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Blancmange is kind of a curious recipe to pick for a holiday dessert– but hear me out. After a heavy meal, not everyone wants to shovel down a rich dessert packed with eggs and cream. Blancmange, a cooked custard-like dessert traditionally made with spiced almond milk, seemed like the perfect candidate to get a holiday update. This blancmange is light and delicately spiced, but the spices and earthy sweet potato give it a flavor profile that is unmistakably wintry. Oh, and have I mentioned that it is also both vegan and gluten-free? (Who hasn’t been confronted with the challenge of cooking for a guest with a dietary restriction.) Forgive me for burying the lead. But I definitely think this dessert stands on its own even among voracious dairy and bread eaters (like me). Though blancmange is traditionally made out of almond milk, in more contemporary recipes, you’ll often see lots of “real” dairy added in to the mix.
Sticking with the traditional nut milk not only makes this dessert lighter, but it’s also a little gift to all of those folks who avoid dairy (and anyone who cooks for them). My version uses just enough cornstarch to thicken the blancmange to a silky, pudding-like consistency. Decadent, not-too-filling, and you can totally make these ahead of time–enjoy!
5 cardamom pods
1 star anise seed (just one of the points of the star, not all five)
1 small cinnamon stick
¼ t. black peppercorns
the zest of an orange
4 c. almond milk
1/3 c. cornstarch
1/3 c. + 2T. light brown sugar
3/4 c. cooked sweet potato
6T. maple syrup
¾ c. pecans
½ t. flaky sea salt
Infuse almond milk:
Crush cardamom pods, cinnamon stick, star anise and black peppercorns in a mortar & pestle or beneath a heavy saucepan. Zest orange. Place spices in a saucepan along with 3 c. of the almond milk. Bring the milk to a boil and immediately remove from the stove. Cover and let the milk sit with the spices for 10 minutes. (The milk will separate– don’t worry it will all come back together in the next step. )
Whisk together brown sugar and cornstarch. Add the remaining cup of almond milk and whisk to combine. Strain the spices out of the hot almond milk and return to your saucepan. Add the corn starch/sugar/almond milk mixture. Place saucepan over high heat. Whisk constantly as the mixture heats. Bring to a boil, whisking vigorously, and cook at a boil for one minute. Pour the mixture into a bowl, and place it in an ice bath to cool. Stir it every once in a while so that it doesn’t form a skin on top. (Alternately, you can place a sheet of plastic wrap on the surface of the blancmange and refrigerate until it is cool).
Pour the cooled blancmange into a blender and add the sweet potato. Blend on high for one minute, scraping down the sides of the blender if necessary. Carefully pour the mixture into four wine glasses. Chill glasses for at least an hour before serving. After the blancmange has set in the glasses, drizzle a tablespoon of maple syrup on top of each serving. Carefully tilt the glass so that the maple syrup coats the entire surface of the blancmange. This will keep it from getting a skin.
Preheat oven to 350°F. Toss pecans with 2 T. maple syrup. Spread pecans onto a parchment-lined baking sheet and sprinkle with sea salt. Bake for 5 minutes, remove the pan and stir the pecans so that the bubbling maple syrup evenly coats the pecans. Return the pecans to the oven for 5 more minutes.
Serve chilled, topped with candied pecans. Whipped cream makes a lovely accompaniment. You can make the blancmange up to two days in advance. After you coat the surface with maple syrup, wrap the glass in plastic and refrigerate. Or you can prepare the cooked part of the blancmange, and puree it with the sweet potato just before serving.
Update! I’m entering this recipe in to the North Carolina SweetPotato Commision’s “No More Mallows” blogger recipe contest. Check out other awesome sweet potato recipes at their facebook page.