I am pretty sure wherever in the world one finds oneself, there is either a sweet or savoury food that combines eggs and milk. In custard the third component is…sugar! Lagan Nu Custard is a Parsi custard and actually were it not for the slight change of name, it could very well finish off an European meal. Before I get to the recipe, a little more about my journey with custard.
Custard – from a comforting dessert at home to wedding elegance
While growing up in India custard came out of a box. Yes! Can you imagine that? It was actually a packaged powder that had to be mixed and gently cooked with milk to form that familiar, delicious and gooey dessert that makes everything better. Back in 2014, when I wrote the recipe for Mom’s Trifle in a Jiffy, that’s the custard we had used. I was at home, visiting my folks in India and we all had an urge to eat dessert after dinner. There was some cake from earlier in the week, an assortment of jams and preserves and a packet of custard powder. All put together with care and equal amounts of love from my mom led to that wonderful trifle.
Learning the Basics of Custard
When I got back to the States, I craved the flavour and texture of that creamy custard. But where to find the premixed, ready to make custard powder? One answer: an Indian grocery store. They often carry custard powders, even flavoured ones like mango. But somehow I couldn’t recreate the same texture. There was always a slight chalkiness in the custard. That’s when I knew it was time to get the basics down right and learn how to make a custard – either a creme anglaise or creme patisserie. Creme anglaise is French for English custard which is often served as a sauce with desserts, whereas Creme Patisserie is a thicker custard that can be used to fill eclairs.
Reading various recipes, I found out that the three basic ingredients of a custard are eggs, milk and sugar. Often, but not always combined with a thickener such as cornstarch. Maybe all those instant custard powders had had too much cornstarch that didn’t cook well enough and left a chalky after taste. That is the trick. When using a flour based thickener such as cornstarch appropriate cooking is essential to remove the aftertaste of uncooked flour.
Soon after that trip I started experimenting with custards. Some were cooked on the stove top using cornstarch and others were baked, often with a caramel sauce at the bottom and flipped after baking like a flan. I baked Flan so frequently that it became sort of a signature! Yet, I remained lazy and never wrote it up for the blog. Until this month when Sakshi mentioned the fast approaching Parsi New Year and Kalyan Karmakar’s (of Thefinelychopped) article about a Parsi feast featuring Lagan Nu Custard for dessert. Let me explain why this was intriguing enough to spur me into action versus my journey of making custard.
From Persia to India- Lagan Nu Custard blends sensibilities of two cultures
The Parsis, followers of Zoroastrianism – one of the oldest religions in the world that remains active today – migrated to India from their homes in Persia (present day Iran) between the 8th and 10th century seeking refuge from invading Arabs. This migration led them to the region currently known as Gujarat in India. Eventually, Parsis spread to other parts of the country, setting up business that have shaped the Indian economy; the most well-known amongst them are the Tata and Godrej groups.
The flow of cultural artefacts, language, clothing and cuisine from Persia to India didn’t just begin with the arrival of the Parsis. Common terms in Hindustani – a blend of Hindi and Urdu – in fact derive from their roots in Persian. To this day Indian words for common foods like Apple = Seb, Pomegranate = Anar, Cottage Cheese = Paneer, Pulao = Pilaf/ Pilav, are remnants of the constant exchange between these two civilizations, pre-dating the conquest of India by Mughals by many centuries. Similar is the use of saffron, currants, raisins and a variety of nuts – pistachios, almonds, pecans, walnuts and more – in our foods. After reading Kalyan’s write up, I decided to inject my own blend of spices and make some Lagan Nu Custard. But not before reading about another kind of custard – one inspired by Chinese cuisine – that is steamed instead of baked in an oven. A straight route is never fun, is it?
And before I forget, I brought Persia into the mix by cooking as a side a tart and sweet Plum, Mango and Ginger Chutney that balances the sweetness of the custard. Scroll down for the recipe.
Custard – Baked and Steamed
While reading about custard recently, I came across an article by the James Beard Award winner cookbook author, Dorie Greenspan where she discusses the necessity of learning basic cooking techniques. To illustrate her point, she cites the example of a custard prepared Daniel Skurnick, who is the pastry chef at both, Le Coucou (French cuisine) and Buddakan (Asian cuisine) in New York city. Greenspan is amazed that a classically trained pastry chef is able to transcend the boundaries of these two cuisines and create appropriate desserts for each of them. This is where the importance of learning the basics lies – in knowing how to handle ingredients so that they shine no matter the setting.
From Daniel Skurnick, Dorie Greenspan learned and then shared a recipe for the Franco-Chinese Steamed Ginger Custard on NYT Cooking. This is where I got my motivation to try steaming the Lagan Nu Custard. The outcome – brilliant! You cannot tell the difference between oven baked and steamed custard. Therein lies the solution for those cooking without an oven.
Here is how to make Lagan Nu Custard
Total Preparation Time: 1 hour
Inactive prep: 10 minutes, Active Cooking (baking/steaming): Between 20- 40 minutes based on method.
Makes – 6 to 8 ramekins of custard
- Eggs 4 large,
- Milk 2 cups (preferably whole milk),
- Sugar 1/2 cup,
- Vanilla essence 1 tsp or Vanilla beans,
- Saffron 1 tsp,
- Nutmeg powder 1/2 tsp,
- Cardamom powder 1/2 tsp,
- Cinnamon powder 1/2 tsp (optional),
- Nuts – pista and almonds – 1/4 cup for garnish (optional).
Tools: You’ll need a mixing bowl, a whisk, a baking tray or steamer and ramekins or cups, aluminium foil or microwave proof clear wrap.
There are two ways of cooking the custard: either by steaming in a stove top steamer or by baking in a water bath in the oven. Both are tried and tested and work well. There is no difference in prepping the actual mix of ingredients. The only tweaks that you’d have to make along the way are for sealing and placing the actual ramekins or vessel containing the custard mix.
For Steaming: set up a deep wok or kadhai with water up to half its capacity and bring it to a boil. Turn this to a simmer while you prepare the mix. If you have a bamboo steamer things will be easy. If not place a steamer insert (a plate with a stand) and use that.
For Baking: Pre heat the oven to 325 F or 162 C. Take a baking tray and fill water to one fourth its capacity. Place ramekins in it – 4 to 6 – however many you can fit and adjust the amount of water making sure it doesn’t rise above the half way mark on the outside of each ramekin. I place the water bath in the oven while it is preheating to warm it up.
The custard mix:
Measure milk and stir in saffron (crush strands in a pestle before adding), ground nutmeg, cinnamon and cardamom. Mix with a fork and let it stand while you cream sugar and eggs.
In a mixing bowl measure sugar and then whisk in eggs, one at a time. Once the sugar has been creamed add vanilla essence. I used essence, but if you have vanilla beans then extract the seeds and add about a teaspoon’s worth into the mixture.
Finally, combine milk and eggs. Pour in the egg and sugar mix into the milk and gently mix it in. You could use a whisk or even a spatula and mix as if folding stiff eggs. Saffron and the yolks will give it a really nice yellow colour which will deepen during the cooking process.
Pour equal amounts into clean ramekins or cups, filling up only about half of each. If you pour more mix then it might rise over the edges while cooking.
If steaming, cover each ramekin with a square of aluminium foil and seal it by putting on a rubber band. Wrapping ramekins like this protects the custard from external steam which would otherwise seep in and ruin the texture of this dessert. Microwave proof clear wrap is an alternative to aluminium foil. Heat resistance of the microwave proof wrap ensures that the plastic wont shrink or shrivel due to the heat. Once you have placed as many ramekins as can fit and sealed them, cover the steamer and cook for 15-20 minutes. The water should be on an even simmer. Replenish water if there isn’t enough in the wok or kadhai. To test, remove a ramekin and open carefully (it will be HOT) and check by inserting a tooth pick or cake tester. If it comes out clean then its cooked through.
If you’d rather bake, then simply open the oven and place ramekins in the baking tray water bath. Bake for 30 minutes or until a cake tester or toothpick comes out clean.
Remove from the oven or steamer when custard passes the test and cool down to room temperature before refrigerating. Garnish with sliced pistachios and almonds. This is optional. I did not have nuts at hand and skipped.
In the winter months warm custard can be served as is, otherwise serve chilled along with a chocolate sauce or perhaps a plum chutney.
Plum Chutney for Lagan Nu Custard or Just Like That!
Plums are used in abundance in Persian food. They can be found in dishes combining chicken or meat with plums and even stews with potatoes and plums. With all the plums flooding the markets in late summer, I decided to add this Persian favourite to my serving of Lagan Nu Custard. I have also been on a quest to prepare as many chutneys as possible with mango while the season lasts. No points for guessing, this chutney had some mango along with plenty of ginger and a hint of spices. Read on for a quick and easy chutney that is also the right consistency for a jam. Slather it on toast or eat it with ice cream or custard – whatever you like.
Total Preparation Time: 40 minutes.
Prep: 5 minutes; Active Cooking: 20- 30 minutes.
- Ripe plums 2,
- Mango 1 or 1/2,
- Ginger 1 inch piece – julienned,
- Sugar 2-3 tablespoons (adjust per taste),
- Salt 1/2 teaspoon,
- Nutmeg / Cinnamon 1 tsp (optional),
- Juice of half a lime (if needed).
Wash and pat dry the plums and mango. De-seed plums and quarter them into chunks. Peel the mango and then slice and cube half of it. Add both fruits to a saucepan and gently bring to a boil. In the meantime, clean and julienne ginger. Add it to the pot and cook with the fruit. Do not add sugar until the fruit has cooked completely and is easily mashed with a spoon. This should take about 15-20 minutes on medium heat. Then add sugar and spices – if using. Mix well and cook for another 5-10 minutes. Allow the chutney to thicken. If the plums are tart and sour then do not add lime juice. If the chutney is too sweet, add juice of half a lime to balance the sweetness.
Take a teaspoons and dip it in the chutney. For jams the frozen plate test is recommended. But I just dip a spoon in the chutney to check for consistency. If it doesn’t drip and clings to the spoon even at room temperature, then its ready. Let it cool down to room temperature.
Pour into a clean glass jar. Place a small piece of cling wrap on top before closing the lid – a sealing/canning trick mentioned by Anita from A Mad Tea Party.
Serve with Lagan Nu Custard or put it on toast!
This is my take on a common Parsi dessert, Lagan Nu Custard, with some Persian (Plum) flair.
I hope you get a chance to enjoy the Lagan Nu Custard on occasions other than weddings.