When it comes to desserts, custards have been long-time favorites in our family. My dad adored a Southern staple of plain boiled custard. My spouse never met a crème brûlée that he didn’t like, and will fore go exquisite cakes, tarts, or pastries on any restaurant menu for custard with a burnt sugar topping. For me easy-to-make pots de crème are irresistible.
The French version of custard, pots de crème are assembled with a basic trio of eggs, sugar, and cream and can be complemented with an infinite variety of flavors. I’ve made dark chocolate ones garnished with white chocolate whipped cream, savored chocolate and chestnut creations accented with dark rum, and swooned over butterscotch and coconut pots de crème.
This spring, though, I decided to make classic pot de crèmes scented with vanilla, tweaking the traditional version slightly. Instead of vanilla extract, the pulp from a vanilla bean provided a more subtle taste, and in place of heavy cream, crème fraîche was a more delectable option. As a contrast to the custard’s velvet-smooth texture, I added a crunchy topping of pecans and toffee.
One of the glories of all custards is that they can be prepared well in advance. These custards, for example, taste delicious after two days in the fridge, and their pecan topping holds up well even longer. If you’re a purist, you can purchase little pots de crème containers with lids, but ramekins work equally well. Custards are homey, crowd-pleasing confections, and fortunately, they just happen to be a breeze to make.
Vanilla Pots de Crème with Pecan Crunch Topping
5 large egg yolks
1 whole egg
1/4 cup sugar
1 vanilla bean, split
1 cup crème fraîche
1 cup whole milk
3/4 cup pecans,toasted and then chopped coarsely (See note)
1/2 cup toffee bits (See note)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
1 tablespoons dark brown sugar
Scant 1/8 teaspoon salt
Mint sprigs, optional
Confectioner’s sugar, optional
1. For the pots de crème, arrange a rack at center position, and preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Place six 3/4 cup ramekins, soufflés, or pots de crème cups in a large, shallow baking pan.
2. Pour the milk into a medium, heavy saucepan. Then scrape the dark pulp from the vanilla bean halves and stir it and the halves into the milk. Stir over medium heat until mixture just comes to a simmer, then remove and cool to room temperature, about 15 minutes. Discard the vanilla bean halves. Whisk the crème fraiche into the pan.
3. With an electric mixer on medium speed, beat the egg yolks and egg until well combined. Gradually add the sugar and continue to beat until the mixture thickens slightly and is light in color, 2 to 3 minutes. Reduce the speed to low, and slowly pour in the milk mixture, beating just to incorporate.
4. Divide the custard evenly among the ramekins. Pour enough hot water into the pan to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake until the centers of the custards are just set, 30 to 35 minutes.
5. Remove the ramekins to a rack, cool to room temperature, then cover and refrigerate until chilled. (Pots de crème can be made 2 days ahead.)
6. For the pecan crunch topping, arrange a rack at center position and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil and grease with vegetable oil.
7. Mix together pecans, toffee bits, melted butter, sugar, and salt in a medium bowls, and then pat the mixture in the center of the baking sheet in a single layer. Bake until toffee bits melt and spread, 3 to 5 minutes; watch carefully. Remove and cool until hard. Then transfer to a chopping board, and chop coarsely. (Pecan crunch topping can be prepared 3 days ahead. Store in an airtight container at cool room temperature or in the refrigerator.) Makes about 1 3/4 cups.
8. To serve spoon some pecan crunch topping on top of each ramekin, and pass extra topping in a small bowl. If desired, garnish each serving with a mint sprig and dust lightly with confectioner’s sugar. Serves 6.
Note: To toast pecans, spread them on a rimmed baking sheet and place in a preheated 350 degree oven until lightly browned, 5 to 6 minutes. Watch carefully. Remove and cool.
Note: Heath “Bits O’Brickle” toffee bits are available in the baking section of most supermarkets.
Copyright Betty Rosbottom 2013
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I cannot find vanilla beans in my supermarket. How much vanilla extract should I use instead?
That’s a good question. Use good quality vanilla extract and count on 1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons or to taste. Add it after you have combined the eggs, sugar, and milk mixture. If you have a Whole Foods near you, they sell vanilla beans, and you can also order them from Penzey’s on line. Hope you’ll enjoy these custards.