So silky, so nutritious, so lightly-sweetened, it can be breakfast, snack, or dessert. Julian and Jacob helped me make this one last night. Half the batch goes in ramekins in a water bath, and the overflow makes a thin layer in this shallow crockery. Those are vanilla pods (soaked in brandy) and a star anise peeking out. That morning, I took the pan to New Amsterdam School for a parent-teacher-lobby treat.
This classic recipe, which I got from Patrick Lango of White Cow Dairy, and he got from The Gold Cookbook (and I adapted for the The Real Food Cookbook) calls for milk, eggs, maple syrup, salt, vanilla, nutmeg, and whole coriander. Having no coriander, we simmered the milk with star anise. You could make it savory, with grated cheese, or sauteed mushrooms or onions, in place of the maple syrup.
White Cow Dairy Custard
An early tagline on White Cow Dairy’s custard read, “iron, calcium, protein, pleasure.” Patrick’s custard is inspired by a recipe by Louis P. de Gouy, who noted that this delicate food nourished the young, the old, and especially the infirm; the dish was commonly served in nineteenth-century sanatoriums. Lucky invalids. Since I started baking this custard, Patrick has given the basic vanilla two more notes by adding toasted coriander and French brandy. Now I keep a small jar of brandy in the fridge with a couple of vanilla beans in it. The coriander and nutmeg are quite bold, especially with whole, fresh spices. For a milder custard, feel free to experiment with just a whisper of the spices. Call it a dessert or a snack—it doesn’t matter. It is the sort of dish I permit freely at all hours. If you don’t have eight 8-ounce (one-cup) ramekins, use a shallow 9-by-12-inch glass baking dish.
1 tsp whole coriander seeds
1 split vanilla bean, soaked in Armagnac
1qt. (4c) milk
1/4 c organic whole cane sugar (or maple sugar, maple syrup, or honey)
1 tsp chunky unrefined sea salt, such as Maldon or Jacobsen
8 eggs 1 nutmeg
1. Set the oven to 350°F.
2. In a dry pan, toast the coriander seeds gently and remove them from the pan. When they are cool, grind them into a rough powder with a mortar and pestle or the back of a spoon.
3. Scrape the vanilla seeds into the milk. Add the vanilla bean and ground coriander and heat gently. Let it cool a bit.
4. Stir in the sugar and salt.
5. Whisk the eggs so they are foamy but not stiff. Add the eggs to the milk and mix.
6. Grate a bit of nutmeg into the eight 8-ounce ramekins and pour the custard mix in slowly.
7. Set the ramekins in a pan of quite hot (not boiling) water.
8. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes or until the center is set and a knife slips out clean.