Friday, January 7, 2011

Baked Egg Custard With Gruyere and Chives

I’m at my table looking out the window as I type, happily tucked inside my cozy apartment on this snowy day. The snowflakes are a riot of white confetti, falling fast and furious while buffeted by the wind. It’s a perfect day for something warm and comforting, preferably a dish that involves melted cheese and/or bacon. How about a Baked Egg Custard with Gruyere and Chives, with a little bacon on the side just for kicks? Yeah, I knew you’d like that.

I’m still flying high from New Year’s Day, on which the One-Year Plan Club gathered for our annual January 1st celebration. I’ve written more extensively in the past about the OYPC here and here. In short, for nearly a decade now this special group of friends and I have gathered each January 1st to take stock of the year gone by and map out our goals for the upcoming year. There was much to celebrate as many of us had a banner 2010, and everyone was particularly focused in his or her goals for this year, as though we’d definitely entered a more mature new chapter in the life of the OYPC. I am truly inspired by these friends, by their honesty and vulnerability as well as their determination to live their lives more fully as they realize their creative and professional dreams.

It was a brilliant sunny day, which seemed like a portent of good things to come in 2011. I was thrilled to host my first sit-down meal for EIGHT, a small triumph in my not-so-large apartment. I couldn’t have been happier to have everyone gathered around the table in my sun-drenched living room.

I made an enormous bowlful of the Winter Fruit Salad that had been such a hit at last year’s brunch, and a huge pot of steel-cut oatmeal kept warm on the stove so people could help themselves throughout the eight-hour (!) brunch meeting. We were obviously a hungry crew, for the scrumptious cranberry-orange scones that Alissa had baked disappeared in a flash, and I cooked up two pounds of bacon that were devoured before the platter made its way around the table a second time. And the Baked Egg Custard was the much-anticipated centerpiece of the brunch for the third year in a row.

I'm in danger of becoming a one-trick pony at these New Year’s brunches, but this recipe is so dumb-dumb easy that you can quickly throw it together even if you’re slightly hung-over or operating on very little sleep. Trust me, I’ve tested this recipe under both conditions, and it never fails. All you have to do is sprinkle of generous layer of grated Gruyere cheese and snipped chives on the bottom of a buttered baking dish. Toss a bunch of eggs, some milk and a few ounces of softened cream cheese into a blender, whip the mixture to a froth and pour it over the shredded cheese. Stick the whole dish in the oven while you go set the table, make yourself coffee or take a mini nap, whatever you need to do.

The baked custard is a cross between a quiche filling and a soufflé, and it emerges from the oven golden and puffed to impressive heights. The center will fall a bit, but the texture of the chive-flecked custard remains light and airy while the Gruyere imparts a delightful nuttiness. I find it is the perfect counterpart to a few strips of crispy bacon, especially when it is accompanied by great conversation with inspiring friends.

From a recipe by Melissa Roberts in Gourmet, December 2008

2 cups grated Gruyere cheese
½ cup finely chopped chives
10 large eggs
1-½ cups whole milk
4 ounces cream cheese, softened and cut into pieces
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
¼ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper

Preheat the oven to 350° and position the baking rack in the center of the oven. Butter the bottom and sides of a 2-quart shallow baking dish.

Scatter the grated Gruyere and chives evenly over the bottom of the dish. Combine the eggs, milk, cream cheese, nutmeg, salt and pepper in the blender. Blend until smooth and frothy.

Pour the egg mixture over the grated cheese. Bake the custard in the middle of the oven until it has puffed up, set and turned golden on top. Depending on the size of your baking dish and idiosyncrasies of your oven, this can take between 35 and 45 minutes. Serve warm. Makes 8 moderate servings, or 6 more generous ones.

1 comment:

Ed Valentine said...

Nice! But I'll have you know that gmail keeps sending me recipes even MORE tasty-sounding. This one sounds DELICIOUS: "Gingered Spam Salad." I'm sure you'll agree that's hard to resist. MMMMMM!!!