Infuse cream with cinnamon, cardamon and star anise for an Indian inspired twist on the classic French dessert
I’ve never been made about the third course. Two Starters Hardeep was what they might have called me. The late noughties was the defining decade for me when it came to puddings. Having assembled a cultured coterie in Clerkenwell for dinner at my painfully hip warehouse apartment the surprise was palpable as they realised that I’d eschewed the sweet course for the cheese.
No small part of my rejection of the dessert was down to my utter inability to master it. I have no natural ability when it comes to creating the culminating course; I just don’t get sweets. Don’t misconstrue me. I adore an almond croissant. I will vie for the vainglory of a Victoria sponge. There are few mille feuille that I won’t devour with delight and delirium.
Indians don’t really have a concept resembling pudding. We eat plenty that is sweet, just not after a meal. We pace our sweet mouthfuls during the day with equally sweet cups of spiced tea. That’s the way we roll. But, flying in the face of cultural upbringing I offer you one of my favourite sweets, one I believe I might have invented. But this recipe is one that I designed for my former restaurant and, even if I say so myself, it’s rather good. It celebrates the oft unknown French influence on India. In the late seventeenth century the French East India Company colonised the south of India, centred on Pondicherry in modern day Tamil Nadu. There is still a vibrant french community and the city bears many architectural elements of its French colonial history. There are no shortage of French restaurants and I’m told you can still by great French pastries there today.
Crème brûlée may be something you’ve already made. This Chai version adds spice both inside the crème itself and as part of the brûlée topping. With all these things, add more, or take away, the spices you wish. And once you taste this dish, you’ll be the cat that got the crème. Sorry.
500ml double cream
75ml full-fat milk
1 star anise
1 cinnamon stick
4 green cardamom pods, smashed
5 large egg yolks
50g golden caster sugar, plus extra for the topping
1 tsp green cardamom powder
Preheat the oven to 180C. Pour the two cartons of cream into a medium pan with the milk.
Add the whole spices and gently heat, almost to the boil.
Turn the heat out and allow the mixture to steep for a couple of hours. Remove the spices; their work is done.
Put the egg yolks and sugar in a mixing bowl and whisk for one minute with an electric hand whisk until paler in colour and a bit fluffy.
Reheat the spiced cream and pour onto the beaten egg yolks, stirring with a wire whisk.
Using a big spoon, scoop off all the pale foam that is sitting on the top of the liquid and discard. Give the mixture a stir.
In a roasting tin place six ramekins, approx 150ml in size. Pour in enough hot water (from the tap is fine) into the roasting tin to come about 1.5cm up the sides of the ramekins.
Pour the hot cream into the ramekins so you fill them up right to the top – it’s easier to spoon in the last little bit.
Put them in the oven and lay foil over the top of the tin so it sits well above the ramekins and completely covers them, but not the whole tin, leaving a small gap at one side to allow air to circulate.
Bake for 30-35 minutes until the mixture is softly set. To check, gently sway the roasting tin and if the crème brûlées are ready, they will wobble a bit like a jelly in the middle.
Don’t let them get too firm. Lift the ramekins out of the roasting tin with oven gloves and set them on a wire rack to cool for a couple of minutes only, then put in the fridge to cool completely. This can be done overnight without affecting the texture.
When ready to serve, mix 10 tsp of sugar with the ground cardamom and sprinkle over each ramekin.
Place under a piping hot grill and watch the sugar burn!