Cold Desserts

Lavender Honey Creme Caramel 

I almost could not endure the anticipation.  Clutching a roadmap, I eagerly keep track of our journey.  Reaching the last turn, I see the tourist sign and (glad I have successfully navigated the way), start to cheer silently in eagerness for the approaching lavender.  Rows upon rows of fragrant lavender at The Bridestowe Estate Lavender Farm – one of the largest commercial lavender farms in the world.

Mr Mélanger and I were aware it was too early for the full blooms, but hoping at least for some dramatic visual of the great expanse of lavender on offer at the farm.  Slowly driving in, you could see the disappointment on my face immediately.  The lavender certainly was not in full bloom, and from a distance, you could not see any flowers at all. 

I look around, admiring the vastness of the lavender that had been planted in this glorious farm.  I pause and squint hoping to squeeze a little more colour into focus.  It was not to be.  Slightly disenchanted, I decide to soak up my sadness by marching straight into the gift store and seek some type of compensation by purchasing an array of lavender based products.  (You certainly cannot have enough.)

Back in Brisbane, I am inspired by our two-week honeymoon in Tasmania and look to combine the unique floral flavour of lavender into caramel month.  I have baked with lavender earlier in the year when I created my lavender macarons.

I wanted to pair the lavender this time with a complementary flavour.  After only a little thinking, I quickly decided that flavour to be honey.  But not any honey.  Tasmanian Leatherwood Honey.  This honey is exclusively native to the world heritage area of Tasmanian West coast wilderness.  It has a distinctive spicy flavour. 

So it was decided.  Lavender + Honey.  And the vessel for this combination?  Crème caramel.

I have been meaning to bake crème caramel beyond the standard (but still delicious) variety.  I could also picture me and Mr Mélanger tucking into one of these sweet and creamy desserts in a cosy little bistro overlooking some of the most spectacular landscapes that Tasmania offers.

Crème caramel is not a difficult dessert to make.  Caramel is cooked and poured into ramekins, and then a simple custard is added.  Chilled and then served, it guarantees a moment of anticipation as you invert the dessert onto a plate – hoping it easily releases from the mould – and then when it does, a smile as you watch the caramel eagerly run down the custard to the plate.

If you are comfortable with making caramel and custard the only area to really watch is the baking time.  You want the end product to jiggle a little.  Baked too long, and you risk scrambled eggs.  Delicious for breakfast, but not for dessert.

I experimented with both of these flavours carefully.  I did not want to overpower the delicate crème caramel.  I must say, the sweet floral of the lavender was a quite a match for the spicy, sweet honey.  I am now scheming in my head all the other flavour combinations I want to try!


{ Images } Busy Tasmanian Bee


{ Images } Rows of fragrant lavender at The Bridestowe Estate Lavender Farm

{ Lavender Honey Crème Caramel }

* Ingredients *
1 cup (250ml) milk
1 cup (250ml) heavy cream
1 teaspoon lavender
3 egg yolks
3 eggs
1 tablespoon leatherwood honey
¼ cup sugar

½ cup sugar
1 tablespoon water

* Directions *
Grease 4 moulds / ramekins.  Place into a roasting tin, and keep close to hand.  For the caramel, put the sugar and water into a saucepan over a medium heat.  Cook until the sugar has melted and reached a golden caramel colour.  Immediately pour or spoon the caramel into the prepared moulds.  You must do this quickly as the caramel soon starts to harden.  Set the moulds aside.  Preheat the oven to 160C or 320F.  For the custard, bring the milk and cream to a boil.  In a separate bowl, lightly beat the egg yolks and eggs with the sugar and honey.  Pour the boiled milk and cream over the eggs slowly, stirring well.  Pass through a very fine sieve, or double sieve if you prefer (particularly to ensure you remove ingredients such as lavender buds).  Pour the custard into the moulds.  Fill the roasting tin about half way with hot water.  Bake for 25-30 minutes until the centre jiggles slightly.  Cool to room temperature then refrigerate for 4 hours or overnight.  To serve, run a knife around the edge of the custard, and carefully invert the mould on to a plate.

Serves 4

{ Notes } For a standard crème caramel :: replace the lavender with vanilla, and omit the honey increasing the sugar from ¼ cup to 1/3 cup.


Belle Helene

For my next caramel challenge, I attempt Pierre Hermé’s version of the classic Belle Hélène.

The traditional Belle Hélène includes poached pears served with vanilla ice cream and a chocolate sauce.  Pierre Hermé’s version includes a few substitutes, bien sûr.  Most notably, the ice cream choice is chocolate and the sauce, caramel.  He also includes pear halves instead of whole pears.  Because of this, I originally started plating the dessert instead of serving it up ‘sundae’ style.  I was afraid the pears would be lost and wanted to display them more prominently.

So I carefully cut and fanned a pear on a plate.  Then drizzled with caramel sauce.  Setting that aside, I made a spun sugar ball as final decoration.  Next, the-clock-is-now-ticking part.  I made a perfect quenelle of ice-cream and delicately added to the plate.  I was shocked and then horrified to see it immediately starting to melt practically as soon as it made contact with the plate – and before I could even pick up the camera.

I am not sure if it was because the spoon I used to quenelle the ice cream needed to be warm so it already started the ‘melting process’, or if the plate should have been chilled, or if the eggless ice cream is more difficult to work with?  Any thoughts?

So Plan B it was.  The original sundae serving suggestion.

I quickly made some more sugar threads to top the sundae. I flattened them out slightly to achieve a little contrast with the shape of the pear.  (I should point out that this caramel decoration is not part of Pierre Hermé’s recipe, but when reading through it, I wanted to inject a little more caramel into the dessert.)  The rest of the sundae came together quickly.  And with just enough time to take a photograph, or two.

In terms of flavours, it was a delicious combination.  I already have plans to make additional caramel sauce to keep in the fridge – as back-up.  The chocolate ice cream was a refreshingly light version of the more popular creamy variety.  And the pears?  A simple lemon-vanilla syrup certainly infused its way throughout this fruit.  I am not typically a big fruit dessert fan, but the delicate flavour of these pears will certainly have me coming back for more.

My next caramel challenge will absolutely be something with a little more ‘shelf life’ – for my sanity, if nothing else!  And as soon as I receive the wedding photographs (pending!), I will do a little update on the wedding macarons favours and a few snaps from the big day.

{ Belle Hélène } recipe from Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé and Dorie Greenspan
* Ingredients *
29 oz (825g) can of pear halves in syrup
1 cup water
½ cup sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Pulp from half a vanilla bean
* Directions *
Drain the pears.  Bring water, sugar, lemon and vanilla to the boil.  Remove and pour over pears.  Cover with wax paper and refrigerate overnight.
Caramel Sauce
* Ingredients *
½ cup heavy cream
½ cup sugar
3 tablespoons salted butter
* Directions *
Bring cream to a boil and then set aside.  In clean saucepan, heat 2 tablespoons of sugar over the bottom of the pan.  A soon as the sugar starts to melt and colour, stir with a wooden spoon until it caramelises.  Sprinkle over half the remaining sugar, and repeat.  Add the remaining sugar and cook until the colour is deep brown colour.  Take the pan off the heat and add the butter carefully (may splatter) and then add the cream.  Continue to cook until the sauce just starts to boil again. Remove from the heat and cool to room temperature.
Chocolate Ice Cream
* Ingredients *
½ cup powdered milk
3 cups whole milk
1/3 cup sugar
8 oz (230g) bittersweet chocolate, chopped
* Directions *
Set up an ice water bath with a small and large bowl and set aside.  Place powdered milk in sauepan and gradually whisk in whole milk.  When powdered milk dissolved, whish in sugar.  Bring mixtgure to the boil, then stir in the chopped chocolate and bring to the boil again.  Pull pan from the heat and pour the hot choolate mixture into the reserved small bowl.  Set the bowl into the ice water bath until cool.  Churn the ice cream in an ice cream maker following the manufacturer’s dictions.  Pack the ice cream into a freezer container and store in freezer for at least 2 hours.
Spun Sugar (recipe by Sherry Yard)
* Ingredients *
¼ cup water
1 cup sugar
* Directions *
Prepare an area for spinning the sugar.  Position two medium saucepans with metal handles at the edge of the kitchen counter/bench.  Let the handles extend out over the floor.  Place some newspaper on the floor to cach drips.  Combine the water and sugar in a saucepan.  Cook the sugar until the temperature reaches 300F or 150C.  Watch closely until the temperature edges up to 325F or 165C.  Take the caramel off the heat and let cool to about 275F or 130C.  Dip a fork into the caramel and carefully scoop out. Position the fork about 12 inches or 30cm above the handles and let the caramel flow off the fork, quickly wiggling the fork and draping the caramel back and forth over the handles.  After two or three forkfuls, stop and gather up the sugar threads and set aside and begin again.  Spun sugar needs to be used immediately.
Put two scoops of chocolate ice cream into the bottom of a long stemmed balloon shaped wineglass or other cocktail glass.  Top with a few pear halves and drizzle over some caramel sauce.  Top with spun sugar, if using.