A few weeks ago, Jenni of Pastry Methods and Techniques posed an interesting challenge. She wanted to play with hot and cold, temperatures and flavors. I love this sort of game. Let’s see, cold custard… crème caramel is one of the easiest and tastiest ones I know. Now how can we warm it up? This being Fall, warm spices like cinnamon and ginger immediately spring to mind. (I considered star anise, but upon sticking my nose in the jar, I decided that anise/licorice is a distinctly cool flavor.) So we have a warm-tasting cold thing, how about a cool-tasting warm thing to go with it? I think pears are on the cool end of the flavor spectrum, so to speak, but if we cooked them with butter and sugar until they were caramelized and a little sticky? Then they would be hot, and awesome on top of a creamy dessert.
And are they ever! The spiced crème caramel has an almost pumpkin pie-like flavor, the caramel makes it decadent, and the pears keep it from going overboard. Personally, I think these would make a great Thanksgiving dessert, as long as you don’t have any die-hard traditionalists at your table. And maybe even if you do – it’s good enough to change some minds.
I’m very interested to see what other people have come up with in response to Jenni’s challenge, so it’s fortunate that she’ll be posting a roundup of hot-and-cold inspired desserts on December 1st. Which means you still have time to play along, if you’re so inclined.
Spiced Crème Caramel with Hot Caramel Pears
Warm spices, cold, creamy custard, hot pears and a double dose of caramel make this darn near my ideal Fall dessert. It would be right at home at the end of an elegant holiday meal. As a bonus, it’s completely do-ahead: the custard needs time to chill, and the pears can be reheated in a snap.
For the Crème Caramel:
9 oz. / 265 ml milk (whole is best, 2% is ok, but please not skim)
3 oz. / 89 ml cream
3 Tbsp. Brown sugar
2 Tbsp. Sugar
1 stick cinnamon
2 whole cloves
A few flakes of whole mace, if you can get it, or a few grates of fresh nutmeg
1 piece of crystallized ginger, sliced
A pinch of salt (I used vanilla salt, which is salt with a vanilla bean scraped into it)
½ cup sugar, or thereabouts, plus some water.
- Preheat the oven to 330 F / 165 C.
- Combine the milk, cream, sugar, spices, and salt in a medium saucepan. Bring up to a boil, remove from heat, cover, and let steep 15-30 minutes.
- Meanwhile, put the sugar in a small pan and add just enough water to moisten it. Place over medium-high heat and cook without stirring until it begins to brown. Swirl it gently until it is a deep amber color (or even darker – I like mine when it just starts to smoke). Quickly pour a thin layer of caramel into the bottom of five ramekins. Set aside.
- Strain the spiced milk into a blending-appropriate container, add the eggs, and blend until smooth. Pour this custard into the prepared ramekins.
- Place the ramekins into a large oven-proof dish. Put the dish in the oven, then fill it with hot tap water until the water level is about halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake until the custard is just set (it should wobble a bit in the middle when jostled), about 30-35 minutes. Cool completely. These can be made up to four days in advance, but keep them covered and chilled.
For the pears:
3 ripe Bosc pears, peeled, halved, and cored
2 Tbsp. / 30 g unsalted butter
½ cup / 100 g sugar
- Melt the butter in a medium nonstick skillet. Add the sugar and cook until the sugar starts to melt. Place the pear halves in the sauce and cook over medium-low heat, turning occasionally, until evenly caramelized. Serve immediately or chill and reheat.
For the dessert:
To unmold the chilled custards, run a thin-bladed knife around the edge. Invert the ramekin onto a plate and shake a bit to loosen. It should come out in a splash of caramel sauce. Top the custards with a warm pear half and a little extra caramel sauce from the pears.
Makes 5 desserts, plus one extra pear half.