CARAMEL CUSTARD This is the ultimate coconut dessert++an adaptation of the classic "Creme renversee", or "Flan au caramel". The technique used is distinctly French but the flavors are all Vietnamese.
This custard is at its best when prepared a day in advance and refrigerated so the flavors can mellow. If you just can't wait, you might try the Vietnamese method of rapid cooling for dishes such as this: place a small scoop of shaved ice on top of each custard before serving!
Preheat the oven to 325F.
Make the caramel: Cook the sugar in a small heavy saucepan over low heat, swirling the pan constantly, until brown. Stir the hot water into the caramel, being careful to guard against splattering (the mixture will bubble vigorously). Boil the mixture, swirling the pan occasionally, until the sugar is thoroughly dissolved, about 2 minutes.
Pour the caramel syrup into a 1-quart souffle dish or five 4-ounce ramekins. Tilt the molds to coat all of the surfaces with caramel.
Make the custard: Combine the coconut milk, milk and sugar in a medium saucepan over low heat. Scald until the sugar dissolves completely. Remove from heat.
In a large bowl, whisk the eggs and vanilla. Gradually whisk the hot coconut milk mixture into the eggs, blending thoroughly.
Strain the custard through a fine sieve into a bowl. Carefully pour into the caramel-lined souffle dish or ramekins.
Line a large roasting pan with 2 layers of paper towels (see Note).
Put the souffle dish in the roasting pan and add hot water to reach halfway up the side of the dish. Bake in the center of the oven for 50 minutes (30 minutes if using ramekins), or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Be careful not to let the water boil; do not disturb the custard while baking. This is the only "secret" to producing a smooth and velvety custard.
Remove the souffle dish immediately from the hot water. Allow to cool in a cold-water bath. Chill thoroughly.
To serve, run a knife around the edge of the custard and turn out onto dessert plates. Serve with shaved ice or whipped cream, if desired.
Note: The paper towels in the roasting pan serve a twofold purpose: First, they allow the hot water to circulate under the souffle dish while baking to distribute the heat evenly; second, if using small ramekins, it stabilizes them and keeps them from moving around while baking.
Yield: 5 servings.
This is from "The Foods of Vietnam" by Nicole Rauthier. Stewart, Tabori and Chang.
Posted by Stephen Ceideburg June 26 1990.