Vanilla Bean Cream
Sometimes a little luscious creamy dessert does the trick, especially if one is trying to cut back on carbs. This week my wife and I decided to try a low carb diet for a week: no bread, pasta, fresh corn. But we did allow ourselves lots of leafy green vegetables, string beans, cabbage, zucchini, and some fresh fruit. This dessert, a classic crème brûlée without the sugary topping has only 4 grams of carbs per serving.
What you’ll need for 6 portions is 6 small pottery custard cups or ovenproof glass custard cups with a 3- to 4-ounce capacity. The beauty of this dessert is its simplicity: heavy cream, egg yolks, sugar, a pinch of salt, and vanilla. One vanilla bean adds a powerful punch and sweetness so each portion only needs 1 teaspoon of sugar. I haven’t tried this with Splenda®, but if you want to, I’d use just ½ teaspoon per serving.
To get the maximum flavor from the vanilla bean, split it lengthwise and scrape the seeds out with a small spoon. Add the seeds and pod to 2 cups of heavy cream in a small (1-quart) saucepan.
Heat the cream over medium heat until it is almost simmering. You’ll see small bubbles around the edge of the pan and a skin might have formed on top of the cream. Give the cream a stir and take the pan off the heat. Let stand 30 minutes to an hour to flavor the cream with the vanilla.
When ready to bake, adjust an oven rack to the lower third position and preheat the oven to 350˚F. Have ready a baking pan with sides no higher than the height of your baking cups. This can be a large pie plate or rectangular casserole. Also have ready a kettle of boiling water.
Put 4 large egg yolks into a medium bowl. Add a pinch of salt and stir together very gently with a fork or small rubber spatula just until the yolks are combined. Don’t beat the yolks because you don’t want any bubbles.
Reheat the cream to the simmer and stir in 2 tablespoons sugar until dissolved. Add the cream very slowly to the yolks while stirring gently with a rubber spatula. Add just a teaspoon or so of the cream at first, then continue adding in tablespoon-size dollops stirring gently all the while. The temptation is to stir rapidly to prevent the yolks from cooking. Don’t. You don’t want bubbles in the cream, which will mar the surface of the baked dessert. The vanilla pod and some seeds will remain in the pan. Scrape the seeds into the yolks and cream. Wash and dry the pod halves and immerse them into a jar of sugar to make vanilla sugar.
Put the dessert cups into your baking pan, spacing them apart slightly, and divide the cream evenly among them with a large spoon. There will be about ½ inch of headroom in the cups. If there are any bubbles on the surface of the cream, remove them with a small spoon. The cream should be smooth.
You’ll be baking the custards in a hot water bath which acts as a heat equalizer. Add boiling water to the pan with the cups to come about halfway up the sides of the cups. Place the pan in the oven and set a cookie sheet on top of the cups to act as a lid. Bake 25 to 30 minutes until a small knife inserted into a dessert comes out with just a small amount of custard sticking to it. Don’t overbake.
Remove the cups from the water and let the custards cool to room temperature. Cover cups with plastic wrap and refrigerate for several hours or overnight to set the custard.
To serve, top each dessert with a candied violet if you wish or a fresh raspberry or blueberry. Serve as is.
And there you have it, a small special dessert low in carbs and utterly delectable.