It's a quick dessert, but it does need a little bit of love. You need to make sure that you keep mixing! It not only aerates the dessert, making it soft and fluffy, but keeps the egg yolk silky rather than turning into bits of scrambled egg. The traditional method is a whisk and a lot of elbow grease, but we've gone modern and used an electric mixer. The custard gets cooked over a bain marie (French for "water bath,"), gently heating the mixture. One trick we read was to bring the water up to a full rolling boil, and then turn the heat down until bubbles barely break and the water is steaming. This provides enough heat to cook the custard (aim for about 150°F) without getting scrambled edges.
This dessert should serve about 4-6 in dessert or demitasse cups, but can be scaled easily, as long as you keep the same ratios. (All bets are off if you tell your teenager, "Get some more glasses," and don't specify "dessert glasses...)
It's best served immediately, or it will begin to separate. The thick foam atop syrupy coffee is still tasty, but not quite the same. If you need to hold it for more than a few minutes, most of the recipes we've seen suggest folding in about 1/4 c whipped cream per recipe.
4 egg yolks
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup espresso or strong brewed coffee, cooled to room temperature
bain marie - a pot with about 1 inch of simmering water
Place the egg yolks in a heatproof bowl that will nest just inside the top of the pot.
Beat the yolks on medium speed until they are smooth.
Slowly add the sugar, beating constantly in a figure-8 pattern, making sure to scrape the sides with the beaters/whisk.
Add the espresso (or wine), beating constantly.
Place the egg bowl on the pan. Beat constantly until the custard is thick and fluffy, and an instant-read thermometer reaches 145-150°F.
Serve immediately with fresh berries (if you use large strawberries, quarter them first), biscotti or other crunchy cookies, some dark chocolate shavings...or just a spoon. This dessert is so good, you may have a re-enactment of Oliver Twist.
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