Falsetti: Crème brûlée’s country cousin suits me just fine

Julie Falsetti
For The York Dispatch

I was at a restaurant recently where they had crème brûlée on the menu. With all those accent marks, you know it was expensive.

I could just imagine my mother’s expression when it appeared on the table. With one glance she would have exclaimed, “It’s just a cup custard.” If I had explained that it required the use of a tiny blowtorch to produce its crunchy sugar topping, her eyes would have rolled.

Chicken soup is the canonical home remedy, but that wasn’t the case in my house. My mother certainly made chicken soup, but it was deemed dinner rather than food for the ailing. Instead, at first sign of a sneeze, my mother would get out her glass custard cups and whip up a batch of cup custards.

Cup custards appeared at other times as well. It is probably no coincidence, since my father’s favorite pies involved a custard base. Another reason cup custards were a favorite in my house is that they could be made with ingredients always on hand — milk, eggs and sugar.

Soft, sweet, and easily digestible, they were at the ready in the refrigerator, no heating required. I remember with fondness breaking the skin that formed at the top and dipping into the creamy custard. Think of cup custards as crème brûlée’s country cousin.

Although the ingredients are not exotic, you will need either glass or ceramic cups to make the custards. A brief forage in your mother’s or grandmother’s kitchen will probably turn up a few Pyrex classics. Of course, matching white ramekins would elevate their humble contents to a level where they could appear on the dinner table.

Below is a basic recipe, which is quite adaptable. Feel free to swap out the sugar for maple syrup or brown sugar. A pinch of nutmeg or cinnamon would make a nice addition, too.

Cup Custard

21/2 cups whole milk or half and half

1/3 cup sugar

4 eggs, beaten

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

In a small saucepan, warm the milk. Remove from the flame and add the sugar, eggs and vanilla. Mix well.

Divide the mixture among six glass custard cups and place them in an oven-proof pan containing 1 inch of hot water. Cook the custards in a 350-degree oven for 40 to 45 minutes or until the custard is set and the tops are a golden brown.

— Julie Falsetti, a York native, comes from a long line of good cooks. Her column, From Scratch, runs twice monthly in The York Dispatch food section. Reach her with questions and comments at julietrulie11@gmail.com.