We’ve got friends with very small children (one less than 14 days old!) who struggle to get out as much as they used to, so we’ve got into the very agreeable habit of popping around on a free evening to eat with them, watch whilst they wrangle the toddler into bed, and then play boardgames with half an ear on the baby monitor. Most often, they provide a main, and we take a pudding, so over the last few years, I’ve been cooking lots of different puds to take over, which has given me the opportunity to experiment culinarily. I think I’d rather cook a pudding more than anything else – and in fact on the increasingly rare occasions we do host a dinner party, I can think of a pud and starter much more quickly than I can come up with a main fancy enough to serve to guests.
Most of my puds started with a blind baked pastry case, because pastry is my real strength, ever since my first go, which was making treacle tart at school. Since then, my pastry technique has been refined thanks to a posting in cix:gourmet from a famous Cornish chef and guesthouse proprietor known as the Bear. It’s his basic pastry recipe that’s now my staple sweet pastry mix: 8oz plain flour, 4oz butter, 1oz sugar, blitzed in the food processor to breadcrumbs and then made into a dough with an egg and as much water as needed to bring it together. Chill the dough in the fridge for as long as possible before it’s needed, and then, rather than rolling it out, just flatten the ball a little and press it into a well-greased flan dish. Blind bake at 180 for as long as it takes to turn golden brown.
Then of course there are a number of things you can fill it with: lemon curd, lemon curd beaten into mascarpone, lemon meringue, chocolate ganache, crême patissière and glazed strawberries, cheesecake, tarte aux pommes etc and etc.
So the first few months were tart based. Then a few months with chocolatey things in little pots.
For tomorrow’s outing, it’s baked custards building on the Julia Childs obsession that’s grown since seeing Julie and Julia, and then reading the book. Since the recipe makes more than enough for four pots, there will be four Crême renversée au caramel, and four plain baked custards which will turn into crême brûlée, if my friends can find butane for their blowtorch…
One particularly irritating thing about the Julia Childs recipes is that they all use American measurements and Fahrenheit temperatures, so before I can go much further I have to convert a lot. Google helps – typing “350 deg f in c” gets you an answer immediately as does “2/3 cup sugar in grams”
I’ve now made the recipe twice and this is how it went. It’s relatively simple, but sugarcraft often eludes me. But had I known it was this simple from such basic ingredients, I’d never have bothered with the packets you can get to make just this.
For 8 recycled Gü ramekins:
200 gr sugar
6 tablespoons water
Heat water and sugar until dissolved and boiling gently. Turn up heat until mixture takes on caramel colour (this is particularly hard to judge if you use unbleached sugar). Test on a cold plate that the consistency is gooey. Pour into four of the ramekins and tilt until the caramel coats the sides as well as the bottom.
Preheat oven to about 150 deg C (lower than JC’s original: my oven clearly too hot)
125 gr sugar
2 whole eggs
4 egg yolks
1 pt whole milk (or 0.75 of a pint and topped up with cream)
1.5 tsp vanilla essence, or scored vanilla pod
Beat the sugar into the egg yolks in a large heatproof bowl. Boil the milk and vanilla pod. Pour the hot milk very slowly into the eggs, beating vigorously all the time. Sieve the mixture back into the saucepan to remove any lumps or stringy bits from the eggs, then pour the custard over the caramel, and into four more empty pots, if making crêmes brûlées. Stand the ramekins in deep sided baking trays and pour boiling water in. Bake au bain marie (as Come Dine With Me puts it “fancy french for ‘in a tray with water'”) for around 50 minutes – long enough for a skewer to come out clean, but not long enough to brown the tops because you got distracted watching Come Dine with Me. Oops.
Make meringue out of the leftover egg whites. This recipe worked really well for me last time.
The “crême” section of my French cookery book, “Ginette Mathiot, La cuisine pour tous” has whole pages of different ways of flavouring baked custards cooked like this. Lots of different fruit purées, either as a layer at the bottom of the pot (apricot, apple, prune, pineapple) or pushed through a sieve and mixed in with the custard itself (banana, strawberry). Or melt in 200gr of chocolate. Or mix the caramel mix in directly with the custard and not have it in separate layers. Or flavour the milk while boiling with espresso, or ground coffee, or lemon or orange zest, or peach leaves.
The custard recipe is pretty similar to crême patissière, except you make that with a little flour in with the eggs and sugar, and with less milk.
Interesting French words
chinois – from context, I just thought this mean “sieve”, but it turns out it means very expensive, fine-meshed conical sieve. I don’t know why the French think sieves are Chinese apart from maybe are they Chinese hat shaped?
chalumeau – nice word, the French for blowtorch, and the English for poncey baroque recorder