26 January 2009

The Marula Tree

I’ve always had respect for a tree that produces useful fruit. The marula tree is part of the mango family and best of all it grows wild in the northern parts of Southern Africa. The sweet, yellow fruit is used for jam - which is good, but it’s also turned into homemade wine and beer - which the people who make it say is better. Then of course there’s the commercially produced, lekker sweet Amarula liqueur that rocks on ice, and gives the skop to this recipe.

Is it any wonder that the local people believe that this fruit is sacred? They eat it to improve fertility and used it in a cleansing ritual before marriage, but most importantly they warn that to drink unfermented marula juice offends the spirits and is regarded as sacrilege. So to be on the safe side I’m sticking to the liqueur, even with breakfast.

After all there is no wiser beast than an elephant and for centuries there have been tales of how they “gently warm their brains” by eating the rotten fruit. The fact that academics are now disputing this should surely be treated with a pinch of salt. I only hope that the elephants take absolutely no notice of these ridiculous observations and continue to revel in the effects of the fermented fruit – I know I will.

Amarula and chocolate crème brulee:

You’ll need
8 egg yolks
1 cup white sugar
2 cups cream
1 vanilla pod
2 tots of Amarula
3-4 tablespoons of good quality dark chocolate - grated
Extra sugar for the caramelised tops

Preheat oven to 150º C. Put cream and vanilla pods in a pot and heat through but remove before it boils and put to one side. In a large bowl, whisk together egg yolks and sugar until the mixture is smooth. Then slowly blend in one cup of the warm cream vanilla mixture while whisking. Then take this mixture and add it to the rest of the hot cream and whisk well. Now here comes the tricky part – split the mixture into two separate bowls. Mix the chocolate into the one and the Amarula liqueur in to the other. Now find a handy mate to help you fill the ramekins. You each take the same size ladle and from either side, simultaneously drizzle equal quantities of the two mixtures into the ramekins – and voila! A two-tone cup of custard!

Place these in a water bath (large pan filled with 3 -6 centimetres of hot water) and bake until set around the edges, but still soft in the centre, between 30 and 60 minutes. Take out of oven and leave in the water bath until cooled. Remove ramekins from water and chill for at least 2 hours.

When you’re ready to serve, sprinkle about 2 teaspoons of sugar over each custard and using a small blowtorch heat sugar until it caramelises. If you don't have a torch, place the ramekins under the grill until the sugar melts and then re-chill custards for a few minutes before serving. Very simple, very impressive and its smooth and just plain yummy!

PS. Use the egg whites to make meringues.

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