Crème caramel with Pedro Ximénez sherry

Serves 6
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I love the silky texture of a baked rich, creamy custard and the way it wobbles prettily on a plate. The bittersweet caramel that sits atop adds a real intensity. The deep, mellow flavour of Pedro Ximénez sherry – trickled over just before serving – is a lovely enhancement but you can serve the crème caramel just as it is if you prefer.

500g/1lb caster sugar
500ml/17fl oz whole milk
500ml/17fl oz double cream
2 large eggs
9 large egg yolks
6 tsp Pedro Ximénez, to serve

Preheat the oven to 160C/325F/Gas 3. Have ready six dariole moulds or ramekins (200ml/7fl oz capacity).

To make the caramel, put 300g/10oz of the sugar into a medium-sized, heavy-based pan and melt over a medium heat. Swirl the pan occasionally as the sugar begins to colour and remove from the heat as soon as the caramel is dark golden; this will take about five minutes. Don't let it darken too much, otherwise it will taste bitter. Quickly, but carefully (the caramel will be hot) spoon two tablespoons into the base of each mould. Stand the moulds in a roasting tin and set aside.

For the custard, pour the milk and cream into a saucepan and bring just to a simmer over a medium heat, then take off the heat. Meanwhile, lightly whisk the whole eggs, egg yolks and remaining sugar together in a bowl, just to combine. Slowly pour in the warm milk, whisking as you do so.

Pour the custard into a clean, heavy-based saucepan and stir over a very low heat with a wooden spoon for 10 minutes or so until it is thick enough to lightly coat the back of the spoon. Ladle the custard on to the caramel base in the prepared moulds, filling them almost to the rim.

Pour enough hot water into the roasting tin to come halfway up the side of the moulds. Cooking in this way, with a bain-marie, is a way of protecting a delicate dish (or individual dishes) from the direct, intense heat of the oven; it is also used to keep sauces warm once they are cooked. A bain-marie (literally a water-bath) surrounds the dishes with gentle steam.

Bake on the middle shelf of the oven for one hour. To test whether it is done, insert a small, sharp knife into the centre of one of the puddings; if it comes out clean, the custard is set. Leave the dishes in the bain-marie to cool slowly to room temperature, then take them out and chill in the fridge overnight.

To serve, run a knife around the inside of each mould and invert on to a plate – the set custards should slip out easily. Spoon a teaspoonful or so of sherry over the top of each one and serve.

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