By Anna Olson

The subtle sweetness of maple really adds a nice touch to this baked custard.  This is a lighter version of the original crème brulee dessert, using half-and-half cream and milk, but with a satisfyingly creamy end result. The step of burning the tops of the desserts is skipped, since a maple coated almond crackle adds that signature crunchy top layer.

MAPLE CREME
Makes 4 6-ounce servings  

1 ¼ cups      half-and-half cream
¾ cup          milk
2/3 cup        pure maple syrup
2 tsp            vanilla extract
5                  egg yolks
1                  whole egg
pinch           ground cinnamon
1 recipe       Almond Crackle (recipe follows)

1. Preheat the oven to 325 F.  Arrange 4 6-oz ramekins or other baking dishes in a larger dish with sides that are at least the height of the ramekins.

2. Whisk all of the ingredients together and pour them into the prepared ramekins.

3. Pour boiling water around the ramekins, so that the water comes up to about two thirds.

4. Bake the crèmes between 35 and 45 minutes, until they are set around the outside but still jiggle a bit at the centre.  Allow the custards to cool in the water-filled pan for 10 minutes, then carefully remove them from the water to cool to room temperature before chilling for at least 4 hours.

To serve, break the crackle into pieces and place them on top of the crèmes immediately before serving.

ALMOND CRACKLE
Makes about ½ cup, enough to garnish 1 cake or tart, or 6 individual desserts. Ita also makes a lovely accent crushed over a salad.

1/3 cup     sliced almonds
3 Tbsp      pure maple syrup

1.  Preheat the oven to 325 F. Line an 8-inch cake pan with aluminum foil and grease it well.

2. Sprinkle the foil with the almonds and then pour the maple syrup over top, stirring just slightly.  Bake this for about 18 minutes, until the syrup is bubbling vigorously.  Let the crackle cool completely and store at room temperature until ready to serve.

To serve, peel the foil away from the crackle and break into pieces to use.