Corn milk infuses this version of caramel custard with concentrated corn flavor, reinforced by a crispy, freeze-dried corn garnish. Served with berries, it's a perfect summertime dessert.
Freeze-dried corn kernels are available at some Whole Foods Markets or on Amazon.com and Justtomatoes.com.
To make caramel, it is essential to use a good-quality, heavy-bottomed pan that conducts heat evenly and well. That allows you to cook the sugar without water over very high heat until it caramelizes enough to melt any still-crystallized sugar quickly.
Instead of making individual custards, you can bake one large one in a 1 1/2-quart souffle dish; it may take a few minutes longer to set.
Make Ahead: The custard can be made a day or two in advance.
- 1/2 cup sugar, plus 1 tablespoon
- 3 large eggs
- 2 cups corn milk (see related recipe)
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 3 tablespoons freeze-dried corn kernels, for garnish (see headnote)
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
Have ready six 6-ounce custard cups and a heavy-bottomed saucepan just large enough to accommodate a half-cup of sugar spread into a thin, even layer. Add 1/2 cup of sugar to the pan, place over high heat and let the sugar cook, not stirring it at all, until it begins to melt first into a clear syrup and then into a light brown one. This will take 3 or 4 minutes. Once roughly half of the sugar is brown and clear (most likely around the outside edge), it is safe to gently stir the remaining white sugar crystals into the caramelized sugar. The white sugar will melt immediately into the caramel. (Use a long-handled, stainless-steel spoon to do this.)
Remove the pan from the heat and stir the caramel until it is dark amber in color and completely clear. Working quickly, spoon a generous tablespoon of the caramel into the bottom of a custard cup. Holding the cup by its rim, swirl the caramel so it comes up the sides of the cup a half-inch or so. Repeat with all of the cups. If the caramel in the pan becomes too thick to spoon easily, warm it for a few seconds to loosen it up.
Beat the eggs in a large mixing bowl until they are thoroughly combined. Put a kettle of water on to boil.
Combine the corn milk, the remaining 1 tablespoon of sugar and the salt in a medium saucepan over medium heat and cook until small bubbles form around the edge of the pan. Stir to make sure the sugar is dissolved.
Use a wire whisk to slowly stir the hot milk into the beaten eggs, then add the vanilla and stir to combine. Strain the custard through a fine-mesh strainer into a pitcher. Divide the custard evenly among the six caramel-lined custard cups.
Place 5 of the cups in a 9-by-13-inch baking dish, leaving room for the sixth. Pull the rack of the oven out, place the baking dish on it and pour boiling water into the dish, in the space where the sixth custard cup would go. Add enough water to come up one-third of the way up the sides of the cups. Place the remaining custard cup in the pan and slowly push the rack in. Bake for 30 minutes or until the custard barely quivers when jostled slightly and doesn’t seem liquid. (The tip of a knife inserted into the center should come out clean.) Transfer the cups from the water bath to a wire rack and cool them completely. Refrigerate the cooled custards for several hours to set them.
To serve, run a thin-bladed paring knife around the edge of each custard until liquid caramel seeps through to the top. Invert the custards onto dessert plates and scrape any caramel left in the cup onto the top of the custards. Top each custard with freeze-dried corn kernels and garnish with a few fresh berries on the plate.
From The Process columnist David Hagedorn.
Tested by David Hagedorn.
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