Sometime in 1980, I had an extraordinary lunch at restaurant Troisgros in Roanne, France. One of the mandatory go-to restaurants on every foodie's list, it was a shrine to gastronomy in the days of nouvelle cuisine when the world's first celebrity chefs were French. While there were many aspects of that 4-hour lunch that are worth a thousand words (I was there with New York master chef Richard Burns who headed the kitchens at the Palace -- once the most expensive restaurant in the world!) there was one dish that stood out among all others. It was the simplest dish of the meal, too: an apple tart with fresh tarragon. I never forgot it. Since then (that's 30 years ago!), I have been slipping fresh herbs into my own desserts. I, too, now make an apple tart with tarragon plucked from my window box, and add fresh slivered basil to ripe summer peaches. And I have found pine-y rosemary to be a felicitious gracenote to sweet offerings. I've concocted a dulcet gremolata (grated lemon zest, minced fresh rosemary and sugar) to adorn lemon sorbet. I strew snippets of fresh rosemary atop an olive oil cake I invented (the only recipe I never share) and created the following dessert, which I am very happy to share, for Cooking Light magazine over a decade ago. The recipe can also be found in my cookbook for teens called Eat Fresh Food...'cause everyone seems to love them! These little confections magically separate into custard with a layer of cake floating on top. The vibrant fresh flavors of lemon and rosemary make more magic in your mouth. Sophie Hirsch, one of the teens who helped test recipes for the book, said the following. "I loved the Rosemary Custard Cakes so much! There was an extra one and we all fought over it. I will make this all the time. They are amazingly great." I guess one is never too young to be a foodie.
Rosemary-Lemon Custard Cakes 3 extra-large eggs 1/4 cup plus 1/3 cup sugar 2 large lemons 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature 1/4 cup flour 1 teaspoon finely minced fresh rosemary, plus small rosemary sprigs for garnishing 1-1/2 cups milk 1 tablespoon confectioners sugar
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Separate the whites and yolks of the eggs. Beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt at medium-high speed in the bowl of electric mixture until foamy. Slowly add the 1/4 cup sugar, beating until stiff peaks form, about 4 minutes. Grate the zest of both lemons and set aside. Cut the lemons in half and squeeze to get 1/3 cup juice. In a separate bowl, beat together the 1/3 cup sugar and butter until creamy, about 2 minutes. Beat in the flour, lemon zest and juice, and rosemary. Add the egg yolks and milk and beat well. Use a rubber spatula and gently stir in the egg white mixture. Spoon equally into six 5-ounce custard cups or ramekins. Place the cups in a baking dish and add very hot water to the dish to a depth of 1 inch. Carefully put dish in oven and bake 45 minutes until firm and golden. Remove the dish from the oven and remove the cups from the dish. Let cool. Cover and refrigerate until very cold, at least 4 hours. Sprinkle with confectioners sugar, pushed through a sieve, and eat from the cups. Or you can unmold from the cups: Using a butter knife, loosen the custard around the edges of the cup, place a small plate on top and turn them upside down. Garnish with a sprig of rosemary. Serves 6