Star Anise Crème Caramels with Blackberries in Celery Syrup
Crème caramel is secretly my favourite dessert. I love all custard-based puddings, but for some reason crème caramel just does it for me more than the rest.
I have a particular way of eating crème caramel – it’s got to be turned out, otherwise it just doesn’t taste the same! I know it sounds a bit pedantic but eating it this way gives me the most eating pleasure. I prefer my caramel quite dark, almost on the bitter side of dark, when the caramel is almost burning. It’s obviously your choice how dark you like to go with the caramel though, but do take care as hot caramel can cause nasty burns.
I also prefer my crème caramel ‘naked’ with nothing else with it, no decoration, no nothing, just simply the custard pudding on its own. However, for the more sophisticated diners amongst you, I have prepared a very special fruit-based decoration. You might frown at the thought of celery for a pudding, but I assure you that it works. The crème caramel is infused with star anise and the flavour combinations go together a treat.
You will notice that I start to cook the crème caramels in the oven at a higher temperature, then reduce the temperature after a certain amount of time. This really helps to achieve desserts with a smooth texture and prevents overcooking and the formation of air bubbles on the sides.
Ingredients & Method
For the caramel
- 550g caster sugar
- 50ml cold water
For the star anise crème caramels
- 2 star anise
- 100ml double cream
- 700ml full-fat milk
- 3 large free-range whole eggs
- 5 large free-range egg yolks
- 100g caster sugar
For the blackberries in celery syrup
- 100g caster sugar
- 100ml cold water
- juice of 1 lemon
- 50g celery, thinly sliced
- 24 fresh blackberries
- celery cress, to decorate (optional)
Lightly grease 8 classic ceramic ramekin dishes with sunflower oil, then place them on a large tray and set aside.
To make the caramel, put the sugar and water in a pan and set over a low heat, stirring until the sugar is dissolved, then increase the heat to medium and simmer (not stirring) until the syrup turns into a dark golden caramel. Remove from the heat and carefully pour the hot caramel into the prepared ramekins, dividing it evenly. Leave to set at room temperature (this stage can be done up to a day in advance, but do not place the dishes in the fridge otherwise the caramel will start to dissolve).
For the crème caramels, toast the star anise in a hot saucepan set over a high heat for a couple of minutes. Reduce the heat, then pour the cream and milk over the star anise. Bring gently to the boil, then remove from the heat and set aside to infuse for 20 minutes. Discard the star anise.
Lightly whisk the whole eggs, egg yolks and sugar together in a bowl, then pour the warmed infused milk mixture over the eggs and sugar, stir to mix, then cool and chill for 6 hours.
Preheat the oven to 150°C/Gas Mark 2. Place the ramekins with the set caramel in a large, deep roasting tray, then pour warm water into the tray to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Pass the custard through a fine sieve into a jug, then pour the custard into the ramekins over the caramel.
Cook in the oven for 20 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 110°C/Gas Mark ¼ and cook for a further 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and leave to cool for 30 minutes before serving.
Meanwhile, prepare the blackberries in celery syrup. Put the sugar, water and lemon juice in a small saucepan and set over a low heat, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Increase the heat to medium, bring to a gentle simmer and simmer for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat, add the celery, then leave to cool. Before serving, remove the celery using a slotted spoon and discard, if you like. Pour over the blackberries in a dish and leave to infuse for 10 minutes.
Carefully turn the crème caramels out onto serving plates (see Cook’s Note). Spoon some blackberries in celery syrup over each dessert, then decorate each with a few sprigs of celery cress on top, if you like. Serve immediately.
To remove the crème caramels from the ramekins, I run a sharp straight-bladed paring knife around the inside of each ramekin, then turn each dessert upside down onto the serving plate. I also use a blowtorch to gently warm the caramel in the base of the ramekin to make it easier to release, but you could briefly dip the base of each ramekin in hot water before turning out the desserts, if you don’t have a blowtorch.
For an alternative garnish instead of the celery and blackberries prepare this garnish, Brandied Sultanas, Pine Nuts and Thyme.
- 1 tablespoon caster sugar
- 50ml boiling water
- 50ml brandy
- 180g golden sultanas
- Zest and juice of one lemon
- 50g pine nuts, toasted
- Leaves from two sprigs of thyme
Dissolve the sugar in the boiling water and add the brandy, sultanas, lemon zest and juice. Set aside for 1 hour whilst preparing the crème caramel. Once ready to serve add the toasted pine nuts and thyme leaves.