Monday, August 20, 2007

The Mystery of Page 123 - A Tag with a Twist Cardamom Apple Custard Timbales

Our lives are full of mystery. The degree to which one sets out to discover knowledge varies widely, but on some level, we all are challenged and fascinated by the power of a secret. Children wonder why the sky is blue; detectives doggedly hunt for clues to solve crimes; and scientists hunch over microscopes, searching for that miniscule, inscrutable squiggle that will hasten a disease’s cure. Every question that is asked of us, no matter how mundane or profound, begs an answer. I was asked about Page 123.

Page 123 is a meme I’d never heard of until the wise and spiritual Nanditha of Miles to go Before I Sleep!!! passed it on to me several weeks ago. At first I didn’t know what to make of it nor how to fulfill it. The original guidelines of the meme are to discuss the fifth paragraph of Page 123 of the book you are currently reading. This seemed as arbitrary and valid as any other meme presented to me, but I was hard pressed to find focus among the stacks of fiction and non-fiction books I am simultaneously reading in various stages of progress. A cookbook, therefore, was the most natural, easiest choice for me. Since the chief lure of the meme tripped all my wires of curiosity, I selected a brand new volume, one only gotten a few weeks back, its binding uncracked, its thick, 4-color pages smelling like a deck of new cards. Clearly, this cookbook, Madhur Jaffrey’s Quick & Easy Indian Cooking, needed to be broken in, spattered and dog-earred, before it was officially mine. Page 123, featuring Caramelized Cardamom Apples with Pistachio Cream, was the perfect landing for the inauguration.

In an effort not to exclude anyone in the community, I offer this meme to whomever is curious enough to take it up, whether in its original format as set forth by Nanditha or as I have transformed it into the equally pleasurable exercise of eating.

If you choose to approach it as a culinary question, you will not know which recipe you will be lead to. It does not matter. You will already know the crux of the answer before you even begin your search. You know you will eat well.

Baked Custard Timbales - Inspired by Patricia's Technicolor Kitchen recipe


1 - 14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk
2 measures of heavy cream (use the condensed milk can as each unit of measure)
[Regular milk as suggested in Patricia's original recipe, as well as 2% fat milk, are good choices for those watching their fat intake.]
3 eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract


Pre-heat oven to 375 Degrees F.

Pour all ingredients in a blender and whip on medium speed until fully combined. Allow to rest at least 15 minutes to flatten foam. (Foam causes pockets and bubbles in the custard.)

Coat two 6-count regular-sized muffin tins (silicone works best) with non-stick spray. Set tins into a shallow baking pan centered on middle rack of oven. Evenly divide custard mixture into each muffin cup. Pour very warm to hot water into the baking pan (moderates cooking of eggs to prevent curdling) until water reaches level 1/2 to 2/3 up the sides of the muffin cups. Loosely tent aluminum foil over muffin tins and carefully push rack into place in oven.

Bake at 375 Degrees F for 35 minutes or until a knife inserted in custard comes out clean. If custard is very wobbly and wet, continue to bake at 10 minute intervals, checking after each interval. Do not worry if the tops of the custard brown and buckle a bit. The muffin cups will ultimately be inverted, making the tops the base of the timbales.

Remove muffin tins from oven and water pan, and allow to cool on a rack for 15 minutes. Move muffin tins, carefully covered with the foil, into the refrigerator to fully chill and set the custard. It is best to leave them overnight. A cold custard will be firm and much easier to unmold.

Caramelized Cardamom Apples – Loosely adapted from Madhur Jaffrey's recipe
[I have greatly reduced the quantity of butter and increased the cardamom].


4 unblemished baking apples (such as Granny Smith), peeled, cored and diced
Lemon juice to prevent apples from browning
2 tablespoons butter
2 teaspoons freshly-ground cardamom seeds
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
½ cup sugar
3 tablespoons crushed pistachio nuts


In a large bowl, toss diced apples with lemon juice to coat. Over low heat, melt butter in a large non-stick skillet, then add the apples and gently stir. Allow apples to cook over low heat approximately 5 minutes. Add spices and sugar to skillet, gently stirring to combine. Raise heat to medium-high and cook for approximately 6-8 minutes, occasionally stirring, until the apples begin to caramelize with a thick and sticky sugar syrup. Continue to cook until the syrup bubbles, reduces and thickens even more. Remove from heat and allow to cool approximately 10 minutes.


While apples are cooling, remove custard muffin tins from the refrigerator. If you use metal tins, carefully run a wet knife around the edge of each custard cup to facilitate unmolding. Place a cookie sheet over one muffin tin then quickly and carefully flip so that the cookie sheet is on the bottom. Tap and gently shake the tin to release the timbales. If using silicone, gently pinch then bend back the muffin cups to release the timbales. You do not have to use a knife with the silicone. Repeat with second muffin tin.

Arrange timbales on plates, then spoon caramelized apples around and on top of each. Finish each serving with a sprinkling of crushed pistachio nuts.

Serves 6 - 12 depending on appetite. --


Suganya said...

How glad I am that you chose this book and hence this recipe. I was under the impression that timbales were savoury. I always come across broccoli timbales in most of the cookbooks. The custardy-melt-in-your-mouth-goodness shows :)

sra said...

Lovely post, and the custard looks glorious!

MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

Susan that is a brilliant solution to the mystery! and looks like a fabulous dish!

Truffle said...

What a wonderful creation. Your photos are fabulous! The sort of thing I'd expect to find in a glossy food magazine!

Maryann said...

Interesting. Now I am curious to go to page 123 of my current book:)
Your custard looks delicious!

Sharmi said...

I loved the baked custard. can add up some sugar to it and bake it and leave the second part:) but I think we need a huge baking pan to fit in a muffin tin right?

Patricia Scarpin said...

My dear friend,
I'm so honored to see this recipe so beautifully recreated here! It looks fantastic, Susan!

It looks so rich and creamy, I'll try it with cream next time dad comes for lunch. :)

Padma said...

I loved the very first sight of this custard and since the apple picking season will start soon, I am on my way to bake lotsa apples this year!
Thanks for such incredibly beautiful recipes

Mishmash ! said...

Susan...this is my kinda sure i am gonna love this...bookmarking it and also sending across to my friend in India :)


Nanditha Prabhu said...

you have done perfect justice to the meme .....this is the dessert I would like to have now! Would surely try it...
I am happy that in someway I have been a reason of such a colorful and beautiful culinary creation of yours!
The adjectives you have planted before my name have in a way flattered me and I some how feel I am not so " wise" as you presume ! .Any way thank you .... and hats off to you for this wonderful presentation.

Nora B. said...

WOW. This looks amazing, Susan. I've never had anything like this before. Thanks for the clear instructions.

suheyla said...

this desert looks so yummy..i want to try it..good nights..

Lucy said...

What a fantastic twist to the meme, and an utterly gorgeous sweet treat to boot. Might just take you up on this one. Those apples...just when I thought I was sick to death of winter fruit, along comes a new way to spice them. The cardamom must add its own hint of mystery to the flavour.

Christina said...

Oh cardamom, how oft I sing your praises! How oft you are forgotten, but never by the fabulous Susan!

Thank you for the wonderful way to use one of my favorite spices.

Susan said...

Suganya – Jaffrey’s original recipe called for the apples with a mound of softly-beaten cream on top, a lovely combo, but I was in the mood for custard. It was very meltingly rich; you are right. Thanks! Timbales do seem to be much more often found as savories, but a timbale is a shape, rather than a particular flavor, and can be interpreted many ways.
Thank you, Sra. I took many photos before I got a particularly flattering one.
Thanks, Tanna. This meme was especially engaging; even so, it took me several weeks to think it through.
Hi, Truffle! That’s very sweet of you. Thank you so much.
Thanks, Maryann. The Page 123 idea really is intriguing and fun.
Sharmi – The custard has some sugar already in it from the sweetened condensed milk, but, of course, you can add more, especially if you forgo the apples in syrup. The water pan does not have to be that big. I used a small foil disposable sheet cake pan with 2 inch sides. The size and depth were just right for a standard 6-cup muffin tin. You could also use individual custard cups or ramekins.
Dear Patricia – I have been thinking about your recipe ever since the post. It reminded me of an angel cake. I knew it was a winner. Thanks for giving me “ideas”!
Thank you very much, Padma. Peach season will barely be over when it’s time for apples, my husband’s favorite. I’m on my way to bake lots of apples, too. : )
Bookmarking, what a great compliment, Shn. Thanks! I hope your friend enjoys the recipe, too.
Nanditha, I know you are being modest, but you know how much I admire your blog. Thanks for planting the seed in my head to go exploring unknown pages in unknown places. I’m glad you enjoy the outcome.
Thank you, Nora! Think of them as custard muffins with jam. Each of the two recipes is not terribly difficult and would make nice little dessert treats on their own.
Hi, Suheyla. Thank you. I’m glad you like it. It’s very delicate, creamy and flavorful.
Dear Lucy – Thank you always. We are all “cardamom addicts” for a reason. Makes a great difference to freshly grind right before use. Heady stuff. Though I added more than the original recipe, it didn’t overwhelm. I will, naturally, be curious what Page 123 you land on if you decide to take this up.
Thank you so, Christina. What is it about cardamom? Pod, seed, color – all powerfully fragrant and alluringly flavored. Best not analyze too closely; its mystique is part of its charm...

Marta said...

Great!! I've found your blog and I'll keep in mind


Cynthia said...

That is an interesting MEME. I have to now go and get that book, if this is all the way at page 123, I can only imagine what treats come before it :)

Simona said...

Fascinating reading, once again. And in interesting meme, to be sure. I am reading the current issue of the New Yorker and there is no page 123 there.

Susan said...

Hi, Marta! Welcome. So glad you found me. Thank you for your visit.
Cynthia, this is a great cookbook with every recipe an easy but satisfying dip into the tastes and textures of Indian cuisine.
Thank you very much, Simona. For me, the meme was easier to tackle in a cookbook context. I used to read The New Yorker every week during my commute. I do miss it.

Sandeepa said...

That was a neat way to deal with Page123, a sweet revealation, only a cookbook can do justice to such a tag
Those caramelized apples look delicious

TBC said...

That is so beautiful! I just love the look of this dessert.Sometimes, I'm here just to drool over your pics!

Kelly-Jane said...

Hi, I've come to you from Winter Skies, Kitchen Aglow. Shaun is right you have a fab blog :)

Those apples look so good, I think I'm getting addicted to cardamon!

rahin said...

hey susan ....i love cardamom flavorn n the combination of flavors u have.... looks awesome

Johanna said...

what a curious meme - one to keep at the back of my mind for when I need inspiration - am glad it led you interest interesting culinary adventures :-)

Susan said...

Hi, Sandeepa. I really enjoyed this meme; it was, indeed, a sweet revelation. Thanks!
Thanks so much, TBC. I'm glad you find my pix drool worthy. : )
Welcome, Kelly-Jane! Shaun is too kind and so are you. Thank you. Cardamom is such a magical spice. Apples are not my favorite fruit, but cardamom makes them really special. Good to see you.
Thanks, Rahin. There is always some spice hidden deep within my overstuffed cupboards. It's time for cardamom to move to the front of the class again - teacher's pet.
Johanna - With all your cookbooks, you would probably have a blast w/ this meme.

Jyothsna said...

I've read only fiction on this page 123 meme, this is the first time Í''m seeing this gorgeous dessert - I'm so glad! And I think that will serve only 2....err 6 depending on whom you serve it too ofcourse!

toni said...

Wow! What a great idea! I love the whole idea of the meme, and I absolutely adore the way you approached it!

This looks beautiful, and I love cardamom. Thanks!

Susan said...

Thank you, Jyothsna. You're right - this recipe serves far less than noted. I could easily eat three in one sitting, especially if they are made lighter with milk rather than heavy cream. : )
Hi, Toni. Thanks. Cardamom is so unique. The meme is a fun way to discover new recipes right under your own nose. Hope you take it up.

Shaun said...

Susan, lovie - Indeed your adaptation of the meme is always appropriate and easy to disseminate. Are you a Leo? Leos seem to know how to turn something mysterious or underground into something appealing for mass consumption. I love that you chose this book from which to cook. Cardamom is indeed perplexing. I am never sure how to describe it, though I can always imagine how it tastes when I am described meals, and I can always identify it if it is used in a dish I am eating. I have looked at Madhur Jaffrey's many books and have not yet chosen one. With which one do you suggest I start off? Beautiful descriptions and gorgeous photos, as always. You know I will take up this meme soon!

Susan said...

Shaun, thank you. I KNOW you are going to take up this meme. I'm flattered you think I'm a Leo, but I'm a Sag. : ) I only have two of Jaffrey's books (w/ one on the way), so I can't yet recommend except to say that her "Quick and Easy Indian Cooking" (fr/ which I adapted this) is indeed a quick/easy primer for those not terribly familiar with the intricacies of Indian cuisine.

katiez said...

I had cardomom seeds in my hand at the market today, but, in a rare act of self-restraint, put them back... Stupid self-restraint. I have the apples, though - next week!

Noor said...

Yum, I do love cardamom and anything to do with it. I love your blog, glad I found it. I saw that you love Middle Eastern desserts, come on over to mine then :)..

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