Here’s a native American twist to a classic French dessert. Massachusetts, where I lived for 11 years, is cranberry country. In the Fall, when they’re harvested, local cooks use cranberries for lots more than just sauce to go with the Thanksgiving bird. Here, their crunchy tartness is a delicious counterpoint to the smooth, sweet custard. This recipe won me a “Best of State” award in Martini and Rossi’s 1992 “State of Dessert” contest for professional chefs. —ChefJune
For the Custard
heavy cream (preferably NOT ultra-pasteurized)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Pour the cream into a medium-size saucepan. Using a sharp knife, slit the vanilla bean half lengthwise. Scrape the insides into the pan, along with the shell of the bean. Bring to a boil over high heat. Remove and set aside for 15 minutes. Remove the bean and discard.
Meanwhile, place the egg yolks and sugar in a bowl and beat until blended. Add the cream and vanilla mixture and mix well. Place 6 shallow, oval gratin dishes, about 4 or 5 inches long, in a baking dish. Pour the custard into the dishes. Add enough hot water to the baking dish to reach halfway up the sides of the gratin dishes. Place in the oven and bake for 30 minutes, or until the cream sets but does not brown. Remove the gratins and place them, uncovered, in the refrigerator for an hour (at least). [The recipe can be made ahead up to this point and refrigerated overnight.]
Before serving, preheat broiler to maximum temperature. Set the oven rack within 1 to 1 1/2 inches from the element. Evenly spread about 1/4 cup of cranberry sauce on each custard. Sprinkle the top of each gratin dish with sugar. Place on a tray and slide under the hot broiler until topping is caramelized and crisp (about 7 minutes). Or you can caramelize your Crème Brulée the same way restaurant chefs do – with a small blowtorch.
Whole Cranberry Sauce
In a non-reactive saucepan, combine sugar, orange juice concentrate and water. Stir to dissolve the sugar. Bring to the boil. Add cranberries, and return mixture to the boil. Simmer gently for about 12 minutes.
Remove from heat. Cool to room temperature. Chill. Makes about 2-1/4 cups. (You won’t need all of it for the custards.)
Teacher’s Tip: When heating the cream, bring it to a boil, but do not let it continue to cook for any length of time. Remove it from the heat as soon as a genuine boil (bubbles all over the surface) is achieved.