One of the great things about my time living in California as an adult was the (somewhat) close proximity to Las Vegas. I’m not much of a gambler, and I’m not into the club thing, but Vegas really has a pretty great food scene. Possibly contrary to many people who visit Vegas, I most look forward to eating (and sitting in the pool under the hot sun). David and I have had many a lovely meal there-some highlights being a crazy delicious “gold standard” burger at Holstein’s, the pork loin at Mesa Grill, and the salted caramel Budino at D.O.C.G. Enoteca. Oh my my. The dinner (although good) was a quickly forgotten memory once the first spoonful of that luscious dessert went into my mouth. It was a good thing David and I shared because as delicious as it was, I could only manage spoonful or two. David had no trouble, of course. It was insanely delicious, but very rich and very sweet. My brain was buzzing like a Bumble Ball after eating it. David raved about that dessert for weeks after we got back home and it always comes up in conversation if the word “salted caramel” is mentioned. So for David’s 33rd birthday I made this memorable dessert to follow the celebratory spaghetti carbonara. It was just as rich and delicious as before, but each part was also heavenly all by itself. I would easily make the Budino again to eat on its own, the salted caramel would be good on basically anything, and I think the chocolate pretzel toffee was my favorite part of the whole dessert.
slightly adapted from: Scott Conant
4 large egg yolks
1 ½ cups plus 2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 ½ cups plus 2 tablespoons whole milk
¼ cup cornstarch
¼ cup plus ¾ cup light brown sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 vanilla bean, split
4 ounces unsalted butter
Whisk together the egg yolks with 2 tablespoons of cream, 2 tablespoons of milk, and the cornstarch. Fill a large bowl with ice.
In a medium saucepan, combine the 1 ½ cups of cream, 1 ½ cups of milk, ¼ cup of brown sugar, and salt. Open the vanilla pod and scrape the seeds into the cream with the tip of a paring knife. Add the pod to the pot as well and bring the mixture to a simmer over medium heat.
Meanwhile, in another medium saucepan, combine the ¾ cup of brown sugar, and butter and cook over medium low, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon or heatproof (non-metal) spatula until the butter is melted, the sugar dissolved, and the mixture smells nutty, about 5 minutes.
Slowly stir in the warm cream mixture into the butter and sugar (be careful as it will bubble and sputter) until well incorporated. Whisk a small ladleful of the warm cream into the egg yolk mixture a little at a time. Then slowly mix the cream and egg yolk mixture into the saucepan. Let bubble and cook for a couple of minutes, stirring until a thick custard forms.
Strain the mixture through a fine mesh strainer into a large glass measuring cup or a bowl (you will have about 3 ¾ cups). Cool the pudding by nestling the cup or bowl into the ice bath and stirring occasionally. If you have an immersion blender, you can use that to give it a whir to cool it faster and incorporate some air, however it’s not necessary.
Divide the pudding among 6 or 8 serving dishes, preferably small glass cups; they should be about ¾ full.
Cover with plastic wrap, pressing on the surface of the pudding to prevent a skin from forming, and chill in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours.
Salted Caramel Sauce
¾ cup heavy cream
1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
½ vanilla bean, split
4 ounces unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 cup sugar
In a small saucepan, combine the cream and salt. Open the vanilla pod and scrape the seeds into the cream with the tip of a paring knife. Add the pod to the saucepan as well and bring the cream to a simmer over medium heat.
Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, heat the butter and sugar together over medium-high heat (don’t be tempted to turn the heat up to speed the process, the mixture will boil over and make a big mess). Cook, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon, until the butter and sugar have melted and the mixture is thin with a deep amber color. Carefully pour the hot cream over the caramel; it will be bubble and spurt. Strain through a chinois. (I skipped this step)
Spoon the caramel sauce over the custards. Top with whipped cream if desired and serve with a piece of pretzel toffee.