A couple weeks ago, my friend Kirstin and I took what we thought was the last lake dip of the season. It was predicted to be the final warm day, and waning summer called to us. It was a mood-elevating pleasure, despite an offputting amount of algae, which Kirstin encouraged me to think of as chia pudding, or, as it appears here, pretty little stars.
I don’t care for chia pudding, but I am a devoted fan of the other varieties. I didn’t eat it much as a child; my mom tended toward cakes and pies. She was a fan of the healthy homemade, so we never had any of that jello instant stuff around. I know Bill Cosby said it was nutritious, and certainly, that’s a man I trust, but I think instant pudding is an oxymoron. Some things just aren’t meant to be quick. Like wine, cheese, or the building of Rome, sometimes you have to wait.
I realize tapioca pudding is controversial because of the frog’s eggs texture. Never one to be put off by amphibians, I love the stuff. But this week I made a grave error, forever to be noted in the Annals of Bad Pudding (the five volume set). I decided to make a coconut tapioca pudding (using coconut water and coconut milk in place of cow’s milk). I wasn’t winging it; I had an actual recipe.
Pudding requires stoveside vigiliance (I still don’t know why my custard heyday was when my girls were tiny and demanding. How did I not scorch every batch?) and after much attentiveness, I was rewarded with a grainy, inedible, gelatinous mass of…fish eggs. Even the color was unpleasant. It was so bad I had to throw it out and Eaters, you know I abhor waste.
I needed to put the whole incident out of the my mind and the only way to heal (from this and other slights) is with more pudding. I turned to Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything, because he usually knows how to help me. He has a recipe for vanilla custard with a lemon variation, which was exactly what I had been craving ever since I bought a bag of Meyer Lemons. When life gives me (literal) lemons, I must make lemon custard.
If you haven’t had Meyer Lemons, which are thought to be a lemon crossed with an orange, they are an aromatic delight. Do you remember when no restaurant menu was free of Meyer Lemon dressings, reductions, zest, essence or other iteration of the fruit? Well, just because it is no longer chic, doesn’t mean it isn’t delicious. Some foods, like custard, have timeless appeal, and should not be subject to the whims of fashion. .
I baked this custard in a cookie crust because I was in the mood to impress myself. But it isn’t necessary, and it interfered with my cherished delusion that custard is a health food. It was difficult to maintain that illusion when I was eating mounds of pudding-saturated almond cookie crumbs. But if I am going to live a lie, I want it to be a sweet one.
Above you will see the dish it was baked in. Why no photo of the actual custard? Because I ate it. I usually don’t binge like that, so don’t go worrying that I have a problem. My husband was out of town, so it was all secret eating; nothing wrong with that surely? Furtive consumption of mammoth helpings of dessert? Nothing to worry about here.
This is not a complicated recipe – much easier than custard cooked entirely on the stovetop – and typing it out takes about as long as making it. It does involve using a bain marie. Yes, that’s right. Read on:
My Meyer Lemon Variation on Marc Bittman’s Lemon Variation on Vanilla Custard
2 cups heavy cream, light cream or milk, or some mixture thereof
3 eggs, plus 4 yolks (or “yellows,” as my daughter says)
1/2 cup strained lemon juice
1/2 cup sugar (Bittman suggests 3/4 with the lemon version, but Meyer lemons are not particularly tart, so I used 1/2)
Place the cream in a small saucepan on medium and cook until it begins to steam. Use a whisk or electric mixer to beat the eggs and yolks with the salt and sugar until pale yellow and fairly thick. Preheat oven to 300 F and set a kettle of water to boil (this is the bain marie bit).
Add cream gradually to the egg mixture, stirring constantly. Pour the mixture into a large bowl or a few custard cups. Place the bowl or cups in a baking pan and pour hot water in, to within about 1 inch of the top of the bowl or cups. Bake until the mixture is still a bit wobbly in the middle, about 30 minutes for the cups and longer for the bowl. Cream sets faster than milk, and I overcooked mine, so take it out before you think it is done. It firms up considerably once it’s chilled.
Note: If you use this custard as a base for ice cream (and OMDG [Oh my domestic goddess!] let me know if you do!) you might want to add some extra sugar since the colder a food is, the less your tongue perceives the sweetness.