Summer Berries with Lay Leaf Custard

If there is a national summer dessert in Norway it must be summer berries with vanilla custard. In my family this is a dish that has always been prepared by my grandmother. Even past her ninetieth birthday she continues to pick a great bowl of berries every morning, enough for our large and hungry family. She picks only red currants and occasionally some wild raspberries; other berries are too sweet for her palate. Just before supper she makes the custard, filling the old farmhouse with the maddeningly delicious aroma of vanilla. There is comfort in this seemingly unbreakable tradition, a confirmation of my grandmother’s role as the matriarch. I normally act as her assistant, breaking the eggs and helping to determine how much sugar to add.

Once, when there was no vanilla to be found in the house, not even poor substitutes like vanilla sugar and vanilla extract, my grandmother declared, "Now you think of something," in her friendly yet demanding way. After searching the shelves, the only candidates I could find were a few dry bay leaves. Neither of us was all too optimistic about the experiment, but when the custard was done, it was delicious. I find the bay leaf variety to be more interesting and complex than the vanilla.

Yield: serves 4 to 6

5 egg yolks
4 tablespoons extra-fine sugar
1 cup whole milk
1-1/4 cups whipping cream
2 to 3 bay leaves, preferably fresh, plus 4 to 6 more for garnish (optional)
2 pounds mixed berries (blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, currants), cleaned

In a medium bowl, whisk the egg yolks and sugar together until pale and thick.

In a small saucepan, combine the egg yolk mixture, milk, cream, and bay leaves. Heat gently over medium-low to low heat, stirring constantly until it thickens enough to leave a velvety coating on the back side of a wooden spoon. (If you are using a thermometer, the custard should reach about 175 degrees.) Do not let the mixture boil or it will curdle. Remove it from the heat as soon as you have obtained the right thickness, and continue stirring for 2 more minutes. Let cool.

Leave the bay leaves in the custard while it cools. Remove the bay leaves when you are ready to serve.

Place the berries in dishes, pour the custard over them, garnish with the additional bay leaves, and serve.

Source: Kitchen of Light by Andreas Viestad

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