Celebrating the berries of summer
Aromatic bay leaf lends a complex flavor profile to an otherwise simple pleasure
Kitchen of Light
My grandmother picks red currants and wild raspberries every summer morning. Then, just before supper, she makes custard, filling the old farmhouse with the maddeningly delicious aromas of berries and vanilla.
Once there was no vanilla to be found in the house, not even poor substitutes like vanilla sugar or vanilla extract. “You think of something to add,” my grandmother told me in her warm yet demanding way. After rummaging through the shelves, the only candidates I could find were a few dry bay leaves. Neither of us was all too optimistic about the experiment, but when the custard was done, it was delicious. I find the bay leaf version to be more interesting and complex than the traditional vanilla custard.
Bay leaves are mostly used in savory dishes, but if you crush a bay leaf in your hand, close your eyes, and take a deep breath, you will notice that it has an aromatic sweetness to it, like a pleasant combination of cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, and cardamom.
Even though bay leaves keep well when dried, fresh ones have the most intense and complex flavor. If you have a favorite vanilla custard, feel free to stick with that recipe and just replace the vanilla with bay leaves.
Excerpted from Kitchen of Light by Andreas Viestad (Artisan Books). Copyright (c) 2007.
Summer berries with bay leaf custard
If there is a national summer dessert in Norway, it must be Summer Berries with Vanilla Custard. The custard can be served hot, warm, or cold. It will keep for up to two days in the refrigerator.
Serves 4 to 6.
5 large egg yolks
1/4 cup superfine sugar
1 cup whole milk
1 1/4 cups heavy (whipping) cream
2 to 3 bay leaves, preferably fresh
4 to 6 bay leaves for garnish (optional)
2 pounds mixed berries, such as blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, and/or currants, stemmed and/or hulled
In a medium bowl, whisk the egg yolks and sugar together until pale and thick.
In a medium saucepan, combine the egg yolk mixture, milk, cream, and bay leaves.
Heat gently over medium-low to low heat, stirring constantly, until the custard thickens enough to leave a velvety coating on the back of a wooden spoon. (If you are using a thermometer, the custard should reach about 175 degrees F.) Do not let the mixture boil or it will curdle. Remove it from the heat as soon as you have obtained the right thickness and continue stirring for two minutes more.
Leave the bay leaves in the custard while it cools, then remove them.
Place the berries in dishes, pour the custard over, garnish if desired, and serve.
This article originally appeared in the May 29, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.