream mixture into the bowl with the egg yolks, whisking constantly (you may want to have someone help pour the caramel if the pot is heavy).
- Strain the custard through a fine sieve into a large glass measuring cup or other heat-proof vessel that you can easily pour from (such as a pitcher).
- Prepare the ramekins: In the bottom of a large roasting pan, place a folded dishtowel and smooth it out so the ramekins can sit evenly. Place the ramekins on the dishtowel and fill each one with the custard mixture.
- Use a large pitcher to carefully pour water into the roasting pan, being careful not to get water in the custards. Fill about 2/3 of the way up the outside of the ramekins. Make sure the dishtowel is completely submerged in the water so it doesn’t burn in the oven.
- Bake the custards for 45 to 50 minutes or until they are set in the middle. Let cool and refrigerate for at least 2 hours. Sprinkle with sea salt just before serving or place a small dish of salt on the table so diners can add their own. Garnish the plates with maple leaves for a fun presentation if desired.
Bon Appétit and Enjoy!