February 12, 2020

I had just arrived at my friend’s house in Sonoma when she ran inside carrying a huge jar of milk and a carton filled with small, blue-shelled eggs and said, “Look what the neighbors just dropped off. Feel the milk. It’s still warm from the cow. And these are from their hens. They brought me this as a thank-you for letting their goats graze on my property.”

She put the milk in the fridge and set down the eggs. She was leaving for a week in San Francisco while I’d house-sit and work on my cookbook.

“What are you going to do with all that milk?” I asked. “It’ll go bad before you’re back.”

“You drink it.”

I don’t drink milk. I can’t stand the taste. And although I was willing to make an exception for milk this fresh, there was no way I could get through the whole jar. It would kill me to waste it.

So I set out to make a custard. I slowly heated the milk, tossed in some cardamom pods and cinnamon, and let the flavors gently infuse. I picked a branch from a juniper bush, and threw it in. I raided my friend’s liquor cabinet and added some rose-infused gin. I let the flavors sit all day. Then, I added a touch of sweet, raw honey and the blue-shelled eggs. Finally, I mixed it all together and baked it.

Because you probably don’t have cows nearby, or blue eggs, or a juniper tree, or rose-infused gin, I adjusted this recipe. Get the freshest milk you can find — raw if you live in a state where it’s legal — and allow the flavors to infuse. Don’t rush this recipe. 

Cloud Nine Custard
A 9-inch tart pan is required to prepare this dish.

2 cups whole milk
2 cups whipping cream
3 cardamom pods, cracked open a bit with side of knife
4 juniper berries, cracked open a bit with side of knife
1 stick cinnamon
3 tablespoons gin
1/2 teaspoon rosewater, optional
1/4 cup raw honey
2 whole eggs
2 egg whites

Pour milk and cream into small saucepan. Add the cardamom, juniper berries, cinnamon, gin and rosewater, if using. Heat uncovered on medium-low to medium heat for two hours, whisking intermittently to integrate the skin that forms on top with rest of the mixture. The milk should be at an active simmer, steaming but not at a rolling boil. It’s OK if a little milk sticks to the bottom of the pan. Liquid should be reduced to just over 2 1/2 cups.

Let mixture rest uncovered for another two hours off the heat. 

Preheat the oven to 325 F.

Using slotted spoon, remove cardamom, juniper berries and cinnamon stick from saucepan. Whisk in honey, eggs and egg whites.

Place tart pan in larger pan so that it fits and can hold some water on sides. It’s tricky carrying uncooked custard to the oven, so I recommend pulling out the oven’s center rack and nestling two pans on it.

Pour custard mixture into tart pan and carefully add water to outside pan until it reaches halfway up tart pan. This cooking method is called a bain-marie; it helps to cook the custard evenly. Carefully push oven rack back in, close oven and bake for 80 minutes.

Remove tart pan from oven and let custard rest for 30 minutes. Cut and serve. It’s delicious cold or at room temperature. The cooler or colder it is, the better chance of slicing it into neat pieces like a cake.

Serves 6 to 8.

Elana Horwich is the author of “Meal and a Spiel: How to Be a Badass in the Kitchen and the founder of the Meal and a Spiel cooking school.

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