Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Normandy Apricot Custard

Maybe I'll have a photo of this special dessert this summer. But only if I can still find apricots in the market by the time I'm able to walk again.

Several years ago I attended a cooking class taught by Susan Hermann Loomis. She's an American woman who took a left turn in her life and went to Paris. Attended culinary school, found jobs here and there cooking for wealthy families, met a Frenchman, married, bought a home in Normandy, settled down, had two children, then wrote a cookbook. And opened her home for cooking classes. And no, I didn't attend a class at her home in Normandy. Maybe one day.

Susan's a fun personality, and her cooking is quite straightforward. She cooks rustic. Country French. Seasonal. But oh, so delicious. This was the one recipe from her class that I made as soon as it was apricot season. I bought her cookbook and memoir On Rue Tatin and read it cover to cover as soon as I brought it home from the class. It's not currently in print, but you can find used copies. But, I very much enjoyed her breezy style, and learning more details about her life. I can't say that I've made very many of the dishes (you know, so many cookbooks, so little time, especially with a broken FOOT!), but I loved reading about them. I tagged the book in many places to remind me of the things I want to make.

I don't cook with apricots very often. They have such a short season, after all. But they're very much a celebrated fruit in Normandy, the region where Susan lives. She obviously subscribes to the Slow Food movement, using only local and seasonal ingredients. Some apricot varieties cook better than others - if you're not careful they become mush. But if you have a good source, and they are full of flavor, by all means, this would make a super end to a meal. Be sure to make this in a baking dish that's got at least 1/2 inch of space once you add all the ingredients, or it may bubble over in your oven. My notes remind me that it's the topping that makes the dish. Otherwise it would be a fruit with a custard on top, I suppose. But this has a simple eggy topping that adds a piquant taste to it. Goes very well with those perfectly baked apricots.

Normandy Apricot Custard
Recipe: Susan Herrmann Loomis, chef and author
Servings: 8
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 pounds apricots -- slightly under-ripe
1/4 cup light brown sugar
6 tablespoons sugar -- infused with vanilla
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 large eggs
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 cup milk
1/3 cup sugar -- infused with vanilla
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large egg
1. Preheat oven to 400°. Thoroughly butter and flour a 2-quart round baking dish about 4 inches deep. You may also use 1-cup ramekins.
2. Fruit Layer: Melt butter in medium wide skillet over medium heat. Add apricots and brown sugar, stir and saute until they are hot through and sugar has melted and begun to caramelize, about 8 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.
3. Custard Layer: In a large bowl mix together the sugar and 2 T. of butter until the mixture is pale yellow and light, about 3-5 minutes. Mix in eggs one at a time until thoroughly combined. Use a whisk on the mixture until it is light and pale yellow. Sift the flour and baking powder over the bowl, whisking as you do, so it incorporates smoothly into the mixture. Then whisk in the milk. Fold in the warm apricots and the cooking juices, then pour the entire mixture into the prepared mold. Bake in center of oven until it begins to puff and look golden, about 30 minutes.
4. Topping Layer: While the custard is baking, whisk together vanilla sugar and remaining 4 T. butter until light and fluffy. Whisk in the egg until combined. Remove the baked apricot custard from the oven and spread this topping over it. Return it to the oven and bake until golden and bubbling, an additional 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool to room temperature before serving.
5. Serve with a rosemary sprig as garnish.
NOTES : The topping mixture is what makes this dish. Can be made several hours ahead of serving. Whatever bowl you bake this in, be sure to leave at least 1/2 inch of space below the edge, as it may overflow. Use a tall bowl, not a wide flat one. Vanilla sugar is simply regular sugar to which you have added a vanilla bean, cut in half. It will exude some scent to the sugar. Remove after a couple of months. When you add new sugar to your canister, add another vanilla bean. Since apricot season is so short, maybe this could be made with pluots instead.
Per Serving: 335 Calories; 16g Fat (41.9% calories from fat); 6g Protein; 44g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 118mg Cholesterol; 103mg Sodium. Exchanges: 1/2 Grain(Starch); 1/2 Lean Meat; 1 Fruit; 0 Non-Fat Milk; 3 Fat; 1 1/2 Other Carbohydrates.
To print the recipe, click title at top.

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