Nuts and oranges were and still are part of our family holiday traditions. As kids, our Christmas goodie bags would consist of a large orange, peanuts in the shells and various Mexican candies, including my favorite dulce de leche caramel. For this recipe, I have prepared a special custard dessert using pecans in a salted caramel sauce with hints of orange essence both in the sauce and the custard.
Yield 12 servings
For the Custard:
6 cups whole milk
2 cinnamon sticks, 2-3 inches in size
1/2 tablespoon vanilla bean paste
7 large eggs
1 can sweetened condensed milk (14 oz)
Zest of 1 large navel orange, reserve the juice for caramel
*You will need 12 ramekins (custard cups) that hold at least 1/2 cup each 0r 6 large (one cup) cups
For the Salted Pecan Praline Caramel:
6 tablespoons butter
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
Juice of 1 orange, reserved
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon salt… or to taste
2 cups (8 oz.) pecan halves
1/2 cup whole milk or heavy cream, at room temperature
You Will Also Need:
Zest from 1 to 2 more oranges for garnish on top of caramel
1. For the custard: To a pot, add the milk, cinnamon sticks and 1/2 tablespoon of vanilla bean paste. Heat to medium and cook for 1 to 2 minutes after milk begins to steam. Do not let it boil. Remove from heat and let cool at room temperature. This will allow the milk to steep and take in more flavor of the cinnamon and vanilla.
2. Once milk mixture has cooled, preheat oven to 325ºF. If preparing 12 servings, fill two large baking dishes 1/3 of the way with water. Place on baking sheet and place in oven while it preheats.
3. Add the egg yolks a bowl and mix until thick and lighter in color. Gradually add in the condensed milk. Stir into the cooled milk mixture. Remove cinnamon sticks and discard. Gently pour and divide the custard among the ramekin dishes. Try not to make too many bubbles. And most importantly, do not get any water in the custard or it will not set up correctly. Place the filled cups carefully into baking dish with water. The water should come up halfway up the side of the dish.
4. Bake the custard for 1 hour and 30 minutes. This is a slow cooking custard, so just be patient. Check custard after 1 hour. Insert a knife in the center, if it comes out clean that means it’s done. It should be slightly wobbly in the center still. All ovens will vary in the cooking time. Once custard is done, carefully remove baking dishes from oven and let cool in the water for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, remove custard from water bath and place in the refrigerator to chill for a four hours or overnight.
5. While custard is chilling, prepare the pecan caramel sauce. In a skillet, add the butter and heat to medium. Once butter melts, add the brown sugar and stir to combine. Add the remaining ingredients for the sauce, minus the milk. Reduce heat and cook until sauce becomes really thick. This takes about 15 to 20 minutes. Once sauce has thickened, gradually stream in the room temperature milk until well incorporated. Cook for just 2 more minutes. Remove from heat. When ready to serve the custard, warm the caramel sauce slightly and spoon over the custard cups. Garnish with a little orange zest. Yields 12 servings.