Many people think custards are difficult — all that baking in a water bath scares them off, we guess — not you, of course, but you’re a scratcher, so baking in a water bath is no more difficult than taking a bath. And, for those worried that they’re difficult, this is a great recipe to take the plunge (awww, that pun might have been intended) as it’s easy to put together.
Not only is it easy, it’s a good use for some of that summer corn that’s just starting to arrive from the fields. We didn’t get our corn through the CSA, but one of the local stores was selling first crop California corn at six ears for a dollar. We bought some — how can you go wrong — with the idea of making creamed corn, and we ended up with an ear and some heavy cream left over. This recipe will take care of both.
We found this recipe in Dining at The White House, by John Moeller, and, while we might never eat at the White House, we can eat as if we do. We think the only thing that we changed was the type of mushroom.
We use organic heavy cream because it’s just cream; no thickeners made from seaweed to make it appear thick and rich. The eggs, well, this is an egg dish, so ours come from happy hens allowed to roam. These hens make the best-tasting eggs and it is soooo worth the extra expense. Mushrooms: well, we went with oyster mushrooms (the original recipe called for morels), but feel free to change it up with another mushroom; it will need some flavor, so avoid the ubiquitous white mushroom for this dish. Finally, corn. Use only fresh. The frozen stuff tastes like starch, and don’t get us started on the canned. If you can’t get fresh, don’t bother making this recipe.
About the bain-marie: using this will make your custards smooth and creamy; if you try just baking your custards, they’ll turn out tough and rubbery. Not good.
Procedure in detail:
Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter six 4-ounce ramekins or custard cups and find a roasting pan that will hold them to use as a bain-marie, or water bath. We generally start heating a teakettle of water right about now, so it’s hot when we finish making the custards. If the water boils before you’re ready, you can just take it off the heat until you need it.
Cut corn. We just use a chef’s knife to cut the corn kernels off the cob, and, no matter what we do, some of the kernels jump off the cutting board. The hazards of cooking fresh. For the mushrooms, dice them so they’re about the size of the corn kernels.
Fry corn. In a small skillet over medium heat, melt 2 teaspoons of butter until foamy. Add the corn and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 2 minutes. You’ll see the color of the corn get brighter as it cooks, which provides you with an indication as to when it’s done. Season with salt and pepper, transfer to a small bowl, and set aside.
Fry mushrooms. Using the same skillet, melt the remaining butter, and fry the mushrooms just like the corn, about 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, add to the bowl of corn, and stir to combine.
Whisk eggs. If you have a 2-cup measuring cup with a spout, it’ll be perfect for making custard, and you’ll have no problem pouring the custard later. A small bowl will work as well. In your container, whisk together the eggs and egg yolk. By whisking the eggs now, you can be sure that the whites and yolks are thoroughly whisked together.
Whisk in cream. Add the cream to the eggs and whisk thoroughly. You could use milk, but why?
Add seasoning. Sprinkle in salt and pepper and add the finely minced garlic and stir everything into your custard. You can still use the whisk for stirring, you just don’t need to whisk.
Fill ramekins. Fill each ramekin or custard cup about halfway with the egg mixture, add about a tablespoon of corn-mushroom mixture to each cup. The mushroom mixture will sink in to the custard, which is normal. Finally, divide the remaining custard among the cup.
Bake. The easiest way to bake in a bain-marie is to set the roasting pan and custard cups on an oven rack, then add the hot water and slide the rack into the oven. Less chance of spilling that hot water, which is always good. Let the custards bake for 20 to 30 minutes, or until the center of each custard is set.
Cool. Remove the bain-marie with the hot water — careful — from the oven, and let the custards sit in the hot water bath for 15 to 20 minutes.
Serve. Run a dull knife around the edge of each custard, and upend each ramekin over a plate. It’ll slide right out. We went all fancy and placed a Parmesan crisp in each custard for serving.
Smooth and creamy, wow. That really is where the hot water bath shines; it’ll transform an ordinary egg dish into something exquisite, and, once you’ve had custards like these, you’ll agree. These corn and mushroom custards were such a delight to have with our Sunday dinner; a rich, luscious side dish that paired perfectly with porcini risotto. We will note that we were just a bit light-handed on the amount of S&P we used in making these, which we’ll correct next time, but even so, these are worth each and every star on a five-point scale.