Saturday, December 8, 2012

Sometimes, savory is better than sweet

Consider yourselves warned. This is a savory baked custard that's sinful, delicious and utterly bad for your health.

Whoever says custards should only be sweet, they are sorely mistaken. Because, sometimes, savory is better than sweet.

Yes, chocolate is my vice, but so is cheese. I have many a time waxed poetic about the beauty of a three cheese soufflé, the glory of feta whipped to a pillowy spread, the marvel that is the traditional Greek cheese saganaki.

My love for cheese runs deep and for parmesan even deeper. I've added it to numerous pasta dishes, to tart bases and on top of savory French toasts but I have never gone as far as adding it to custard. Not until about a year ago when I first tried this recipe.

Salty goodness to the brim, balanced by the creaminess of the milk and eggs and the whisper of fiery cayenne and white pepper. A velvety smooth custard filled with the umami flavor of parmesan cheese, paired with crunchy anchovy toasts for proper dipping action. A savory surprise that's truly inspiring.

Parmesan Custards with Anchovy Toasts
Adapted from Rowley Leigh

These custards make an ideal first course or appetizer for a special or festive dinner.
They pair perfectly with a crisp Chardonnay such as a Chablis.

Yield: 4 custards


for the parmesan custards
150 ml fresh, whole milk
150 ml cream, full fat (35%)
50 g parmesan cheese, finely grated
2 egg yolks from medium-sized eggs
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Pinch of white pepper
Pinch of salt

for the anchovy toasts
6 anchovy fillets in oil (from a can)
30 g unsalted butter, softened
4 very thin slices of sourdough bread or rustic bread (or 8 baguette slices)

Special equipment: hand whisk, 4 small ramekins (100 ml capacity), small baking dish that fits all four ramekins together, sandwich/panini maker


for the parmesan custards
In a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan, add the milk, the cream and the finely grated parmesan and set over a low heat. Stir continuously with a rubber spatula until the parmesan has melted and the mixture is steaming but is not boiling. It will take 5-7 minutes.
Remove the pan from the heat and empty the mixture into a medium-sized bowl. Allow the mixture to cool.

Preheat your oven to 150 degrees Celsius / 300 Fahrenheit.

Add the eggs, cayenne and white pepper and a pinch of salt to the cooled mixture and whisk well to incorporate.
Divide the custard mixture equally among the four ramekins and place them inside a deep baking dish. Fill the baking dish with enough boiling water to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins, place it carefully on the middle rack of the oven and cover it loosely with a piece of baking paper.

Bake the custards for 25-30 minutes or until just set. Check them 5 minutes earlier to make sure you're on the right track, and since not all ovens are the same, to make sure that the custards have not overcooked. Check doneness by gently touching with your finger the center of the custard. It needs to be wobbly but set, not liquid. It mustn't be hard in the middle.
Do not overcook the custards because that will ruin their creamy texture.

for the anchovy toasts
In the meantime, prepare the anchovy toasts.
Drain the anchovies well from the oil and add them to a small bowl along with the softened butter. Mash them with a fork to a smooth paste. Spread it over 2 of the slices of bread, cover with the 2 remaining slices and toast them in a sandwich/panini maker until golden brown and crunchy.

Remove the baking pan from the oven and remove the ramekins from the pan. Allow them to cool slightly before serving them, sprinkled with a little white pepper.
Serve the parmesan custards with the anchovy toasts, cut into little fingers.


  1. This looks amazing - right up my alley. And I totally agree - I prefer savory over sweet!

  2. I will take savory over sweet any day! These custards sound really interesting. I might make a bunch of different toasts with veg--maybe something like red pepper toast, or tomato?

    1. Sure, veg toasts sound great. Perhaps one with pesto!

  3. Ooooh this custard and the anchovy toasts both sound amazetown. You make incredible dishes out of your love of cheese. I want to eat this for dinner!!

  4. Wow - these custards sound perfect! In fact, it would be a perfect "light" supper with a salad alongside. As a lover of sweets, it is most often savory that I crave... Thanks, Magda, for another great post! ~ David

  5. This looks delicious and decadent. Purely addictive!

  6. OMG. You absolutely got me with this recipe. I completely adore cheese and this looks awesome. Yum!

  7. This looks absolutely delicious! What a beautiful and tasty recipe. I love savoury and I agree, sometimes, well, quite often actually, savoury is better than sweet.

  8. Oh I love a good savory custard! This looks like heaven to me, Magda.
    Wishing you happy and delicious holidays,