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Honey Saffron Custard, Rosé-Poached Apricots, Toasted Pine Nut Meringues

One of my favourite parts of cookbooks are the seemingly hidden recipes they often contain. Recipes snug into sidebars or at the back of a book in a chapter called ‘Basics’, ‘Essentials’ or something similar. Or recipes seemingly hidden in plain sight, that you only notice while leafing through the pages of a new cookbook for the third or fourth time, maybe because the recipe came without a photo inviting you to stop at that particular page, or because you couldn’t immediately think of the right occasion for that particular recipe. And while these kinds of recipes are rarely the first recipe I turn to in a new cookbook, in many cases they are the ones that leave the biggest impression. And that is exactly what happened with the Saffron Honey from Heidi Swanson’s Near and Far.

 

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By the time I finally came around to making the Saffron Honey, the Rhasam from page 289 had been my dinner several times already, including when my sister came to stay with me in Brussels a few months ago. So had the Miso Porridge from page 167. And the Saag Paneer from page 280. And I had already marvelled at the genius and the simplicity that is her baked oatmeal recipe from page 71.

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And yet, I would urge anyone who has bought Near and Far to make the Saffron Honey as soon as possible (or to simply try and make your own). That is how delicious it is. And it is so much more than the sum of its parts. The saffron and the honey somehow seem to underline each other’s flavours while also creating this perfect harmony of musky and floral flavours. It is the perfect thing to drizzle over a bowl of really good thick yoghurt (especially goat milk yoghurt if that is your thing), maybe with some toasted almonds and a pinch of sea salt. But the moment I tried the Saffron Honey I also knew that this flavour combination could (and should!) have wider application.

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And that is how I found myself the other weekend infusing a generous pinch of saffron strands into some honey-sweetened milk before turning the golden-coloured saffron milk into a Crème Anglaise (essentially a custard of pouring consistency thickened only with egg yolks). And for a simple yet decadent dessert, I served the Crème Anglaise with this year’s first apricots, poached in some Rosé (briefly, so the apricots would keep their shape) and meringues made with the egg whites left over from making the custard and into which I had folded some toasted pinenuts. A simple summer dessert that requires fairly minimal work and nonetheless produces an unusual yet delicious dessert.

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Honey Saffron Crème Anglaise, Rosé Poached Apricots, Toasted Pine Nut Meringues

Notes: If you wish you could simply serve the apricots with a glug of the crème anglaise and save the egg whites for another occasion. Or you could turn this into Iles Flottantes of sorts by poaching the meringue in hot water. The crunch from the meringues and the toasted pine nuts does provide a nice textural contrast to the soft apricots and creamy crème anglaise though. Added bonus, making the meringues will also use up the egg whites left over from making the custard. Both the crème anglaise (which will stay fresh for about a week) and the meringues can be made in advance. However, the poached apricots should be made the day you are planning to serve this.

Serves 4 with some meringues to spare for your next Eton Mess

Ingredients 

For the Toasted Pine Nut Meringues

4 egg whites
300g fine sugar
150g toasted pine nuts

For the Honey Saffron Crème Anglaise

500ml milk
Generous pinch of saffron (ca. 20 threads)
50g honey
4 egg yolks

 For the Rosé Poached Apricots

300g apricots
50g sugar
200ml rose wine

Directions

Start by making the meringues (these can bake while you prepare your crème anglaise).

Pre-heat the oven to 100 degrees Celsius and line a sheetpan with parchment paper.

In a clean bowl, whip the egg whites until they form stiff peaks.   Add the sugar one tablespoon at a time and continue whisking for about 8-10 minutes, by which time all the sugar should have dissolved and your meringue mix should be firm and glossy.  Fold in all but one tablespoon of the toasted pinenuts.

Using two spoons, drop ca. 8-10 large dollops of the meringue mixture onto the sheetpan. Sprinkle with the remaining pinenuts.

Bake for ca. 1.5h then leave the meringues to cool in the switched-off oven with the door slightly ajar.

For the Crème Anglaise, heat the milk together with the saffron and the honey in a small saucepan until the honey is dissolved and the milk is steaming.  While the milk is heating up, place the egg yolks into a separate bowl. Pour a little bit of the steaming milk over the egg yolks and whisk with a balloon whisk to temper the egg yolks. Pour everything back into the saucepan and cook the custard on low to medium heat until it thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon, stirring continuously to ensure there are no lumps (the custard will continue to thicken as it cools). Strain the custard and set aside to cool.

For the poached apricots, cut the apricots into quarters (or eighths if they are rather large) and place them in a medium saucepan with the wine and the sugar. Bring to a simmer on low to medium heat and leave the apricots to poach until softened (the less you disturb them the more they will keep their shape). This should take no more than 3-5 minutes for ripe apricots but may take longer if yours are not quite mature enough and hence firmer. Use immediately or keep in a closed container in the fridge until using.

To serve, pour a puddle of crème anglaise into four bowls, top with one of the meringue nests and spoon some of the poached apricots together with their poaching liquor next to the meringue nests.

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