Whether baked in cups or in one container, the ingredients are the same, only the oven temperature and baking time are different.
For each cup of milk (I prefer half-and-half or heavy cream) you’ll need one large or extra large egg (jumbo eggs have a lot of white compared to their yolks and are great for recipes calling for egg WHITES).
Heat the oven to 350º
- 3 cups of milk
- 3 eggs
- 1/3 cup of sugar (or more, if you’ve a sweet tooth)
- 1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons of vanilla, according to individual taste
If you have a large utility pitcher, mix the ingredients in that for ease in pouring; and a fine-meshed sieve to catch anything that isn’t smooth.
Have ready a large kettle of hot water - let it simmer, it’s not hurting anything.
Heat the milk on top of the stove or in a microwave until it is really hot. Obviously, you’ll choose the correct means of holding said milk, right?
Beat the eggs - not too much - add the sugar and vanilla and beat again - not too much.
When the milk is truly hot, pour it VERY slowly into the egg mixture while stirring all the time with a spoon. When the eggs are tempered (and won’t turn into very loose scrambled eggs), pour in the rest of the milk. Use the mixer for a small whirl. With a spoon or bowl scraper, again stir the mixture to make sure all the eggy mixture has been thoroughly combined.
Have ready a 9x12” baking pan. Arrange six custard cups (Pyrex, pottery, whatever is oven safe). Strain the custard mixture (evenly) into the cups.
Now comes the topping - or not. If you do not like freshly grated nutmeg, a baked custard can stand on its own. I LOVE freshly grated nutmeg and grate it heavily over each cup. Do what pleases you.
Pour the hot water half-way up the cups. Be careful when you put it in the oven - it’s hot.
Bake for 30 minutes, then check. DO NOT BAKE CUSTARD UNTIL IT NO LONGER JIGGLES. It will be more like rubber than custard. When it’s still shaky, remove from the oven. Let rest for ten minutes. Carefully lift each cup to a towel on a tray. Slip it into the refrigerator. When just cool, cover each with plastic. As well, they may then be stacked, thus saving some room in the refrigerator.
Alternately, the custard may be baked in one bowl for about 45 minutes at 325º. When baked in a bowl, unless the custard is going to be consumed at one time, you need to know how to keep the custard firm. Once cut into, the whey will leak and make a watery mess, very ugly. For instance, two days ago, I baked a custard in one bowl. After taking a portion, I tucked a sheet of paper toweling into the space left by the serving spoon. The next day, I tossed the paper and replaced it. Now the custard is all gone - yeah, I ate the whole thing. Heaven!
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Another idea: FLAN. In Mexico it’s often made with part condensed milk. This is not to be confused with evaporated milk. Setting Mexican flan aside, we’re going to make something with 1000 less calories. Truly!
For this dessert, the custard recipe is the same, although I do recommend heavy cream - and a quart sized straight-sided bowl is preferable.
In a heavy skillet, pour 3/4 cup of white sugar. Turn the heat high and watch it when it begins to darken. With a heat resistant spoon, begin to stir the sugar. Reduce the heat when indicated. When it’s gleaming amber and every grain of sugar is gone, pour it into the waiting bowl and move the bowl to distribute the syrup. Pour the custard into the bowl and treat as you did the original immediately above. Refrigerate. To serve, press a dinner-size plate on top of the bowl. Turn it over. Wait a few seconds to let the sugar syrup do its thing. Remove the bowl and dive in.
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CRÊME BRÛLER* may be created with the same custard - and with heavy cream, please.
Have ready an oven-safe glass or pottery 7x11” pan. It’s going to bake in a 9x13” pan, again with hot water half-way up the sides of the baking pan. Bake at 350º for 25 minutes; check to see how “done” it appears. Just as with the other versions, treat this one the same and put it in the refrigerator, uncovered. While it’s cooling, prepare the BRÛLER part.
In the meantime, that same liquid sugar used for the FLAN is prepared and then poured onto a jelly roll pan and let set. When it is set, remove it - it’ll be in pieces, and you may have to thump on it - and put it into a heavy paper bag. With rolling pin - whatever - pulverize it. (I’ve never tried this in the food processor, but it seems to me if the bowl is clean and dry it would work.)
Have ready your broiler on High and the top oven shelf about four inches from the flame.
Remove the cooled custard from the refrigerator: Sprinkle the sugar as evenly as possible over the cold custard. Set it under the broiler and WATCH IT.
You’ll know when it’s ready - but just to make sure, eyeball it after five minutes, etc.
*Brûler: I don’t know when it became “brule.” Perhaps non-French speakers heard it AS “brulay,” because that “r” would be only a hint coming from the mouth of a French person. But it really is Brûler , complete with another diacritical mark. In addition, it may be spelled Crème Brûlée. The difference may be “to burn,” and “is or has BEEN burned.” All of you out there familiar with François, sound off.