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Microwave

A Foolproof Way to Prepare Custards

March 30, 1989|JEAN ANDERSON and ELAINE HANNA

If you've never had luck with custard, try these foolproof microwave versions. You can say "goodbye" to scorched milk, water baths and double boilers. Also to sticky, eggy pans that are a nuisance to scrub.

The microwave cooks custards with stunning speed and ease, but for best results follow these guidelines:

-- Always use large eggs unless otherwise specified, never bigger or smaller ones; these can affect cooking time and degree of thickening.

-- Never double recipes; they may curdle or boil over. Whenever you need double amounts, prepare two batches.

-- Space custard cups or ramekins one inch apart in a circle on microwave-safe tray or platter; this eliminates the bother of turning each individually. Better yet, use a turntable that equalizes cooking.

-- Never try to hurry cooking of egg-thickened desserts by microwaving on HIGH. And whenever a custard seems in danger of curdling, reduce the power level at once.

-- Always watch egg mixtures carefully as they microwave and check for doneness after the minimum cooking time; microwave times will vary according to an oven's power. When it comes to delicate egg-thickened mixtures, seconds, not minutes, can spell the difference between success and failure.

-- Remember that egg-thickened mixtures continue to cook as they stand, so remove from the microwave the instant they test done.

-- To stop the cooking of egg mixtures cold, quick-chill in an ice bath. Or whisk briskly for several seconds.

CREME ANGLAISE (Stirred Custard)

1 3/4 cups milk

1/4 cup sugar

4 egg yolks, lightly beaten

1 teaspoon vanilla

Cake, fruit or pudding, optional

Combine milk and sugar in 6-cup measure and microwave, uncovered, on HIGH (100% power) 4 to 5 minutes until small bubbles appear around edge (do not boil).

Blend small amount of hot mixture into egg yolks, return to measure and whisk briskly. Microwave, uncovered, on MEDIUM-LOW (30% power) 4 to 5 minutes, whisking every minute, until custard thickens and no eggy taste remains. (Watch carefully during final 1 to 2 minutes--mixture must not boil, to prevent curdling.)

In ovens of 700 watts or more, it may be necessary to microwave custard on LOW (10% power). If, despite all precautions, custard threatens to curdle, quickly drop in ice cube and whisk vigorously.

Stir in vanilla and serve warm over cake, fruit or pudding. Or quick-chill custard by setting container in ice water. Whisk often to prevent lumping until cooled. Makes 6 servings.

Variation: Floating Island--prepare custard as directed and quickly cool to lukewarm by setting container in ice water. Divide custard among 4 (6-ounce) ramekins and arrange 1 inch apart in circle on microwave-safe tray.

Beat 2 egg whites until frothy. Gradually beat in 1/4 cup sugar, then beat to stiff peaks. Using spoon dipped in cold water, float meringue puff on each custard. Smooth tops lightly. Microwave, uncovered, on MEDIUM (50% power) 2 1/2 to 3 minutes, rotating platter 90 degrees every minute, until meringues are just firm. Serve at once. Makes 4 servings.

'BAKED' CUSTARD

1 3/4 cups milk

4 eggs

3 tablespoon sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

Ground nutmeg or mace

Fresh berries, optional

Microwave milk, uncovered, in 6-cup measure on HIGH (100% power) 4 to 5 minutes until small bubbles appear around edge (do not boil).

Meanwhile, beat eggs with sugar and vanilla in bowl. Gradually whisk milk into egg mixture, pour into 4 (6-ounce) ramekins, sprinkle lightly with nutmeg and arrange 1 inch apart in circle on microwave-safe platter.

Microwave, uncovered, on MEDIUM (50% power) 7 to 8 1/2 minutes, rotating platter 90 degrees after 3 and 6 minutes. Check for doneness at minimum time--custard should be set 1 inch in from edge (centers will resemble softly set gelatin).

Remove finished custards and microwave those remaining in 30-second increments. Cool custards, uncovered, to room temperature, then chill, if desired. Serve in ramekins or unmold and serve with fresh berries. Makes 4 servings.

Note: In ovens of fewer than 600 watts, increase cooking time about 15%.

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