Wednesday, January 30, 2013
Coffee Custard with Toasted Swiss Meringue Kisses & Hazelnut Brittle
This custard almost defeated me. I made it three different times before I got it just how I wanted. It was a bit of an experiment really. Every recipe I came across for anything even remotely similar involved instant coffee or espresso powder, but I wanted nothing to do with that.
I actually find the use of instant coffee or espresso powder in desserts somewhat perplexing. I guess I get it in some sense--it's easy, quick, and cheap. But I so often hear about the importance of using the best quality chocolates or top notch vanillas or freshly squeezed lemon/lime/orange juice or freshly grated spices or unbleached flours, but what about coffee? Why, in baking, do we settle for instant (i.e., freeze dried, low grade, poor quality coffee) instead of the good stuff (i.e., good quality, freshly roasted, responsibly bought, thoughtfully treated coffee)? And when coffee is the sole or primary flavor in a dessert, why use something with no flavor at all except the roast?
In this custard, I didn't want just roast flavor. I wanted everything I get from drinking the greatest cup of coffee ever. I wanted the sweet, the fruit, the delicate, the nuance. I wanted it all!
Now, I'm clearly not a coffee expert, and I don't pretend to be. Anything mentioned about coffee in this post, or anywhere on this blog for that matter, comes from my highly coffee educated boyfriend, Dale, one of the handsome men behind Steady Hand Pour House in Atlanta.
Dale actually helps me quite a bit with how to achieve good coffee flavor in my desserts without resorting to instant coffee. For this custard specifically, I used Cuvee (out of Austin), which is what we had in the house at the time. Dale determined the proportion of coffee to cream, had me grind it coarse, steep it a specific amount of time, and strain it well. And the result was pretty damn amazing. It tasted like the best cup of coffee in sweet creamy form. Like a cream-filled french press. Like delicious.
I topped each custard with four fluffy kisses of Swiss meringue, which I lightly torched to toasty. For a little crunch, I added hazelnut brittle, which has an intensely nutty flavor.
If you don't feel like making the meringue and/or brittle, this custard is lovely on its own or with a dollop of whipped cream. Or you can easily turn it into coffee crème brûlée by sprinkling the tops of the chilled custards with demerara sugar and torching it until melted and golden. Whatever your heart desires. I guess it really is like a cup of coffee in that sense.
Coffee Custard with Toasted Swiss Meringue Kisses & Hazelnut Brittle
makes 8 small servings
*As per Dale, when buying coffee, head to your local coffee shop and see what they suggest for freshly roasted and responsibly purchased coffee. If you don't have access to such a shop, look for beans that have been roasted no more than two weeks ago (longer than that, and the coffee is old), and buy direct trade (i.e., relationship or sustainable) whenever possible. [If direct trade is unavailable, fair trade is the next best thing (although the coffee may be older than two weeks).]
560 ml (2 1/3 cups) heavy cream
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
26 g (1/4 cup whole beans) good quality coffee*, coarsely ground
6 egg yolks (reserve whites for the meringue)
115 g (1/2 cup plus 1 Tbsp.) granulated sugar
Swiss Meringue (recipe below)
Hazelnut Brittle (recipe below)
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Place 4-oz. jars or other similarly sized ramekins in a baking pan and set aside. Set a pot of water on the stove to heat.
In a large saucepan over medium heat, whisk cream and vanilla bean pod and seeds together. Heat the cream, stirring frequently, to the scalding point (about 180 degrees F). Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk yolks and sugar together until combined.
When the cream reaches the scalding point, lightly whisk in ground coffee and immediately reduce heat to simmer. Steep coffee for three and a half minutes, remove from heat, and pour through a fine mesh strainer into a small bowl. Whisking rapidly, slowly pour strained and still hot cream into the yolk mixture. Divide among the jars, filling to the bottom lip of each jar (about 2/3 full). Skim off any thick foam or bubbles from the tops with a spoon. (Although the coffee will cause the cream to have a natural thin foam on top, any thick foam that is left will result in an unpleasant spongy texture on top of the custard.)
Pull the middle rack of the oven out slightly and place the baking pan on it. Slowly pour the water that's been heating on the stove into the pan until slightly more than halfway up the sides of the jars. Bake for 20 minutes, rotate pan, and bake until custard is set but still shivering in the center, about 15 minutes.
Remove pan from oven and let cool for about 20 minutes or until jars are cool enough to be handled. Remove the jars from the water bath and place in the refrigerator to cool (I usually cover them with a clean, thin kitchen towel). Once bottom and sides of the jars are cool, cover with plastic wrap and chill another three hours or preferably overnight.
Using a large plain round tip, pipe Swiss meringue on top of custard, lifting upward as you pipe to form kisses. Toast the meringue with a kitchen torch. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.
Serve topped with a chunk or two of brittle. Custards will hold covered in the refrigerator about 3 days.
3 (90 g) egg whites
150 g (3/4 cup) granulated sugar
Using a paper towel, wipe the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk attachment, and whisk with lemon juice and let dry. Place egg whites and sugar in the bowl and set over a pot of simmering water. Be sure the bottom of the bowl is not touching the water. Heat, whisking lightly and constantly, until mixture reaches 160 degrees F.
Dry the bottom of the bowl and transfer to the stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat on medium-low speed for about a minute then increase speed to medium-high until meringue is thick, glossy, and holds stiff peaks, about 10 minutes.
This recipe makes more meringue than you need for the custards. Feel free to halve it, or eat/bake/makeapie with the extra.
200 g (1 cup) granulated sugar
1/2 cup hazelnuts, roughly chopped
Line a baking sheet with a silicon baking mat (parchment will work too). Place sugar in a small saucepan and set over medium-high heat. When sugar starts to melt, begin stirring with a heatproof spatula. Continue stirring constantly until sugar is melted and deep amber in color (yay, you just made dry caramel!).
Add hazelnuts and stir to evenly coat. Immediately pour onto prepared baking sheet and spread into an even layer. (Be sure to work quickly after you add the nuts, as the caramel will begin to harden almost immediately.) Let cool completely then break the brittle into chunks.