National Vanilla Custard Day is today, and I am starting this auspicious observance with a list of things I do not want:

No ice cream, because that is for tomorrow’s post.
Nothing with pastry cream, because it’s too heavy for the hot weather. And no creme brule because sweet freaking Christmas, I am 100% over them, at least for the foreseeable future.

Panna cotta would be great, but it is not, by definition, a true custard.
Nope, it’s not.
A custard is defined as a liquid (typically containing milk or cream, sugar, flavoring, and eggs) that is set solely by the coagulation of egg proteins.
So yeah, panna cotta doesn’t fit the bill, delicious though it is.

What I am observing the day instead is a traditional English custard. To the American palette it’s going to look quite a lot like pudding, and it is. It’s a softer version than what we get out of the box, but so, so nice. This version is also a little lighter on the sugar, which to me is a nice change. Top it off with fig-sesame jam, the original recipe can be found here, though I think my modified version fits this custard to a t.

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Processed with VSCOcam

Vanilla Bean Pudding

1 1/4 c. heavy cream
1/2 a vanilla bean, split
3 egg yolks
1 tsp. cornstarch*
2 Tbsp. sugar
Pinch of salt
1 1/2 tsp dark rum (optional)

Place the cream and vanilla bean in a medium heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Allow to come just up to a boil, then remove from heat.
While you’re waiting for the cream to come up, place the yolks, cornstarch, sugar, and salt in a medium bowl and whisk together until smooth and well combined.
Slowly whisk the hot cream into the eggs. Pour the cream/egg combo back into the pot, and whisk it over low heat until the pudding thickens and begins to bubble. Stir in the rum. Immediately remove from the heat and pour into a clean bowl set over some ice. Whisk occasionally until cool. Place a piece of plastic wrap directly onto the pudding. This will prevent it from developing that weird, unappetizing skin pudding sometimes gets. Store in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

Fig-Sesame Jam
1 1/4 c. sugar
3/4 c. water
1 # fresh mission figs
1 long strip of lemon zest
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1/4 tsp vanilla
Pinch of salt
1 Tbsp. toasted sesame seeds

Trim and quarter the figs.
Place the sugar and water in a medium pot over high heat. When it comes to a rolling boil, add the figs, zest, juice, vanilla and salt stir, and reduce the heat to a simmer. Allow the figs to reduce to a thick, chunky jam, approx. 20 min. Remove from the heat and discard the zest. Allow to cool a little before spooning onto the pudding.

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Processed with VSCOcam

Once assembled, eat with reckless abandon.

*After blah blah-ing about the definition of a custard, I went ahead and used cornstarch in the above recipe. Cornstarch aids in, you guessed it, thickening stuff, therefore making this technically not a custard in the truest sense.
But it is still way more of a custard than panna cotta.

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Pfeffernusse, just like I don’t remember them…








My memories of nibbling countless pfeffernusse in my childhood kitchen are strong, and according to my mother, totally false. I have mentioned before that it was not uncommon to wake up in the morning to the scent of freshly baked cookies. On nights when she just wasn’t ready for sleep, Mom would bake a little something while the rest of the family slept. In my memory, pfeffernusse cookies were on that counter, alongside lebkuchen, chocolate chip, or whatever else she had a craving to make. So when I asked her about these particular cookies and her late-night baking habits, ┬áMom gently replied, “Nope Honey, never made those. I promise.”

Uhhh. Okay.
I’m going to look up false memories on a few psychology websites. You, however, should really make these. Pfeffernusse, or “pepper nuts” are one of my all-time favorite cookies. These wee little guys are meant to be nibbled slowly- they have a biscotti-like crunch and a powerful amount of warm spices that keep your tongue tingling long after they are eaten. My version is just a teeny bit boozy, since the cookie and the glaze have a little brandy mixed in, too.


2 large eggs

1 Tbsp brandy

1 tsp instant coffee (I use Starbucks)

2 tsp grated orange zest

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/4 cup sugar

1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour

3/4 cup whole-wheat all-purpose flour

1/8 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp salt

1/4 tsp nutmeg

1/2 tsp cloves

1/2 tsp cardamom

1/4 tsp very finely ground black pepper

2 tsp cinnamon

1/4 cup very finely chopped candied orange peel



1 1/2 cups powdered sugar

2 Tbsp water

1 Tbsp brandy


Beat the eggs and both sugars on high speed until very light. Add the brandy, coffee, and orange zest, and mix well. Sift the flours, baking powder, salt, and all the spices together. add to the egg mixture, and mix on low speed until just combined.

Scoop into teaspoon-sized balls and place on parchment paper-lined baking sheets. Lightly cover each baking sheet with a cotton towel and allow to dry for a minimum of four hours (or overnight).

Preheat the oven to 325F. Uncover the baking sheets and bake until lightly golden, about 18 minutes.

Sift the powdered sugar, then whisk together with the water and brandy. Set aside.

Once the cookies are cool, dip each in the glaze and place on a drying rack. When they are dry, sprinkle with a little powdered sugar.

Eat with reckless holiday abandon.