In the summertime, us Greeks try and beat the heat any way possible. Days are spent at the beach, siestas in the middle of the afternoon and cooking when the home has cooled down or minimizing cooking.
During the summer in Greece, meals are prepared the evening before or that morning and simply reheated for lunch, the biggest meal of the day. With Greece’s hot summers, one must drink alot of liquids and fruits and vegetables supplement your water intake.
Personally (and I’m sure the same holds true for many) the heat actually cuts my appetite. I get by with less when I’m in Greece. A salad, some grilled sardines and a cold potato salad do me just fine.
Desserts for Greeks will usually be a platter of whatever is fresh and in season. As we speak, Greeks are enjoying watermelon, cantaloupe and honeydew melons.
Us Greeks do not abandon desserts in the summer. One visit to any one of the “zaharaoplasteia” (patisseries) will prove that the desserts business in the summer is quite brisk.
One quick, refreshing and satisfying dessert in the summer is Creme Caramel. The other countries that hug the Mediterranean basin have their own versions of this baked custard dessert and Greece’s version stands proud with the rest.
The very first time I had Creme Caramel was in 1980, the day my family and I returned to Canada. We had flown to Greece with CP Air and we had to change planes to get to/from Thessaloniki.
Back then, Athens had two airport terminals…one that exclusively serviced Olympic Airlines flights and the other serviced the foreign-held airlines. Outside of theÂ foreign airline terminal was a restaurant that catered to passengers in transit or delayed.
My family had a few hours layover and we decided to grab a lunch to kill time and to spend some the loose Drachmas (Greece’s old currency) we had on hand. We ate a wonderful Pastitsio, shared a Greek salad and for dessert, Creme Caramel.
The “mothership” recipe is pretty basic…eggs, sugar, milk and the flavouring of choice. The most common flavouring in a Greek Creme Caramel would be vanilla but Mastic or lemon or orange zest would also work well.
In keeping with the vanilla flavouring, I grated some tonka beans for the first time. The tonka bean is a black and wrinkled seed. The aroma is dreamy with warm notes of vanilla, cinnamon, almond and clove (all beloved flavours in Greek cuisine). Tonka beans are banned in many countries due to it containing Coumarin and large doses of this can be harmful to humans.
The Coumarin dosage is reduced to about 10% after the tonka beans go through a distilling stage, making them safe for consumption. For this recipe, I used two tonka beans and I’m still standing.
I cannot find tonka beans in Canada or the US but the French use it more in their cooking and there are some sources available on the internet.
Regardless, Creme Caramel is a wonderful and easy dessert to prepare and to offer as a summer dessert. For my recent Canada Day BBQ I was in the mood to use tonka beans…what kind of Creme Caramel will you make?
Tonka Bean Creme Caramel
(12 â€“ 3 inch Ramekins)
5 cups scalded milk
2 tonka beans, grated with a microplane
1 cup sugar (for custard)
8 egg yolks
2/3 cupÂ sugar (for caramel)
1/4 cupÂ water (for caramel)
Preheat the oven to 350F
- Put the eggs and the 1 cup of sugar in a stainless steel bowl and mix them. Put the milk in a small saucepan and add your grated tonka beans. Over a medium-high heat, bring the milk to just below a boil. Remove it from the heat. Pour the milk over the egg mixture while whisking.Â Mix well. Let the mixture cool for a few minutes.
- Meanwhile, make your caramel. Put the sugar (1 cup) and the water in a small pot over a high heat. Wait until the sugar caramelizes and turns a nut-brown colour (colour of a penny). Remove the pot from the heat and pour a small amount of the caramel into the bottom of each ramekin. Allow it to set.
- Pour the custard mix over the caramel in each ramekin. Cook in a bain-marie filled half way with water. When cooked let the creme caramel rest in the refrigerator over night, then un-mold them by running a knife around the edge, placing the plate on top then inverting the custard onto the plate.
A special thank-you goes out to Stephane of Zen Can Cook who was kind enough to send me some tonka beans, merci!
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