Maple syrup – that is, the pure stuff obtained from the tree, rather than the sugary breakfast syrup that doesn’t have a whiff of actual maple in it at all – was a complete unknown to me until I was about 22 and journeying through Canada’s majestic Rocky Mountains.
I was with a tour group and we stopped off at a diner en route and got treated to a large plate of strawberry waffles. To this day, I recall the sheer bliss of wading through a mound of fluffy waffles topped with fresh strawberries and doused in a cascade of pure maple syrup. I honestly thought I’d died and gone to heaven.
The memory of that meal has stayed with me for decades, but it wasn’t until just a few years ago that I got to try pure maple syrup again. I’m not sure when New Zealand started importing the pure stuff from Canada but, while it’s readily available now, it costs a fortune. Despite the expense, I like to have some in the cupboard and often use it as a sweetener, particularly when making staples like nut butter, seed and nut bread, and granola.
Last weekend I thought it was high time I made maple syrup the hero of a dessert rather than the supporting act. So I set about looking for some inspiration and found it in Saveur’s Maple Pots de Creme recipe. To be honest, I didn’t like its recommendation of simply mixing all the ingredients and bunging them into the oven. Having made several Pots de Creme previously, there’s a time-honoured process of heating the cream before mixing with the eggs and I figured there was no reason to stop now. So I decided to use the ingredients as listed in the recipe, but follow my own process.
I was a little unsure about the recipe’s use of whole eggs, as most pots de creme use egg yolks only, which ensures a thick, rich custard. However, I was curious to see how it would turn out and tried it anyway. As it turns out, it was fine, though personally I think it tasted slightly ‘eggier’ than usual (it’s the egg whites that are responsible for that) so next time I’ll just go with the usual six egg yolks. I also felt, given the subtle taste of maple, that the three full cups of dairy diffused the flavour somewhat. So, next time, I might reduce the milk component to one cup, instead of one and a half, in order to condense the flavour.
As for garnish, the recipe suggested serving the custards with cream. However, given the slightly underwhelming flavour of the custard, I decided to add a couple of garnish components to really pump up the complexity of the dish and add some much needed taste and texture contrast. Luckily I had some strips of bacon in the freezer, so I roasted them in maple syrup and dark muscovado sugar, crushed them and sprinkled them over the cream, then poured maple syrup over top. Et voila! There’s nothing quite so delectable as that combination of sweet and salty!
I have to admit, there were some raised eyebrows when I served my family dessert topped with bacon bits! But, once they tried it they were total converts and reckoned that it was the bacon that made it so darned good. I’ll no doubt be making these puddings again some time in the future and, with a few adjustments as mentioned above, I think they could be even better. Enjoy!
- 1 1⁄2 cups milk
- 1 1⁄2 cups heavy cream
- 2 tablespoons packed light brown sugar (I used light muscovado sugar)
- 1⁄2 tsp. salt
- 1 vanilla bean, halved lengthwise, seeds scraped and reserved
- 3 egg yolks
- 2 whole eggs
- 1⁄3-1/2 cup pure maple syrup
- 3 bacon strips
- 1 tablespoon pure maple syrup
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar (I used dark muscovado sugar)
- Cream, softly whipped
- Maple roasted bacon, broken up into small pieces (see recipe above)
- Pure maple syrup, for pouring
- Preheat oven to 150°C (300°F). Put a jug of water onto boil. Place six ramekins (3/4 cup capacity) into a large, deep baking dish. It helps to put a folded tea-towel into the dish first to keep the dishes steady.
- Add the milk, cream, sugar, salt and vanilla bean/seeds to a medium sized saucepan and stir over a medium low heat, until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture is scalding (just prior to the boil). Remove pan from heat.
- Meanwhile, whisk the yolks and eggs in a bowl until thick and pale, then add a little of the hot cream mixture, whisking constantly (this tempers the yolks and ensures they don’t curdle). Pour the remaining cream in a fine stream, whisking until well combined.
- Add 1/3 cup of maple syrup and whisk to combine. Taste and see if you're happy with the flavour and add up to 3 scant tablespoons more if you'd like a stronger flavour.
- Remove the vanilla bean and strain the mixture into a pourable jug. Divide the mixture evenly between the ramekins, then carefully pour enough hot water into the baking dish to reach about half way up the sides of the ramekins. Cover the whole dish loosely with foil and carefully put the roasting pan into the oven, centre rack.
- Bake until set around the edges and a bit jello-like in the middle (around 35-45 minutes), then carefully take the ramekins out of the water bath and place on a rack to cool. Once completely cool, place in the fridge (loosely covered with foil) and chill at least 4 hours or preferably overnight, during which time they will firm up.
- Preheat oven to 200°C (400°F).
- Arrange bacon strips on a lined baking sheet, put into the centre of the oven and bake until fat is rendered and bacon is beginning to brown - 15-18 minutes.
- Remove the tray from the oven. Brush one side of the bacon with the maple syrup then sprinkle over the brown sugar. Using tongs, turn the bacon over and repeat the process.
- Put back in the oven and bake until bacon is browned and sticky, 3-5 minutes (depending on how crisp/dark you want it).
- Take the tray out of the oven and transfer the bacon to a wire rack (which is set on a baking sheet) and let bacon drain and cool.
- Once completely cooled and dry, break up the bacon with your hands and store in a sealed container until ready to use.
- About 10-15 minutes prior to serving, take the pots de crème out of the fridge – (I find if you take the chill off these custards, the flavour is better). Just before serving, dollop some cream over top, sprinkle with the bacon bits and pour some maple syrup over top (keep a small jug of it handy, as it's nice to add more as you're eating).
Food Photography Info: Canon 550D (EOS Rebel T2i); Sigma 30mm 1.4 DC ‘Art’ lens / Natural lighting