So far, one of the best parts about living in Boston is my proximity to Toscanini’s burnt caramel ice cream. I’m not even that into ice cream but this flavor, with its slight bitter edge to cut the richness, is crack-like. I attempted to capture it in a pudding, and after incinerating a lot of sugar, I think I finally got it. —Midge
Test Kitchen Notes
Puddings thickened with cornstarch make great comfort food, but Midge's luxurious caramel custard, which uses egg yolks as its only setting agent, elevates pudding to dinner party fare. As with any egg-enriched custard, the key is careful tempering, and do take the caramel as far as your nerves will allow -- you'll be rewarded with a rich pudding that has just the right balance of bitter and sweet. Our favorite technique of all? Midge has you start the water bath with cool water, rather than hot; this cooks the pudding slowly but very gently, giving it the most incredibly silken, glossy structure. -A&M —The Editors
Pour the cream into a small saucepan. Split vanilla bean and scrape the seeds into the cream; toss the scraped pod in there too. Turn the heat to low to gently warm the cream.
Reserve 2 tablespoons of the sugar; pour remaining sugar and 1 1/2 tablespoons water into heavy-bottomed saucepan and set over medium heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Then crank the heat to high and let the liquid bubble away—don’t stir; just swirl the pan occasionally—until it turns dark amber. This takes about 4 minutes, but watch closely because it happens fast.
Moving quickly, fish the vanilla pod out of the cream and save for another use. Slowly stir the warm cream into the caramel over medium heat. Once it comes to a boil (it will fast), turn off the heat and let the mixture cool for about 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, whisk the egg yolks with the remaining sugar and a pinch of salt in a medium bowl. Whisk a little of the cream/caramel mixture into the egg yolks. Gradually add the rest, until it's all incorporated.
Strain the mixture into a pitcher or large measuring cup and pour into four ramekins. Place the ramekins in a shallow pan half filled with cold water. If you like your caramel a bit salty like me, sprinkle a few extra grains of sea salt on top of each one. Cook at 300 degrees for about an hour to an hour and 15 minutes. Chill for at least 3 hours, but it's best if you can chill it overnight. Serve with whipped heavy cream.
I’m a journalist who’s covered everything from illegal logging in Central America to merit pay for teachers, but these days I write mostly about travel. I’ve been lucky enough to find myself in some far-flung locales, where poking around markets and grocery stores is my favorite thing to do. Cooking, especially baking, is my way of winding down after a long day; there’s nothing like kneading bread dough to bring you back to earth.