On Saturday night I give myself permission not to set an alarm. I sleep until I wake up, which is usually within minutes of when an alarm would have rung anyway. Or until the dogs decide this sleeping business has gone on long enough. And since I don’t have anyplace I need to be by a particular time, Sunday breakfast tends to be a moveable feast. I read recently that brunch is back. Whatever you call it, this warm custard is perfect for mornings when breakfast verges into lunch. I've also had it for dinner, along with some grilled asparagus.
Maple and bacon have a natural affinity for each other. I added some shallots to the mix because they sweeten beautifully when caramelized. I always have apples on hand for the bunnies, and since I'm the hand that feeds, I see myself as having a few rights. As the season's fruits get better and better, I'll be making this with peaches, with apricots . . . A splop of tart-ish crème fraîche at the end is a perfect finish to the sweet notes of fruit, bacon, and maple. Add a few pinches of smoked paprika to bring it all together.
I always cook bacon in the oven. It crisps uniformly, and it doesn’t make an unholy mess of the stovetop. Too, the oven is ready to bake the custards. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Cut bacon strips into 1/2” slices and place in a mixing bowl. Add diced shallots, minced rosemary, and maple syrup. Toss with tongs or with your hands so that everything carries a coat of syrup. Arrange everything on a baking sheet lined with parchment. When bacon is browned and crisp, shallots will also be caramelized, 20-25 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly (stick the baking sheet in the fridge for a couple of minutes if you need to). Reduce oven heat to 350 degrees.
While the bacon is cooking, peel, core, and dice the apples. Rinse out the bowl you used for the bacon, shallots, and syrup, and use it to whisk together the eggs, cream, and pepper. Stir the diced apples.
When bacon and shallots are done and slightly cooled, stir them into the custard mixture along with their juices/syrup.
Run a pastry brush over some soft butter and brush the insides of 4 4-ounce ramekins.
Use a large spoon or a ladle to divide custard among the ramekins. Set ramekins on a baking sheet with a lip all the way around. Fill a large measuring cup or pitcher with very hot tap water. Set the baking sheet in the oven with the front edge hanging off the edge of the rack by an inch or so. Pour hot water into the baking sheet until it almost reaches the lip. You are creating a water bath that will ensure that the center of your custards will be done at the same time as the perimeter. Gently slide the baking sheet the rest of the way into the oven.
Oven should still be set to 350 degrees. Bake custards for 30-40 minutes. Custards are done when puffed and golden on top, and slightly tender when you tap the surface.
I use a canning jar lifter to remove custards from a water bath. Remove the custards to a cooling surface. Allow to cool for 5-10 minutes before serving. If you wish to gild the lilly, top each with a spoonful of crème fraîche and pinches of smoked paprika just before you serve. Serve with some good grilled bread and a fruit salad.
A note about the water bath: the safest way to remove the baking sheet from the oven is to turn off the heat, and leave the door ajar so that the water can cool. When it reaches a temperature that you feel comfortable handling it, go ahead and carefully carry it to a sink.