Make Ahead

Creamy Saffron Custard with White Chocolate and Pistachio

February 16, 2012
1 Ratings
  • Prep time 20 minutes
  • Cook time 15 minutes
  • Serves 8-10
Author Notes

I thought I would channel the mild, sweet Middle Eastern flavors of pistachio, orange-flower water and cardamom common to both Mahlabi and Sachlav (cold and hot Middle Eastern custards) that I had sampled at a small cafe one spring day in Jerusalem and again at a favorite neighborhood restaurant, The Hummus Place. I found that a hint of mild white chocolate complemented these flavors, and created a beautifully creamy yet light pudding. The basics come from Claudia Roden's Sutlage-Muhallabeyeh in The Book of Jewish Food, and Carine Goren's Mahlabi in her book Sweet Secrets. My version includes white chocolate and saffron to offer a non-traditional version of this delicate dessert. —creamtea

Test Kitchen Notes

Creamtea gives us a detailed recipe that will keep you from ever scorching this complex, creamy dessert. So while you may not like using double-boilers, you will be very grateful at the end. I particularly enjoyed the way that the melted chocolate is later tempered with the warm pudding mix. Most rewarding is the careful balance you need to strike among your spices. The choice of cardamom with orange blossom water and white chocolate is just brilliant. Using 2 % milk keeps this from getting overly thick. So follow the careful directions and enjoy the unique subtle blend of all these extraordinary flavors. —Sagegreen

What You'll Need
  • 6-8 threads saffron
  • 9-12 pods green cardamom, (depending on potency. If newly purchased, you may want to use the lesser amount). husks removed and seeds pounded in a mortar and pestle along with the toasted saffron (see step 2, below)
  • 1/3 cup organic, granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup cornstarch
  • 3-1/2 ounces fine quality white chocolate, finely chopped
  • 5-1/2 cups 2% or whole milk
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1 to 1-1/2 teaspoons orange-flower water
  • chopped, toasted pistachios as garnish
  1. Have ready 8-10 custard cups, an equivalent number of squares of plastic wrap to fit the cups, and a tea strainer.
  2. Pre-heat oven to 150º F (or lowest setting). When warm, place the saffron on a small square of aluminum foil and place in the center of oven to toast lightly to bring out the fragrance. After 5 minutes, turn off the oven, leaving the saffron in the oven for another 5 minutes, then remove. Empty into a mortar along with the cardamom seeds, removed from their husks, then pound to a powder and set aside (alternatively, the saffron can be crumbled with your fingers; the cardamom will still need to be pounded).
  3. Place one inch of water in the base of a double boiler and bring to a simmer. In the top of the double boiler (or in a small bowl that sits on the rim), place the chopped white chocolate and fit the top on the base, over but not touching the water. Turn off the flame to avoid scorching. With a small whisk, stir the white chocolate until just melted and completely smooth. Set aside while you prepare the rest.
  4. Prepare a second double boiler with one inch of water and bring to the simmer. Turn heat to very low while you continue with the next step. (Or use the base of the same double boiler, removing the bowl with the melted chocolate).
  5. In a small bowl, stir together the sugar and the cornstarch thoroughly, breaking up any lumps. When completely mixed, slowly whisk 1 cup of the (cold) milk into the center of the cornstarch mixture, gradually incorporating the rest of the mixture from the perimeter into the milk. Whisk until smooth.
  6. In a heavy saucepan, scald the remaining 4-1/2 cups of milk, stirring. Whisk in the pinch of salt. Pour the hot milk into the top of the large double boiler, place over the simmering water, and stir. Give the cornstarch-milk mixture in the separate bowl a final whisk to re-incorporate and scrape the cornstarch-milk mixture into the scalded milk.
  7. Switch to a heat-proof spatula and continue to heat and stir the cornstarch mixture over medium-low heat, scraping the bottom of the pot, until thickened. This may take 10- 20 minutes or so. The mixture will lightly coat the back of the spoon. When it does, remove from heat, separate top and bottom of the double boiler, and stir in the most of the spice and up to 1 teaspoon of the orange flower water. You will want to add the flavorings incrementally--gentle, fragrant flavor is key. Stir well; the spices tend to clump together. Taste the mixture for a good blend of flavors--neither the spice nor the orange flower water should predominate. Add the remaining spice and 1/2 teaspoon orange-flower water according to taste. (The strength of different brands of orange-flower water may vary). Whisk again to incorporate the spices, then take a one-cup dry measure and scoop out about 3/4 cup of the custard, whisk it into the white chocolate to blend, then scrape the white chocolate mixture back into the custard, mixing completely.
  8. Using a ladle and the tea strainer for smoothness, strain the custard into each of the custard cups. Place a square of plastic wrap directly on the surface of each custard to prevent a skin from forming. Allow the custards to cool to lukewarm, then chill in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours. They will firm up with chilling, yet remain creamy.
  9. Just before serving, garnish with chopped toasted pistachios.

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