Margaret Atwood’s Baked Lemon Custard

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Months ago, when I heard that The Handmaid’s Tale was going to be made into a TV series, I got very excited. If you don’t know about this book, which was written in 1985, here is an extremely brief summary. The novel takes place in the near-future (which, considering the year it was written, would have put it around the early 2000s). The U.S. government has been overthrown and is now a dictatorship. Under the new government, women’s rights are almost immediately and completely destroyed. The story is narrated by its main character, Offred, a woman who is part of a class of women whose sole purpose in the new society is to reproduce for the sterile wives of the ruling class. If you’re my age, you may remember this novel from your teen or college years, when you first heard about it, read it, and were stunned and terrified by it for years afterward. It probably also made you very, very angry.

Well, get ready to get angry again. Today is the day. The first three episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale are up on Hulu, and tonight I plan on settling deep into my couch tonight and watching them all. I know I’m not the only one excited about this. The reviews have been amazing and it doesn’t hurt that it stars Elisabeth Moss (Peggy!), Samira Wiley (Poussey, we’ve missed you!), and Alexis Bledel (Rory Gilmore, I’m saying this as a friend: You just need to get yourself together, girl).

You may notice that, on this blog, there is little rhyme or reason to the recipes that I make. My only real requirement is that they have a story to tell. Or, at least, they represent someone with a story to tell. In this case, the recipe I’m sharing comes from the author of the book herself, the Canadian writer Margaret Atwood. I’m always on the fence when I write this kind of post. I never want to diminish a woman’s accomplishments by focusing only on how great she is in the kitchen. It should certainly not be understated that Atwood is a prolific writer. She has won numerous awards, written many books, and has over 20 honorary degrees from universities around the world. (Did you know that she also wrote the lyrics to a rock song??)

So why then am I writing about one of her recipes? Well, in addition to her other written works, two years after Tale was published, Atwood published Canlit Foodbook, a cookbook based on literary food. Therefore, I feel that Atwood’s work in book-based food is worth exploring, since she thought it worthwhile. I did a search and found a Baked Lemon Custard recipe credited to Atwood on Epicurious. Though I can’t confirm if this particular recipe came from the Foodbook, I can confirm that this custard is…terrific. It’s light, it’s tart, and it’s the perfect combination of cake on top, pudding underneath.

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Lemon Custard Cake

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Margaret Atwood’s Baked Lemon Custard
A very slight variation on this recipe. Recipe below is altered to make four servings.

Ingredients:
1/3 cup sugar
2 tbsp butter, room temperature, plus more for buttering ramekins
2 tsp lemon zest
2 large eggs, separated
2 tbsp all-purpose flour
2/3 cup buttermilk
3 tbsp lemon juice
Powdered sugar, optional

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Butter the inside of four 3/4-cup ramekins and set aside.

In a large bowl, beat together the sugar, butter, and lemon zest. The mixture will not be completely smooth.

Beat in one egg yolk at a time until completely combined.

Mix in flour and buttermilk by alternating each. The flour should be added in three portions, the buttermilk should be added in two. Mix in the lemon juice.

In a separate, medium bowl, beat together the egg whites. Make sure your beaters are very clean and dry. The egg whites should begin to form peaks and should still be quite shiny. Carefully fold the egg whites into yolk mixture. When ready, the mixture will be consistently colored, but will still be lumpy.

Divide batter among the buttered ramekins. Place ramekins in at least a 2-inch deep pan. Add hot water to the pan, around the ramekins, to halfway up the side of each.

Bake for about 35 minutes, until cakes begin to set and just begin to brown on the top.

Remove ramekins from water bath to a wire rack to cool.

Sprinkle with powdered sugar, if you desire.

Serve warm or chilled.

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Can we all spare just a slight amount of appreciation for this delicious custard recipe? As I said before, I fully acknowledge how impressive Margaret Atwood is because of her literary talents, but I really admire that Margaret Atwood is a kick-ass writer, who just happens to make a kick-ass baked custard.

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The Queen’s Chocolate Perfection Pie

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It’s good to be back in the saddle again. I took a brief break from the blog to have a lovely visit to the Pacific Northwest with Alex. We had such a good time, driving all over northwestern Washington, before spending our last few days exploring Seattle. Alex had a conference to attend in Seattle, so I had a lot of time to walk around alone and remember how to eat lunch by myself. I sincerely value the art of doing things by yourself, but it’s a skill, so it was nice to get some practice in. And we still got to spend loads of time together, walking 25,000 steps a day (not an exaggeration) and seeing the city. And luckily Spring had sprung in Chicago while we were gone, and we had warm-ish weather and flowers on the trees to greet us. But here I am, back to the blog I love the most. This time, I’m making pie!

Just last week, Alex asked which famous person I would be completely awed by if I met them. Without hesitation, I answered: Queen Elizabeth II. Of course! She’s more than famous. She’s walking, talking history! That gal has lived through so much. And not only that, she’s ruled through it. 2017 marks her 65th year on the throne!

My very serious confession is that I am 100% totally crazy about the Queen. I’m sure it’s not the most popular position to take, but that’s just how I feel. Of course I understand other folks’ mixed feelings about royalty in general. They can be stodgy and out of touch, they are an expense to the British people… but the Queen. She’s a fascinating figure and I love her. I admire her stoicism, dignity, and commitment to her role. It should also be noted that I owe a big part of my interest in genealogy to royalty. When I was a kid, before we had a computer (remember that?) I used to go through our encyclopedias making family trees of the British royals. (That may be the more serious confession right there.)

Today Queen Elizabeth turns 91 years-old, although her birthday won’t officially be celebrated until June (from what I understand, it’s because the weather is generally better then). But, in honor of this incredible lady’s actual day of birth, I made Chocolate Perfection Pie. A former chef to the Queen recently disclosed that this was her favorite dessert. The pie consists of, get this, a shortbread crust, followed by layers of cinnamon custard, chocolate sauce, cinnamon whipped topping, and chocolate-cinnamon whipped topping. I’m on board. And if it’s good enough for the Queen…

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The Queen’s Chocolate Perfection Pie
Very slightly adapted from this recipe.

Ingredients:
For the crust:
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
Pinch of salt
1 stick unsalted butter, chilled and cubed
1 egg yolk
1/4 – 1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

For the filling and toppings:
2 eggs
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 tsp apple cider vinegar
1/4 tsp salt

6 oz. chopped semi-sweet chocolate
1/2 cup water
2 egg yolks

1 cup heavy cream
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

Dark chocolate or white chocolate bar, optional

Instructions:

For the crust:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Grease a pie or tart pan and set aside.

In a large bowl or food processor, combine the flour, sugar, and salt.

Add in very cold butter cubes. If using a food processor, process for about 5 seconds, until the butter is incorporated and is in small pea-sized pieces. If using a bowl, incorporate the butter into the dry ingredients, pinching between your fingers to achieve pea-sized pieces.

Add egg yolk, 1/4 cup of heavy cream, and vanilla extract. Process or mix by hand until combined. Pinch the dough in your hand. If it holds, it’s ready. If not, add more heavy cream, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the dough holds together. Do not exceed 1/2 cup of heavy cream.

Pour the crumbs into the tart or pie pan, and use your fingers to shape to the bottom and sides.

Line the interior of the crust with parchment paper, fill with dry beans or pie weights. Bake on a cookie sheet for 20-25 minutes. Remove the crust from the oven and remove the pie weights and parchment paper. Poke holes all over the bottom of the pie crust with a fork. Return to the oven and continue baking for about 5 minutes, or until the bottom of the pie crust begins to turn light brown. Remove from oven and allow to cool almost completely.

For the filling and toppings:
Make a double boiler, using a glass or metal mixing bowl over a saucepan of boiling water. Whisking constantly, combine the eggs, sugar, cinnamon, vinegar, and salt in the bowl. The mixture will begin to foam around the edges. Once this occurs, remove from the heat and continue whisking until the mixture becomes creamy and ribbons begin to form. Pour the mixture into the bottom of the crust and bake for 15-20 minutes, until the custard just sets and begins to rise. The surface should be firm to the touch, but not hard. Allow the custard to sink and cool slightly.

In a small saucepan, or in a glass bowl in the microwave, melt the semi-sweet chocolate. Add in 1/2 cup room temperature water and whisk until the water and melted chocolate are combined. Add one egg yolk, whisking in completely before adding the second yolk and whisk completely. Pour half of the mixture (about 1/2 cup) onto the custard in the pie shell. Do not discard the remaining syrup! Bake for about 5-8 minutes. Set on a cooling rack and allow to completely cool.

In a mixing bowl, combine the whipping cream and cinnamon. Beat with a whisk or hand mixer until stiff peaks form. Spread half of the mixture onto the chocolate layer.

Stir together the remaining whipped cream and chocolate syrup until fully combined. Add that layer on top of the cinnamon whipped cream layer.

Shave the dark chocolate or white chocolate bar and sprinkle the shavings over the top of the pie.

Refrigerate for at least one hour before serving.

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The love of cinnamon-flavored, and particularly cinnamon-chocolate-flavored, desserts in the Limanowski household cannot be understated. Examples of that on this blog are here and here. We were more than happy to add another cinnamon-chocolate dish to the rotation and this one, just as its name says, is perfection. It might seem like a lot of steps, but it’s actually quite easy. Give it a try and let me know what you think!

Long live the Queen!