Recipe for Vanilla Custard with Roasted Spiced Pears

I remember the plain, vanilla custard pies that one of my grandmothers made every few months when I was younger.    While I loved the custard filling—I was never a fan of the crust/custard combination.  Of course, I was never allowed to eat only the filling from the pie—so I opted to skip it altogether.  Since I'm not a fan of saucy or pudding-like custards, I hadn't eaten it in years. Then, about twelve years ago, I was asked to make a flan for a Cinco de Mayo party.    

Hmmm--a crust-less, firm textured, custard option that I had completely forgotten.   Now, a few times a year, I make a firm custard or caramel topped flan—baked in a water bath—and choose random toppings like this recipe for a vanilla custard with roasted, spiced pears. 
Ingredients for the Vanilla Custard with Roasted Spiced Pears

Sugar Caramel Ingredients (for the bottom of the baking dish--like a traditional flan)
1 c. sugar
1/4 c. water

Vanilla Custard Ingredients
1 ½ c. milk
1 Can Sweetened Condensed Milk
¼ c. Sugar
3 Eggs, Large
4 Egg Yolks, Large
1 ½ tsp. Vanilla Extract

Roasted, Spiced Pear Ingredients
3 Large Bosc Pears, Peeled, Cored and Sliced
3 Tbsp. Lemon Juice or 1/3 c. Apple Juice
1/3 c. Light Brown Sugar
3 Tbsp. Butter, cubed
1 tsp. Ground Cinnamon
1/8 tsp. Nutmeg
1/8 tsp. Ground Ginger

Instructions for Vanilla Custard with Roasted, Spiced Pears.

Preheat oven and prepare custard molds.  You may use individual dishes—such as custard cups or even coffee cups or opt for one large mold as we do.  Just bear in mind—if you use one large mold—you need a larger baking pan for use as a water bath.  So, be sure to keep that in mind before preparing your mold!  Set the custard mold or molds into a larger baking dish that is big enough to offer the custard molds approximately an inch clearance all the way around. Preheat oven to 325ยบ.  In a tea kettle or sauce pan, warm 2 to 3 cups of water and continue to keep it at a simmer for use in the custard water bath.

Prepare sugar custard caramel for the bottom of the baking dish or dishes. Add the sugar and water to a small saucepan.  Bring to a boil over medium-high heat.  As the mixture comes to a rapid boil, begin to brush the sugar crystals remaining on the sides of the saucepan down into the boiling sugar with a water-moistened pastry or basting brush.  Once boiling rapidly, reduce the heat slightly to medium and boil (without stirring) until the sugar syrup takes on a light golden color.  Usually about 4-5 minutes.  Lift the pan and swirl the syrup gently (over the heat) until the color deepens to dark straw color.  Remove the saucepan from the stove and continue to swirl the liquid.  Swirl until a dark amber color is reached.   

Coat the custard mold or molds.  Immediately pour the sugar syrup into the mold or molds and tilt the mold to coat the bottom and a portion of the sides with the sugar caramel.  It will harden very quickly—so you need to move quickly on this step!  

Prepare the vanilla custard filling.  In a medium-size (2 ½- to 3-quart) saucepan, add the milk, the sweetened condensed milk and the sugar.  Cook over medium heat and stir until the mixture begins to simmer.  Do not boil the mixture and remove it from heat once it begins to simmer.  Whisk the whole eggs and the yolks in a medium mixing bowl.  Slowly whisk in a small amount of the warm milk mixture into the egg bowl to warm the eggs without scrambling them!  Continue to whisk in the warm milk mixture until combined.  Add the vanilla and whisk again.   

Strain the custard filling--if desired.  You may opt to strain the mixture through a fine strainer.  (I generally skip straining unless I’m making the dessert for a special occasion—but, you may wish to strain.)  Transfer the egg mixture (either during straining or directly) into a pitcher or large measuring cup for easy pouring into the mold or molds.  Pour the custard into the sugar caramel prepared mold or molds.

Bake the custard.  Pull out the center rack of the preheated oven.  Set the baking pan containing the filled custard molds onto the center rack.  Add simmering water into the baking pan, around the molds, until it fills the space around the molds and reaches a depth of about 1 ½ to 2 inches (depending on the height of your molds).  Be careful to not pour the water into your custard. Gently push the rack back into the oven and bake for approximately 50-60 minutes for small molds or 60-70 minutes for large one.  Bake until the custards are slightly set in the middle.

Cool the custards.  Allow the baked custards to cool the water baths so that they continue to set.  This cooling takes about an hour—and then continues for at least two additional hours in the refrigerator--so during this time, you can roast the spiced pears. 

Roast the spiced pears.  Preheat oven to 425.  Spray a 9 inch, square baking dish with cooking spray.  Arrange the pear slices in the pan, spreading them out as much as possible.  In a small saucepan, add the juice, the brown sugar and the butter.  Stir over medium heat until butter and sugar are melted and the mixture is fully combined.  Add the cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger to the saucepan and whisk to combine.  Pour the liquid over the pears.  Bake in preheated oven for 35-45 minutes or until pears are tender, basting every 10 minutes with spiced sauce from the pan.  Allow to cool slightly (or completely, if desired—we prefer it warm over the cold custard) before topping the custard.  

Serve the vanilla custard with spiced pears. Run a thin knife around the edge of each custard. Place a serving plate over the top of each custard mold and invert it onto the serving plate.  You may need to shake or slightly tap the bottoms of the custard molds until the custard releases onto the plate.  You will hear it or feel it “drop” from the mold.  Drizzle any remaining caramel from the molds over the custards.  Top with the spiced pear mixture and serve.

If custards are not your favorite--we also enjoy the roasted, spiced pears over vanilla ice cream or frozen yogurt--or even as a plain cheesecake topping.

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