A DELICATE blend of egg yolks, sugar and cream, with the addition of a grating of nutmeg or a scraping of vanilla is the basis of any custard. It seems that people fall on two very distinct sides regarding custard.
It can be a love it or hate it dessert. I fall, most definitely, into the love it category. I will eat custard in any form, a crisp topped crème brulée, a soft and luscious creme caramel or simply poured over some new season stewed rhubarb.
Custard can be a little tricky to get right and it takes a bit of patience. The knack is in the whisking. When adding the creamy liquid to the egg mixture you need to whisk it immediately and continue whisking until it is completely combined. If you have another person with you in the kitchen they could gently and steadily pour the cream as you whisk. Also, if it does get a little lumpy all is not lost you can sieve the liquid to remove the lumps, pushing as much of it through the sieve as you can.
When making the baked apple Christmas mincemeat can be used instead of the mixture of dried fruit and nuts. It is a good opportunity to taste some of the mincemeat you may have prepared previously.
I find there is something inherently comforting about baked apples and custard.
6 egg yolks
100g of caster sugar
500 mls of cream
3 tsp of Earl Grey tea leaves in a tea filter
3 tbs of soft brown sugar
Beat the caster sugar and egg yolks until pale and set aside.
Place the cream and tea bag into a heavy based saucepan and bring to the boil. As soon as it starts to boil turn down the heat and allow to simmer gently for five minutes. Bring it back up to boiling point and then remove the tea bag.
Pour the mixture at a steady pace into the sugar and egg whisking it very quickly and continuously until it has thickened.
Strain the mixture through a sieve if there any lumps and pour it into the prepared dishes. You can use ramekins or standard sized tea cups will suffice. Fill six cups to two thirds full.
To cook the crème brulées, fill a tray or oven proof dish to a quarter with water, making sure there is enough room for all the dishes to fit in. Bake for about 40 minutes and top up the water if necessary.
Remove the crème brulées from the oven.
Heat your grill to hot. Sprinkle with a thin layer of brown sugar and place them under the grill until it forms a crisp layer.
Cool for at least ten minutes before serving.
For the apples
30g of sultanas
30g of raisins
10g of almonds, roughly chopped
2 tbs of muscovado sugar
2 tsp of ground cinnamon
2 tbs of soft butter
4 large cooking apples, cored and then scored around the circumference
For the custard
2 egg yolks
20g of caster sugar
1 level tsp of cornflour
50 mls of cream
260 mls of milk
1 vanilla pod, scraped or 1 tsp of vanilla essence
Heat your oven to 200C.
With a wooden spoon beat the sultanas, raisins, chopped almonds, muscovado sugar and butter together until combined.
Place the apples into an oven proof dish and fill each cavity with a quarter of the mixture.
Bake until the flesh of the apples is completely soft.
To make the custard, whisk the egg yolks, sugar and cornflour in a bowl until they become paler and then set aside.
Pour the cream and milk into a heavy based saucepan and add the vanilla. Bring them to a gentle boil then turn down the heat to allow them to simmer for a minute.
Pour the milky liquid into the egg mixture and whisk it immediately and continuously for a minute.
Return it all to the saucepan, stir continuously over a low heat until thickened. Pour the custard over the apples while it is still warm.
For the pastry
140g of cold butter, cut into small cubes
225g of plain flour
½ tsp of ground nutmeg
1 egg, lightly beaten
50g of golden caster sugar
the zest of two oranges
For the filling
8 egg yolks
90g of caster sugar
250 mls of cream
250 mls of milk
1 tsp of vanilla essence
1 tsp of ground nutmeg
Pre heat your oven to 180 degrees and grease and flour an 8inch flan tin. It is easiest to use a loose based tin.
To make the pastry rub the butter into the flour and nutmeg until it looks like rough breadcrumbs. This is best done quickly so that the butter does not start to melt and become greasy.
Beat the egg, sugar, vanilla and zest together until combined and the sugar has started to melt.
Stir the egg mixture into the flour mixture with a fork until combined. Bring it together completely with your hands. Wrap the ball of dough in baking parchment and place it into the fridge to cool.
Allow the pastry to rest for at least an hour and then roll to about 3 mm in depth. Lay the pastry into the tin and gently press it down. Leave a few mils of pastry above the height of your tin. It may shrink during baking and this ensures that the custard will not overflow. Bake it blind for 15 minutes, with a sheet of parchment on the base covered in baking beans. After the 15 minutes remove the beans and parchment. Continue baking for a further five minutes or until it is just turning golden.
Beat the egg yolks and sugar for the custard until they become pale and set aside.
Add the cream, milk, vanilla and nutmeg to a saucepan and bring it to a simmer, just before it boils. Whisk it into the egg mixture and continue to whisk until it is completely combined and smooth. If lumps do form sieve the mixture.
Pour the custard mixture into the tart case and bake for about 35 minutes at 140 degrees. The filling should be just set with a very slight wobble still in the centre. Allow to cool in the tin. Sprinkle with some more grated nutmeg before serving.