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Café Brûlot Custard

Café Brûlot Custard
At old-style Creole restaurants, the lights are dimmed as a waiter rolls out a tableside cart topped with a chafing dish of strong coffee. The waiter spices it with cloves, cinnamon sticks, and lemon peel; adds warm brandy; and then sets it alight, stirring the flaming brew with much ceremony and flourish before ladling it into cups. Café brûlot is usually a grand finale for a rich and very expensive meal. It inspired this simple dessert that re-creates the same flavors in a homey custard. Using half-and-half yields an especially luxurious dessert, but it is also fine to substitute whole milk. Serve with small cups of espresso garnished with a twist of shaved lemon rind.

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 2 cups half-and-half
  • 2 tsp. instant espresso powder
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 Tbs. brandy
  • 1 tsp. grated lemon zest
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cloves
  • 1/8 tsp. fine sea salt

Directions:

Preheat an oven to 325°F.

In a small, heavy saucepan over medium-high heat, cook 3/4 cup of the sugar without stirring just until it begins to liquefy. Reduce the heat to low and whisk until the sugar dissolves and the syrup is amber, 2 to 4 minutes.

Immediately pour the syrup into eight 1/2-cup individual custard cups or a 4-cup flan dish or shallow round baking dish. Working quickly, swirl each cup or the dish to coat the bottom and sides. (The syrup will harden almost immediately but return to a syrup-like consistency after the custard bakes and chills.)

In a small, heavy saucepan over medium heat, warm the half-and-half just until bubbles appear along the edges of the pan. Stir in the espresso powder, remove from the heat and let cool slightly.

Heat a kettle full of water on the stovetop until very hot but not boiling. In a bowl, whisk the eggs with the remaining 1/2 cup sugar, the brandy, lemon zest, cinnamon, cloves and salt until blended. Continue whisking as you drizzle in the hot coffee mixture.

Place the caramel-lined cups or dish in a large baking pan. Pour the custard through a fine-mesh sieve into the cups, dividing it evenly, or into the dish. Pour the hot water into the baking pan to reach halfway up the sides of the cups or the dish.

Bake until the custard is set in the center when it is gently shaken, 50 to 60 minutes. Carefully transfer the cups or dish from the hot water to a wire rack and let cool to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate until well chilled, at least 4 hours or up to 2 days.

Loosen the edges of the chilled custard with a thin knife blade. If using custard cups, invert a small dessert plate over each cup and, holding the plate and cup, invert them together. Lift off the cup, holding it over the custard until all of the caramel has released from the cup. If using a large dish, invert a large round serving plate over the custard and follow the same instructions above. Cut the large custard into wedges before serving. Serve chilled. Serves 8.

Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Foods of the World Series, New Orleans, by Constance Snow (Oxmoor House, 2005).