For me Thanksgiving starts early, and extends well beyond that time-honored Thursday of near religious gastronomy. There are dinners and brunches well before the date with friends we may not see until the new year. There are relatives and friends abound, in from out of town for the big event, and the inevitable leftover sprawl as we nurse our food comas for another day. Then the weekend comes, we ourselves go out of town to see more loves, come back, and try to relax before the whole flurry of tradition, thanks, amazing people and amazing food subsides.
Somewhere in all that eating and cooking, I get tired of the same flavors and feel the need to diversify. I mean how many times can we really eat pumpkin pie? And cranberry sauce…and golden bird, and mashed potatoes…and stuffing. Honestly I’m drooling just writing about it, but at this time of year I find myself inundated with trendy riffs on the same dishes, from every direction. I know it’s all about tradition – I myself would have a fit if my Mom didn’t prepare “tootalings” each year, a simple but gorgeous Italian soup consisting of homemade pork tortellini in chicken broth with cheese and lots of black pepper. But when delving into the huge amount of cooking I do around this time of year, being that Thanksgiving takes up practically the entire month for me, I am drawn away from the traditional –especially with desserts. I need to work in at least a few non-pumpkin/apple/cranberry treats to keep my palate entertained, and keep me inspired in the kitchen.
This week I celebrated Thanksgiving with one of my dearest friends in the universe - my old college roommate, and her beau. We dined on beef bourguignon, something I was pretty sure none of us would be eating the rest of the week. For dessert I served salted butterscotch pots de crème. What's that you ask? They are scrumptious French custards - something like a crème brulee but without the crackly top. We each got our own dainty serving, topped with homemade caramel sauce and whipped vanilla bean crème fraiche. It was the perfect little dessert, and didn’t ruin our excitement for the traditional treats that will come later this week.
When you’re burnt out on pumpkin pie give this one a whirl – it would actually work any time of year, though running your oven for an hour during the summer probably doesn’t sound that attractive. I halved the recipe for 4 servings, but the one below makes 8. It’s an absolute winner with a divine texture, and just enough salt to make it interesting.
But before we get to the recipe, happy Thanksgiving to you dear reader! I hope it’s wonderful. If you’re feeling more traditional, I made this last year. And this is always a crowd pleaser!
Salted Butterscotch Pots de Crème with Caramel Sauce
from Food and Wine, September 2011
If you're not into salt, I'd suggest going easy on the recommended scant tablespoon. Its prominent and exciting in this dish, but maybe not for everyone. Also, when making the caramel sauce, I'd recommend plain old white sugar. It's really tough to get it right using less processed organic choices. (read: you will quickly end up with a black smoking pot of evil burnt sugar the likes of which would make even Voldemort cringe.)
Pots de Crème
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter
1 cup dark brown sugar
5 cups heavy cream
1 scant tablespoon fine sea salt
1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped
6 large egg yolks
1 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Make the Pots de Crème:
Preheat oven to 325˚. In a large saucepan, melt the butter. Add brown sugar and cook on medium high, whisking constantly until smooth and bubbling, about 5 minutes (this happened more quickly with me, when halving the recipe, so be alert!). Gradually whisk in the cream. Return the mixture to a boil, whisking constantly. Add salt and vanilla seeds.
In a large heatproof bowl, whisk the egg yolks. Gradually whisk in the hot cream mixture. Strain the custard into 8 6-ounce ramekins. Set the ramekins in a small roasting pan and place it in the middle of the oven. Fill the roasting pan with enough boiling water to reach halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Cover the whole thing with foil and bake for 1 hour, until the custard is set but still wobbly in the center. Transfer the ramekins to the fridge and chill about 4 hours.
Make the Caramel Sauce:
In a medium saucepan, mix the sugar with 2 tablespoons of water and cook undisturbed over high heat until a deep amber caramel forms, about 6 minutes (but again, watch it! It can go from fine to really bad very quickly.) Using a wet pastry brush, wash down any crystals that form on the sides of the saucepan. Remove from heat. Add 2/3 cup of water and stir until smooth. Let the sauce cool, then stir in vanilla.
Top the pots de crème with the caramel sauce. I also whipped some extra vanilla bean seeds into crème fraiche and used this on top. The salty sweet custard, super sweet caramel and tangy crème fraiche were an excellent combination!