Sunday, September 13, 2009

Vanilla Custard with Cantaloupe and Basil

Over the summer I had lunch at Cafe Gutenberg in Richmond, VA. After an excellent lunch (I had some sort of sandwich as I recall) they happened to have a muskmelon-basil custard for dessert, which had won them some sort of award in a cooking competition the day before. Intrigued, we ordered it. It was amazing! As I recall, the custard itself was muskmelon-flavored, with chopped basil on it (maybe also through it, I don't quite remember). The sweetness of the custard base went well with the sunny melon flavor, and the basil added a nice twist. I recently found myself with an heirloom cantaloupe-of-some-variety and an excess of milk, so I took a stab at a version of this excellent summer dessert.

I remain fairly convinced that you cannot put the melon in with the custard while it's hot-- cooked melon doesn't sound appetizing and would do interesting things to the texture I think. So I made a simple vanilla custard, ala Southern Living, reproduced below. I should have gone a bit light on the sugar, as it turned out almost cloyingly sweet. (Luckily the basil helped cut it a bit.) It didn't set up as much as perhaps it should have, maybe because I halved the recipe and my pot may have been a bit large-- letting it boil too quickly, etc, etc.

It was 10:30PM when I decided to put the melon/basil bits together with the custard, so I simply cut a wedge of melon, spooned on some custard, and snipped some fresh basil for a generous garnish. When I have more time I will consider pureeing the melon and basil together and straining off some of the liquid (to drink, yum!) before mixing that into the custard base. Of course, that would work better if the custard were more firm to start out with-- I may just end up with chilled melon-basil-custard soup! (Of course, that sounds fabulous too...) I'll let you know what I get up to tomorrow in the way of making the three ingredients meld more. As it was, the basil chunks flavored the custard somewhat, and alternating bites of custard with bites of melon did the trick.

Half Vanilla Custard Recipe (reproduced from

1/4 cup sugar--USE LESS!
1.5 T. cornstarch
1/4 t. salt
2 egg yolks
1.5 cups milk
1 T. butter or margarine
1 t. vanilla extract

Bring first 5 ingredients to a boil in a heavy saucepan over medium heat (about 20 minutes), whisking constantly; boil, whisking constantly, 1 minute or until thickened. Remove from heat; stir in butter and vanilla. Chill two hours.

Another serving suggestion (Day Two edit):
Tonight I finely diced the cantaloupe (if you cut a wedge of melon and cross-hatch the flesh with a paring knife you can scoop the meat off the rind in neat cubes!) and the basil, and mixed those in with the custard. After all that stirring the custard had the consistency of yogurt, which was fine. The flavors blended a lot better-- in fact I'd consider doing this with the whole batch of custard and letting it sit in the fridge for a day to marry the flavors. Of course, it's not as pretty of a presentation as custard-with-orange-and-green-lumps. Suit yourself.
Also, I now want to try yogurt with basil in it, and raspberries perhaps...

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