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I am so pleased to be able to end this fabulous event we have been doing for the last 2 weeks! Thank you so much to Gina for writing this amazing cookbook, to Shelley for organizing the event and to Sara, Ilva and Michelle for participating and putting your culinary genius to work! This has just been so much fun and I am so happy I was able to participate!

Now on to the final recipe.

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Fresh bay leaf also known as laurel, has a long history in the cuisine and culture of the Mediterranean. Crowns of bay leaves were used by the ancient Romans to award heroes in battle and the winners of sporting contests. It is used so much in Mediterranean cuisine and adapted so well to the Mediterranean climate that many think it is native to that land although it originates in Asia.

I am very interested in the history of food and especially how culinary influences from other cultures can change the cuisine of another country through the trade and communication between the two places. Food is an amazing tool that brings people together, teaches about other cultures and places and warms the soul. Bay leaf is just one of those ingredients – you see it in the cooking all over the Mediterranean – from Greece to Italy to North Africa you can taste its influence and see how it traveled as trade increased between those continents and empires.

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I had never thought of using bay leaf in a sweet dish, so when I saw this recipe in Gina’s cookbook: Dolce Italiano, for Vanilla Bean and Bay Leaf Custard, I knew I had to try it. It would be a new flavor combination and something different from what I was used to. These are the kinds of recipes I am always drawn to. Some people are chocoholics, I on the other hand am a “vanilla-o-holic”. I love all things custard and cream. So the fact that this was a custard recipe, just put me over the edge! Roberto got his Chocolate Salami, this one was all about me! :)

Now if you are new to this Dolce Italiano contest that is going on, here are the quick details. You can win a signed copy of Dolce Italiano, by visiting these blogs below and commenting on the posts about the Dolce Italiano Recipes. Since I am ending this event – what a great honor I might add, I will make it easy for you. Here is where you have to go and comment:

Sara – Ms. Adventures in Italy made:Mosaic Biscotti & Sicilian Pistachio Cookies

Ilva – Lucullian Delights made: Chocolate Kisses & Cassata alla Siciliana

Michelle – Bleeding Espresso made: Ricotta Pound Cake & Sweet Apple Omlette

Shelley – At Home in Rome made: Chestnut Brownies & Chocolate & Tangerine SemiFreddo

Jenn – The Lefotver Queen made: Chocolate Salami & Bay Leaf Vanilla Custards – See it right here!

Please visit these sites and comment on those entries listed above for your chance to win the signed cookbook!

On to the recipe:

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INGREDIENTS:

2 ½ C Heavy Cream
½ C Whole Milk
¼ C plus 2 TBS Granulated Sugar
1 Vanilla Bean (I did not have vanilla bean, so I used 2 tsp of Pure Tahitian Vanilla Extract)
3 Fresh Bay Leaves
5 Large Egg Yolks
Pinch of Kosher Salt (I used Sea Salt)
Toasted Pine Nuts for Garnish

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METHOD:

Place the heavy cream, milk and ¼ cup of granulated sugar in a medium saucepan. Split the vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape the seeds out. Add the seeds and bean to the pan, along with the fresh bay leaves. Whisk the ingredients together briefly, place the saucepan over medium heat and heat until the milk scalds (bubbles slightly). Turn the heat off and let the mixture sit for 30 minutes to infuse it with the flavor of the bay leaf.

Preheat the oven to 325 F and position a rack in the center of the oven. Arrange 4 ounce ramekins or custard cups in a roasting pan large enough to accommodate them with a ¾ inch space in between.

Place the egg yolks in a large bowl and whisk them with salt and the remaining 2 TBS of sugar. Remove the bay leaf and vanilla bean pod from the cream mixture and discard them. Whisk the cream mixture into the eggs in a steady stream. Strain the custard through a fine meshed sieve to remove any clumps of egg yolk.

Evenly divide the custard among the ramekins. Carefully add enough hot water to the roasting pan to come 1/3 up the sides of the ramekins. Cover the roasting pan with aluminum foil, tenting it slightly so the foil does not touch the top of the ramekins.

Carefully place the pan in the oven and bake custards for 35 minutes, then rotate the pan to ensure even baking. Bake them for another 15 minutes and then check for doneness. The custards are finished when the centers are no longer liquid but jiggly like gelatin. Depending on your oven it should bake for a total of 50 minutes to one hour. It took my oven 65 minutes to reach the right consistency.

Remove the pan from the oven, remove the foil and allow custards to cool in the water bath until you can safely pick them up, and then allow them to cool at room temperature. Chill custards in the fridge for at least 4 hours before serving,

If desired serve each custard with a sprinkling of toasted pine nuts.

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