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A fine introduction


I will start off with an apology to my friend Béa, as she wrote a sprightly, colour-filled, beautiful book, and I've gone and taken the brownest, simplest, comparatively-plainest photos to show you today. That is not, however, to say that I make any apologies for choosing this recipe for Cardamom-flavoured Chocolate Crème Caramel, as that choice is one of which I'm resolutely proud.

For a moment though, the custard can wait. First, let me tell you about Béatrice Peltre.

I came to know Béa through her site, La Tartine Gourmande (through that link, you can read a little more about her, her family and work). We both started writing the same year, and I don't really remember a time when I wasn't reading her words and admiring her photographs. What's more, she's got a great sense of food, and a unique background that offers up diverse influences on the plate. It was through her that I was introduced to savoury crumbles, and her Autumnal Butternut Squash Crumble is a must in our October/November rotation.

Now this is where I'll apologize to you, kind reader, as I can't pretend this conversation about her book isn't written with a distinct and specific bias born out of an affection for its author; nonetheless, even if you've never met Béa, you'll fall for her book just the same. It makes a fine introduction.

La Tartine Gourmande: Recipes for an Inspired Life is Béatrice through and through. There are glimpses of her life with her husband and adorable daughter Lulu (heart-meltingly-sweet, that one) along with her parents and stories of her French childhood. These personal anecdotes are effortlessly woven into recipes, written clearly in Béa's distinctive voice; it is dulcet, conversational writing, peppered with phrases charmingly en français. 

For all her softness of tone, Béa's book is full of exuberant life. She has a way with colour, texture and layered patterns such that her images make you imagine that Boston must always be sunny, even in deep winter. This book is categorically cheerful.

It's also full of tasty things, like a watercress and orange salad that is bright and punchy, a classic hachis parmentier refreshed by lime and coriander, and a crab soufflé that while delicate, is dressed-to-the-bold-nines with saffron. There are, of course, tartines, and some picture-perfect verrines too. Her breakfasts and brunch suggestions are among my favourites - fresh museli or sweet-potato and carrot pancakes? I'm in.

Gluten-free, and encouraging the use of whole grains, Béa brings together recipes that bridge the everyday and the fancy, without ceremony or fuss. 

It's a thoroughly inspiring collection. 


And now, finally, this custard. As said, it is a crème caramel; a quietly elegant dessert, a custard baked upon a layer of caramel, that's then turned out on its head. Here the custard is softly-set, which is my preference, with the perfect suggestion of wobble as it is spooned. Fragrant with cardamom, the bitterness of dark chocolate mollified but maintained by the caramel that puddles over when served. The dusting of cocoa is not only for show, as that downy, dark layer offers an ephemeral contrast to the softness beneath — it melts quickly though, so sieve it over at the last possible moment and dive in right away.

Not that any such encouragement is needed.

Félicitations, Béa! 

Cardamom-flavoured chocolate crème caramel
From the book La Tartine Gourmande: Recipes for an Inspired Life. (Roost Books, 2012).

"This attractive desert is made for people like me and Philip who cannot resist anything described with words like 'dark chocolate' and 'custard'. Maybe you are one of these people too? It offers a rich silky aromatic chocolate flanlike cream balanced by a light caramel sauce that you'll want to dip your fingers into." - BP

Canola oil, for the ramekins

For the caramel
1/2 cup (100g: 3 1/2 oz) fine granulated white sugar
2 tablespoons cold water
1 tablespoons hot water

For the chocolate custard
2 1/4 cups (530 ml) whole milk
1 vanilla bean, split open and seeds scraped out
5 green cardamom pods, crushed
3 oz (90g) dark chocolate (70% cocoa)
3 large eggs
2 tablespoons blond cane sugar
Unsweetened cocoa powder, to dust

You will need: six 6-ounce ramekins

Oil six 6-ounce ramekins; set aside.

To prepare the caramel: Heat the sugar and cold water in a small pot. Swirl the pot in a circular movement so that the sugar absorbs the water. Bring to a boil, then simmer at a medium heat - do not stir the sugar at this point, although you can swirl the pot occasionally - and watch the caramel develop. It will be ready when it's golden in colour, which takes about 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from the heat, add the hot water, and stir quickly. Pour the caramel into the oiled ramekins, making sure to coat the bottom and sides; set aside.

Preheat the oven to 300°F (150°C).

To prepare the custard: In a pot, combine the milk with the vanilla bean and seeds and cardamom pods and bring to a boil,  making sure that it doesn't overflow. When it boils, remove from the heat and add the chocolate, whisking quickly so that the chocolate melts evenly. Cover and let infuse for 20 minutes. Discard the vanilla bean and cardamom, and using a fine sieve or chinois, strain the chocolate milk. 

In the meantime, using a stand mixer, beat the eggs with the sugar for 1 minutes. Pour the chocolate milk in and stir quickly. With a spoon, remove any foam that might have formed at the surface.

Divide the chocolate custard among the 6 caramel-filled ramekins and place them in a water bath. Place the custards in the oven and cook for about 50 minutes. To check if they are ready, jiggle the ramekins a little - the centre of the cream should be almost set but not fully (they'll finish setting once they cool down). Remove the ramekins from the oven and let cool completely. Cover each ramekin with plastic wrap and refrigerate for a few hours, or overnight, until the custard is completely set.

To unmold the crème caramel easily, dip the ramekins in boiling water for 1 to 2 minutes, taking care to not let the water spill in. Run the blade of a knife between the custard and the edge of the ramekins. Turn onto a plate and serve with dusted cocoa on top.

Serves 6.  

Note from Tara:

  • As you can see, I made our custard in one large dish (though I did also make the recipe as written, for research purposes of course ... surely not greed). In the case of the larger, it was a 9-inch pan used, and the baking time was about 65 minutes. If you go this way, keep checking after 50 minutes, baking until the centre lazily sways. 


Reader Comments (27)

I don't think there should be a single apology in this post - it's utterly gorgeous and the recipe looks amazing. Only you and she could make such a simple brown custard look so completely divine :-)

February 6, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterthelittleloaf

I also have Bea's book and I agree 100% with all the things you wrote down. Her book is amazing and so-so beautiful.

Your photography is also great, Tara! I love your blog! :)

February 6, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterZita

Scary recipe. If I ever attempt, I'll definitely have you on Culinary Text Tech Support.

February 6, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJason Hudson Dot Com

I love the spice, cardamom, and can't wait to try this cake!

February 6, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterla domestique

It may be brown, but it is intriguing none the less. I've flipped through the book a few times and haven't taken note of this one yet, so thanks for the heads up! The book is truly a beauty, and what a kind affirmation you gave it.

February 6, 2012 | Unregistered Commentersara

This looks truly fantastic, I don't see why you feel the need to apologize to your friend.

I have to thank you for this recipe because I'm a huge fan of chocolate, creme caramel, and the very talented Bea.

February 6, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMagda

uh, your photo is softly killing me. Love this a whole lot.

February 6, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterkickpleat

This sounds sinfully delightful and I cannot wait to try it, and tell my mother about the book. I am sure both of us will be getting a copy when sh comes to visit. Thank you for sharing.

February 6, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterNydia

What a wonderful addition the cardamon is to this custard...I love the flavour and fragrance it gives in subtle dishes like this without overpowering.

February 6, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAnna @ the shady pine

Bea's blog was one of the first food blogs I fell in love with (shortly after Chocolate & Zucchini!) I must say, Tara, you sure can make dessert look mighty fine, regardless of its color. I want to take a lick off of that spoon!

February 7, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKasey

This looks absolutely divine and combines many of my favorite things! I'm no chocoholic, but bitter, dark chocolate paired with custard and cardamom is definitely something I can get behind. And I love La Tartine Gourmande, so I know this will be amazing. Gorgeous blog and photos!

February 7, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKatherine Martinelli

this is beautiful Tara :) Love it

February 8, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterNicole Franzen

helllo, all! it's so great to read all the excitement over Béa's book. she's such a talent. hope all your days are swell.

February 8, 2012 | Unregistered Commentertara

a glorious tribute to a glorious author/photographer/friend.

and cardamom always has me in its grips.

February 9, 2012 | Unregistered Commentermolly

I think we should invite ourselves over for this one! xo

February 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterNikole

Chocolate and cardamom, you've got me.

February 11, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterEmma Galloway

I dunno if my comment got posted...
I write again...
This is such a beautiful recipe, chocolate and cardamom... Yummm..
The pictures are gorgeous!!!

February 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterReem | Simply Reem

more than the chocolate and the rest for me is interesting to note how beautiful the pictures are there to have a good sense of art to take that kind of photos .. the truth that beautiful images and very good recipe ...

February 14, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMilena minijuegos

I just made this. It isn't nearly as difficult as it looks. Actually it is surprisingly easy. Tastes awesome, too.

February 14, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBecky

Bea's blog is beautiful .. haven't seen the book yet but i bet it's amazing.
This is So creamy and So rich.. drooling .. seriously!

February 16, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterkankana

I so want this book... and that crème caramel, i'm in love!

February 19, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterclémence

YUM! This looks like my kind of dessert. Heaven on a plate...I'm not great with sugar and dairy so would have to make some tweaks but what is not to like?

February 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterNicola

Amazing food pictures you have! The colors are just superb! Also the recipe sound to-die-for!

February 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterChris Tonnesen

I think it looks gorgeous. It makes me all hungry.....

February 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMarina

I stumbled upon your site looking for a carrot cake recipe. I'm dying to try the one you made for your "mom", and your cake decorating was absolutely divine. I noticed that I couldn't commented on an older posted and immediately became entranced by your beautiful photography in newer posts. I now have so many new recipes to try, while this one looks challenging it looks even more decadent and delicious. I can't wait.

February 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPaige

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