Absinthe Crème Caramel
"I climbed out of the window, right past the police officer who had been stationed at my door (it was house arrest, you see) and I went to warn my friends."
So said the woman on the video, as the camera zoomed in on her knee high leather boots. She had spiky black hair, and was maybe in her mid-fifties. Grinning, she continued in French.
"I came back in through the front door—boy was the cop surprised to see me. I invited him in and made him a coffee, but I had to promise not to tell anyone that I'd gotten out."
Arrested for an illegal absinthe still that she had in her house in the 1980s, she's featured as one of the first hand witnesses of the nearly century long ban on absinthe in Switzerland.
Her video, among many others, plays in the Maison de l'Absinthe, a museum dedicated to the green spirit in Môtiers, a small town in the canton of Neuchâtel, Switzerland. It was in this town, and many others in the Val-de-Travers, where absinthe originated and, as an act of rebellion, was kept alive illegally throughout the twentieth century.
Last week I visited this fascinating museum and drank some absinthe in its birthplace.
Generally, I like drinking absinthe alone with a swirl of cold water while pretending to be a French bohemian. But as I discussed with my friend Heddi (fellow Swiss food enthusiast of Cuisine Helvetica fame), it is indeed a flavour that lends itself to cooking, both savoury and sweet. Its fennel taste is paired with fish, especially from local lakes, and many desserts exist, often with chocolate. And of course there's Heddi's beautiful absinthe bundt cake.
This recipe takes the classic retro dessert créme caramel and gives it a hit of the green fairy.
For the caramel:
50 g sugar
30 ml absinthe
For the custard:
160 ml milk
1 egg and 1 additional yolk
30 g sugar
1 tsp absinthe
First make the caramel.
You want to use a pot with a light coloured bottom so you can see the sugar change colour. Have two ramekins and your shot of absinthe ready before you begin making the caramel.
Add the sugar to the bottom of the pot and stir in about 2 tbsp water. Put the pot over medium high heat and cook until the sugar is amber coloured. Now, add the absinthe, taking care because the sugar with steam and seize up. Put the pot back over the heat and keep stirring until it is liquid again.
Pour this into the two ramekins.
Preheat oven to 150 C / 300 F / gas mark 2.
In a pot over medium heat, warm the milk until steaming.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg, yolk, sugar, and absinthe.
Slowly pour the warm milk into the eggs while stirring constantly. Let sit for a few minutes.
Meanwhile, place your caramel filled ramekins in a larger baking dish with high sides.
Pour the custard into the ramekins.
Fill the larger baking dish with hot water from the tap, then bake for about 30 minutes or until the custard is mostly set with a slight tremble in the centre.
Chill in the fridge for at least four hours, or overnight.
Before serving, run a paring knife around the edge of the custard, then flip over on a plate.
The caramel can be a bit tricky. Make sure you have everything prepared before you start and don't leave the stove—it can go from golden to black in a matter of seconds.
With the addition of the booze, the caramel really splutters (see below), watch out!