Serve up this sweet homemade lemon balm custard with a fresh rhubarb sauce.
This can be prepared a day in advance. The recipe makes a little more sauce than needed, but it keeps in the refrigerator for a week, and it’s great on vanilla ice cream, waffles, pancakes, biscuits, or stirred into yogurt or oatmeal.
For more light, fresh recipes see Spring Fresh: Light Spring Recipes.
• 2 1/2 cups milk
• 1/2 cup fresh lemon balm (or substitute 1 tablespoon dried lemon verbena or 2 fresh bay leaves)
• Generous teaspoon grated lemon zest (the yellow part of the peel)
• About 1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise, or 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
• 1/2 cup sugar
• 2 extra-large whole eggs
• 2 extra-large egg yolks
• Pinch salt
If you have lemon balm, add a handful of the leaves to the rhubarb sauce along with the rest of the ingredients, and remove them before serving.
• About 4 cups chopped fresh rhubarb (4 large stalks)
• 1/2 cup orange juice, preferably fresh-squeezed
• 1/2 cup sugar
• 1- to 2-inch piece vanilla bean, split lengthwise
• Few dashes fresh grated nutmeg
To Make Custard:
1. In a heavy-bottomed nonreactive pan, heat the milk with the herbs, lemon zest, and the vanilla bean if you are using it, and bring to a simmer. Remove from heat, cover, and let stand for about 1/2 hour. Meanwhile place the custard cups in a shallow baking pan.
2. Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Add sugar to the milk-herb mixture and gently reheat to dissolve the sugar, stirring occasionally. In a small bowl, lightly beat eggs and egg yolks and a pinch of salt. Pour or spoon about 1/2 cup of the warm milk into the eggs and whisk to incorporate. Then add all of the milk to the eggs and blend well. Add vanilla extract, if not using the bean.
3. Pour the custard mixture through a strainer to remove the herbs, zest, and vanilla bean, pressing them gently to remove their essence. Pour the custard into the custard cups. Carefully add enough hot water to the pan to come about 2/3 of the way up the sides of the custard cups. Place in the oven and bake until the custards are set, about 40 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.
4. Remove the custard cups from the hot water and cool on a baking rack. Serve warm or cool and refrigerate.
To Make Rhubarb Sauce:
1. Scrub the rhubarb, trim the ends, and cut lengthwise down the center. Cut into 1/4-inch slices.
2. Combine rhubarb, orange juice, sugar, vanilla bean, nutmeg, and herbs if you are using them, in a large heavy-bottomed, nonreactive saucepan and place over medium high heat. Stir, cover, and bring to a simmer, which will take just a few minutes. Remove lid, stir well, reduce heat to medium. Cover and cook for 5 minutes. Remove lid and stir.
3. The sauce should be about the consistency of a thick soup. If you want it thicker, cook it a few minutes more with the lid off. Remove the herbs and vanilla bean pieces before serving. Serve warm or at cool room temperature. Makes 6 to 8 Servings
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