Introduction: Orange Creme Caramel With Balsamic Gastrique

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Eggs star in the supporting role for this delectable dessert. Don't let the title fool you; this recipe is a breeze to make.

About the Dessert

Creme caramel is a French dessert, much like a cross between the hard caramel topped creme brulee and the syrupy flan. Abalsamic gastrique is a caramel made stove-top, deglazed with balsamic vinegar, and poured into the bottom of the custards before baking.

Orange zest in the creme caramel (custard) and balsamic in the caramel syrup make this dessert ideal for those who shy away from the super-sweet of the more intimidating creme brulee.

*Note: the custard portion of the recipe requires an overnight rest in the refrigerator before it can be baked with the gastrique. The entire recipe may be made up to 48 hours in advance of serving.

Step 1: Ingredients

Serves 3 to 6 (plan by ramekin size)

For the Orange Creme Caramel

1/2 cup sugar + 1/4 cup sugar, separated
2 T water
2 cups whole milk
3 eggs
3 oranges

For the Balsamic Gastrique

1 tablespoon water
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Step 2: Orange Creme Caramel Preparation

1. Add the 1/2 cup of sugar and 2 tablespoons of water to a medium non-stick saucepan on high heat on the stove. Swish the water around the pan, until the sugar and water are just combined. Turn the heat to high. The sugar and water bubble until they turn deep caramel.

2. When the caramel is deep golden brown, add the milk. The caramel will harden at first. Turn the heat to medium, and whisk the mixture quickly. As the milk heats, the caramel will melt and combine with the milk.

3. In a medium bowl, whisk 3 whole eggs and the 1/4 cup of sugar together until they are a light yellow and foamy.

4. Next, temper the eggs. This requires small additions of hot liquid and a speedy whisk speed to avoid cooking the eggs. When the eggs turn light and fluffy, immediately whisk a thin stream of the caramel milk into the light yellow egg-and-sugar mix.

5. When half the caramel milk is incorporated, whisk the egg mixture back into the remaining milk in the pan.

6. Place the pan on the stove on low, and add a candy thermometer to the pot. The candy thermometer will read slightly higher than the mixture's temperature, from the heat of the pan. Be careful not to allow the mixture to go above 179 degrees Fahrenheit or it will curdle.

7.Stir constantly while waiting for the custard to thicken. This process takes about twelve minutes. Stirring the custard helps to keep it uniform.

8. When you can run a finger across the back of the spatula and leave a line, remove the pan from heat. Using a micro-planer, lightly zest 3 oranges into the custard. Be careful not to press too hard: the best flavor is in the surface oils.

9. Pour into a container over an ice bath. Let stand for an hour.

10. The orange flavor will incorporate as the mixture cools. When an hour has passed, strain the mixture into a second storage container, label, and chill in your fridge for at least eight hours.

Step 3: Balsamic Gastrique Preparation

1. The next day, place three large, or up to five small, ramekins in a large baking pan with deep sides. A 13" by 9" cake pan is perfect for this. Space the ramekins so they do not touch.

2. Combine the 1/4 cup of sugar and the tablespoon of water in a small non-stick sauce pan on the stove top. Swish the water around the pan until the mixture is fully combined, then let it sit until the caramel bubbles and turns golden.

3. Mix the balsamic and the vanilla extract in a measuring cup. When the caramel turns deep golden brown, add and swirl the pan's contents. Whisk briefly, until thick and syrupy, and remove from heat.

4. Distribute the syrup evenly at the bottom of the ramekins.

Step 4: Baking Instructions

1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.

2. Pour the chilled custard mixture through a sieve over the balsamic gastrique in the ramekins.

3. Add boiling water halfway up the ramekins.

4. Bake for 1 hour 15 minutes, adding time if necessary.

5. When done, the custard will be a deep orange, with a few flecks. A toothpick will come out clean, but the custards may still be soft. Remove the custards at this stage, and transfer to an ice bath.

6. Cool on the counter, then allow to rest in the refrigerator for 2 to 48 hours.

Step 5: Chill, Unmold, and Serve

Final Preparation

1. Remove the custards from the refrigerator. Have the serving plates ready.

2.. Run a thin knife under hot water, then run it along the sides of each custard. Jiggle each ramekins slightly to loosen the custard.

3. Place the dessert plate over the top of each custard, then invert the custards.

4. Serve immediately. You may serve the extra balsamic gastrique at the bottom, or simply leave the custards with the thin pool that naturally results from flipping them out of their ramekins.