Maple-Caramel Custards with Sea Salt

10 11 2009


Maple-Caramel Custard with Sea Salt, plated on a maple leaf.

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)
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. In a large bowl, add egg yolks, brown sugar, vanilla extract and a pinch of salt. Whisk together until smooth.  Set aside.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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).
  8. 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).
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. 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!

Pear and Pecan Bread Pudding with Caramel Sauce

16 10 2009


This is one of my favourite fall desserts.  It’s decadent and rich so it’s ideal for cold evenings when we’re craving something comforting.  Pears are in season right now so it’s the perfect time to give it a try.  It works best with bread that is a couple of days old so it’s a great way to use up stale bread that would otherwise go to waste.

This recipe first appeared on Suite where it was granted an Editor’s Choice award.  

Pear and Pecan Bread Pudding with Caramel Sauce

Makes about 6 servings

  • 4 cups (about 5 thick slices) stale bread such as ciabatta, challah, etc. with crusts cut off and cut into 1- 1/2″ cubes
  • 2 large pears, cored and cut into 1/2″ cubes
  • 1/2 cup halved pecans
  • 1 cup half and half
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • Caramel Sauce – see recipe below


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Grease a standard sized loaf pan. Layer half of the bread cubes on the bottom of the loaf pan and sprinkle with half the pears and half the pecans.
  3. Layer the rest of the bread cubes over the pears and pecans. Sprinkle with the remaining pear pieces and pecans. Set aside.
  4. In a medium bowl, whisk together the half-and-half, vanilla, brown sugar and eggs. Pour custard mixture over the bread/pear/pecan layers. Press the top of the pudding down so that everything gets well soaked. Set aside to let custard soak in for about 15 minutes before baking. (Note: the pudding can be assembled a few hours in advance and refrigerated until ready to bake).
  5. Bake pudding for 30 to 45 minutes or until the pudding is golden brown on top and custard is cooked through. Serve with caramel sauce (see below) and vanilla ice cream or lightly sweetened whipped cream.

Caramel Sauce

This is a versatile sauce that is also great with cake or ice cream.  Use caution when working with the hot sugar mixture.

Makes about 1 cup of sauce

  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 3 Tablespoons water
  • 1/4 teaspoons salt
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons butter
  • 1 cup cream
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla
  1. In a small saucepan heat cream on medium heat.
  2. While cream is heating, in a separate large saucepan, heat sugar and water on medium-high heat. Whisk until sugar is dissolved.
  3. Watch the mixture for about 10 minutes or until it begins to turn golden brown but do not whisk. Gently swirl the pan occasionally.
  4. Remove from heat once it turns a medium brown colour. Quickly add butter and heated cream, whisking as you pour it in. Be careful – the mixture is very hot and will bubble up a bit as the cream is added.
  5. Add salt and vanilla and mix thoroughly. Whisk until smooth. Pour sauce over bread pudding or your favourite dessert (it’s great on vanilla ice cream!)

Bon Appéit and Enjoy!


Pear and Pecan Bread Pudding with Caramel Sauce

Pear and Pecan Bread Pudding with Caramel Sauce

Peach Tiramisu

8 09 2009


A basket of Niagara peaches at a roadside farmstand

A basket of Niagara peaches at a roadside farm stand

Tiramisu is one of those desserts that became a victim of its own success.  It’s delicious when made properly but became so popular in restaurants that people got tired of it.  Like crème brûlée and molten chocolate cake, tiramisu became ubiquitous on menus in the 1990’s/2000’s and mediocre versions of these classics turned many people off for good.  However, it’s time to revisit tiramisu: my seasonal version is easy to prepare, requires no baking (perfect for hot days when you don’t want to use the oven) and is impressive in both presentation and taste.  Whenever I make it, it gets raves.

The key to this recipe is to use peaches that are at their peak: ripe, juicy and tender. If your peaches are too firm, leave them on the counter for a couple of days to soften up.  There’s no need to remove the skin but if you’d prefer to do so for presentation purposes, visit  Kitchen Tip of the Week: How to Peel Tomatoes and Soft Fruit for instructions.  

This recipe makes individual desserts, which are a fun and impressive way to present it.  It can also be made as one large family style tiramisu.  The servings don’t look as nice on the plate but it will taste fine.

Peach Tiramisu

Makes 4 individual desserts

  • 1 cup mascarpone cheese
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 3 Tablespoons + 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 egg whites
  • ¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
  • ½ cup chilled whipping cream
  • ½ cup amaretto liqueur
  • Approximately 10 large ladyfinger biscuits (savoiardi)
  • 2 large peaches, pits removed and cut into thin slices
  • Mint leaves, for garnish – optional
  • 4 martini glasses or other glass dishes suitable for serving the individual desserts

Making the Mascarpone Cream:

  1. In a large bowl, combine mascarpone cheese, 3 Tablespoons sugar and vanilla. Stir until smooth and set aside.
  2. In a metal or glass bowl, beat egg whites with cream of tartar until whites are frothy, glossy and form soft peaks. Set aside.
  3. In another metal or glass bowl, beat whipping cream and 1 teaspoon sugar until it forms stiff peaks (do not overbeat).
  4. Add egg whites and whipped cream to mascarpone cheese. Carefully fold in until just combined – do not mix vigorously.

Assembling the Desserts:

  1. Set out the four serving dishes. Spoon a small amount of mascarpone cream into the bottom of each one.
  2. Pour amaretto liqueur into a shallow bowl. Dip ladyfingers quickly into amaretto, just enough to moisten them (do not sit them in the liqueur or they will go soggy). Break biscuits as necessary to fit into serving dishes and layer over mascarpone cream.
  3. Top biscuits with peach slices and add another layer of mascarpone cream. Continue layering amaretto-soaked ladyfingers, peaches and cream, finishing with a layer of cream on the top.
  4. Refrigerate and let rest for at least 2 to 3 hours so biscuits have time to soften and the flavours can develop. Garnish with peach slices and mint leaves (optional).

Bon Appétit and Enjoy!

This recipe first appeared on

Individual Peach Tiramisu

Individual Peach Tiramisu

Cherry Clafouti with Almonds

18 08 2009


Clafouti (sometimes spelled ‘clafoutis’) is a classic French dessert that is usually made with eggs, flour, sugar, cream and fruit.  Is easy to put together and is a great way to use seasonal fruit.  When baked, it is like a custardy pancake. Cherries are a very traditional addition but I’ve had them with other fruit as well, including a delicious pear version.  

Many clafouti recipes call for leaving the pits in the cherries as it’s believed they add more flavour (and it’s easier for the cook). However, I recommend pitting the cherries before adding them to the batter – it’s neater to eat and you don’t have to worry about someone breaking a tooth.  To efficiently pit cherries, I finally broke down and bought a cherry pitter:

A cherry pitter

A cherry pitter

I was hesitant to get one because it’s not something I use every day and the last thing I need is more clutter in my kitchen drawers. However, it makes pitting cherries so fast and easy, it was well worth the $20 or so it cost.  You can find similar cherry pitters at most kitchen stores.  They’re also great for pitting olives.  If you don’t have a pitter, you can cut the cherries in half and pry out the pits with the tip of a knife. It’s a bit messier but it will get the job done.

This recipe makes a relatively small amount of dessert (for about 4 people) so it can be doubled if serving a larger group.

Cherry Clafouti with Almonds

Makes 4 servings

  • 1/2 cup whipping cream
  • 1/2 cup milk (or use 1 cup of half-and-half in place of the cream + milk)
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 3 Tablespoons sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 8 oz. pitted sweet cherries (equals about 1-1/2 cups of cherries)
  • 1/4 cup sliced almonds
  • Icing sugar for serving
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahreneheit.
  2. In a medium sauce pan, add cream, milk, vanilla extract and almond extract.  Stir to combine and bring to a gentle simmer, making sure not to boil the mixture.  Remove from heat.
  3. In a small bowl or glass measuring cup, add eggs, flour, sugar and salt.  Use a fork to vigorously mix everything together until it makes a smooth paste.  Add egg mixture to the warm milk.  Stir to combine well.
  4. Grease a small baking dish (with a 3 to 4 cup capacity) and pour in the batter.  Drop in the cherries and top with almond slices.
  5. Bake clafouti for 35 to 40 minutes or until the top has puffed and started to brown.  Spoon out servings and top with a sprinkling of icing sugar.  Accompany with a bit of lightly sweetened cream or vanilla ice cream if desired.

Bon Appétit and Enjoy!


Cherry Clafouti with Almonds

Cherry Clafouti with Almonds

Ice Cream

17 04 2009

Vanilla Ice Cream Cone

It’s April 17th and today is The Day.  What is ‘The Day’?, you’re probably asking yourself.  It’s what I call the very first day of the spring season that is truly warm and summery.  The forecast calls for sunshine and temperatures of 20 degrees Celsius (68 F). The birds are chirping madly with spring excitement and people are flocking outdoors to walk around and enjoy drinks and a bite to eat on patios across the city. Twenty degrees isn’t exactly hot but consider that this was the scene in my garden last week:

Snow on tulips, April 7th, 2009
Snow on tulips, April 7th, 2009

So what better way to celebrate this break in the weather than with an ice cream cone?  When I was a kid, ice cream was my favourite sweet treat.  My grandparents always kept a container in their freezer (usually rum-raisin or pistachio) and no Sunday drive in the country was complete without stopping for a cone.  I still love ice cream and it’s Italian cousin gelato and usually have a couple of containers in the freezer for an easy dessert.  I tend to be partial to rich chocolate or creamy vanilla (boring, I know!) but I also enjoy seasonal flavours such as pumpkin, strawberry and even Guinness and coffee.  

So if the weather is nice in your area, head out for a walk and a get a cone!  I’m working on developing some homemade ice cream and gelato recipes for the summer but in the meantime, you can check out some interesting ice cream recipes such as avocado gelato in addition to more mainstream flavours:

Ice Cream and Gelato Recipes –

If you happen to live in Toronto, here are a few of my favourite places for gelato and ice cream:

Ed’s Real Scoop 

  • Beaches –    2224 Queen Street East, Toronto
  • Leslieville – 920 Queen Street East, Toronto

There are now two locations of this well loved ice cream shop – one in the Beach and a new one in Leslieville.  Ed serves up a variety of flavours including their popular pumpkin ice cream.  Unfortunately it’s only available seasonally so you’ll have to wait until fall to enjoy it but there are plenty of delicious flavours to enjoy throughout the spring and summer.

Greg’s Ice Cream

  • 750 Spadina Avenue (corner Bloor and Spadina) 

Greg’s most famous flavour is the fantastic roasted marshmallow, which many fans claim is in a league of its own.  Visit their website at

Il Gelatiere Artigianale

  • 647 Mount Pleasant Road, Toronto

This gelato shop will make you feel like you’re taking a short vacation to Italy.  They offer a variety of flavours so go with a friend and order a couple of scoops each so you can sample as much as possible!

If you can’t get to an ice cream shop, some of my favourite packaged ice creams/gelati include:

Mapleton’s Organics – I particularly enjoy their vanilla – it’s not too sweet and has a creamy, clean vanilla flavour.  

Gelato Fresco – With a wide range of flavours ranging from pumpkin (seasonal) to devil’s chocolate, Gelato Fresco makes some of the best ‘packaged’ gelato around.  Their fruit flavours are very refreshing in the summer.

All of this discussion of ice cream has me craving a cone so I’m heading out to get one and enjoy the nice weather!

Bon Appéit and Enjoy!