p2: Clafoutis

The Sweet

7-SAV150-95_Clafoutis-750x750I have been semi-obsessed with a certain dessert ever since I read “On Food and Cooking’s” chapter on fruit; in particular, when they discuss cherries, making mention of a baked dish that took advantage of the pits to extract extra flavor from the cherries. This dessert was Clafoutis, what at first seemed an eggy cake filled with whole cherries, though I’ve come to learn is so much more. For I’ve tried making this twice before, I came to learn the ‘batter’ for this is quite… unique. Not special or different or difficult, but there’s nothing quite in the realm of its structure ya know? It’s very custardy, but it’s thicker than flan and other egg-milk dishes; it’s definitely more batter-based, less eggy, than a quiche; thicker like a pancake batter, but with that smooth creamy consistency. Many related it similar to crepe batter but with more eggs. When you try it, you’ll know, but there’s really no other common custard to properly relate it to.

And this is made exclusively to be filled in a pan, covered layers of whole cherries or thick cuts of fruit, and baked until a golden, crispy layer has remained on top. I myself have yet to achieve this, and need to redeem myself with a third attempt here, for this project.

The name comes from clafotís or clafir, a term used in the Occitan language, which centered in the Southern France/Northern Spain region, meaning ‘to fill.’ During the 1800’s, the dish spread throughout the rest of France, but its origin of ‘identity’ is purely Limousin, which is situated in the southern-central area (and where the romance language was quite popular). This is the one that traditionally contains cherries; which is what any TRUE clafoutis should use, proved by the fact that any dish of the same batter using OTHER fruits is properly called a ‘flaugnarde.’ Despite the lack in specific origin, the Limousin are highly proud of this dish they’ve created; in fact, when L’Acadèmie Francais officially categorized it under as a sort of ‘fruit flan,’ well… let’s just say the people got rather pissed. So they ended up getting forced into changing it to “a cake with fruit.”

As with many dishes found in France, for something so simple as cherries with batter, getting it right can be quite the task. We’ll see if I’m finally up for it.

Chef’s Overdramatic Self-Centered Lecture Corner

You know, I just realized that I ended up listing this recipe’s ‘Lecture Corner’ in the same style as my OTHER French Recipe Posts! Since I’ve already finished writing it all and am too lazy to redo it, guess we’ll just pretend it’s structured different because this recipe is ‘special,’ haha.

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Cherries: Small, tart ‘Griottes’ are the cherries of choice in France. No luck here, but they are easily substituted out with a simple Black Cherry, which gives that nice combo of sweet and tart for dessert use. But that’s not what we REALLY wanna talk about with cherries… what we REALLY wanna talk about is their pits. And yes, you must leave them in the cherries while they bake into the cake. Oh, you can pit them beforehand, but it will not taste as good… just like cheap, simple baked cherries in this custard, nothing more or nothing less.

For the seeds and pits of stone fruits, like cherries and apricots and plums, contain and enzyme which, besides producing EXTREMELY trace amounts of cyanide (which has sparked much issue towards the idea of using them in cooking/infusing, which is really useless considering the mass amount of things made from them that would need consumption to even feel ill), also produces the characteristic almond extract/marzipan aromas. In fact, it’s mainly stone fruit pits that are used to make these extracts. Cherries in particular also contain amygdalen, benzaldehyde and eugenol, compound/molecule essences of almond and clove. When heated, all of these aromas increase, expand, and flush throughout the cherry, and potentially anything next to it. Thus the flavor resulting in something like, say, a baked custard with whole cherries studded throughout is transformed into a wafting aromatic exploration of deep fruit and almond ambrosia. Or something like that.

Like blueberries in muffins or chocolate chips in banana bread, we also have to ask the question of how we add the fruit and batter. Does the fruit go in first, batter on top, or toss the fruit on top of the batter in hopes of getting some better elevation/distribution? Whether it actually works, I find I don’t necessarily care, as the thickness of the custard is relatively the same as the fruit layers, and I don’t see any danger in them sitting at the bottom for this. I’d say the use of making sure they’re a bit higher is to give a better top/presentation. Though, interesting note, I read Julia Child’s recipe for this, and a unique technique she offers is starting with just a thin layer of batter on the bottom, baking that until it’s mostly set, and THEN adding the cherries and rest of the batter. I am so NOT trying this, because again I don’t care and I don’t want to worry about a layer of over-cooked custard under my perfectly set batter, but it’s a fun one to consider. There’s a particular cake named after tree layers that uses the technique, but with a single thin layer of batter at a time.

20150601_173730To Booze or Not to Booze: There are a lot of clafoutis out there that make absolutely no mention of adding Kirsch, using just vanilla extract instead. Throw those formulae in the trash, because all TRUE clafoutis have kirsch. Every single time that I’ve read or heard one from any recipe that seemed old, classic, traditional, or in any way overly French, the classic Cherry Brandy or Liqueur is involved. This is either added to the batter, macerated in the cherries beforehand (along with some of the sugar), or a combo of the two. Myself, I’m going for the combo, since I want to infuse more of that deep cherry flavor into the fruit itself, make up for what don’t seem like the most ideal cherries to me, as well as use it as the flavor base of the cake itself. Kirschwasser is the name of the game of course, a good bottle that I still had enough left over for the cake AND shots afterward, with those beautifully developed-through-distillation flavors of cherries and bitter almond/marzipan, a treat from those aromatic pit compounds mentioned earlier that only TRUE cherry brandy will let you experience.

Note, if you don’t have access to a nice kirsch/wasser, any decent brandy (cognac/Armagnac preferred) will do, potentially even rum for a fun twist, ideally mixed with some cherry and/or almond liqueur for added flavor.

Pan: Firstly, low and wide is usually the key; one is looking for 2 cherry layers max quite often, baked into a large custard-cake. Usually done in one of those classic ceramic, large ramekin-y vessels. You know, the white ones with the curved outside that look all fancy. I have seen this cooked in a big cast iron pot as well, and I was very tempted to try it with mine… but the one I have is a bit Dutch Oven type, so much empty space and pan sides sticking up from the custard, it made me nervous. Plus I worried how long it would take to absorb the oven temperature vs a regular ceramic. I wanted to make sure that I got those browned effects, and both of these aspects seemed potentially counterproductive to that.

Milk: I read somewhere that, similar to crepe batter (which seriously this custard resembles so much doesn’t it?), many ‘masters’ or just old French cooks traditionally heat up the milk before adding. This should help develop some flavor with the eggs (gotta love those warm milk custardy flavors), and probably helps with starch gelatinization/integration even further. Or something on those lines (you know I’m too lazy for THAT kind of research).

In some recipes I’ve been finding after making this, I’ve found use of cream or half and half instead of milk. I put no preference over the choices, in fact I’d like to try it one day, but today I almost feel like milk, leave more flour for thickening and to develop that crusty edge I’m so desiring.

Clafoutis
500g/18 oz Black Cherries, de-stemmed
3 Tb Kirsch or Kirschwasser
100g/4oz Sugar
125g/4½ oz Flour
Pinch of Salt
300ml/1¼ cup Milk
3 Eggs

Directions

  1. Toss Cherries (NOT pitted) with 1 Tb of Kirsch and 50g of Sugar, leave to sit and macerate (turning every so often) for at least 30 minutes20150601_173654
  2. Preheat oven to 350F
  3. Combine remaining sugar, Flour, and Salt in separate bowl20150601_174350
  4. Heat milk to a light scald on the stove, hot without simmering, and add along with the well beaten Eggs and remaining Kirsch to the flour mixture, whisking in a bit at a time until it turns into a smooth, thick batter20150601_180624
  5. Toss cherries into a wide, low, and very well-buttered casserole dish, evenly covering the bottom in a piled layer20150601_181119
  6. Pour over the batter so it comes close to the lip of the pan20150601_181237
  7. Transfer to oven, baking at LEAST 35-40 minutes, until the center is set, the edges have rise, and the top is colored with a light golden brown20150601_185108
  8. Remove, slicing and serving hot or, traditionally, leaving to cool until lukewarm, garnishing with a dust of powdered sugar20150601_190748
  9. Enjoy with some kirsch, and perhaps a dollop of whipped, iced, or other sweet cream garnish one has on hand

My Thoughts

Okay, I think I finally got it how I want it! I was a bit worried too, since it didn’t have any of that browning or crustiness when I checked at the 40 minute mark. But cooked a bit longer and it started to develop, a little on top and around the sides with that beautiful lift! Still didn’t get that particular cakey-ness that I envisioned and hoped it would have, but this has officially shown me that, indeed, a proper clafoutis never will.

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What it WILL get is a thick, firm but tender layer of custard with some crispy edges and tops on it. I’ll admit and say I think I may have cooked it a couple minutes longer than IDEAL, with more browned sides and bottom bits sticking to the pan than I thought (note to self, don’t judge by how much is on TOP), but still fully delicious. And the cherries… hot from the oven, popped into the mouth, super soft and with that almost floral burst of aromatics clearly containing an underlying almond/marzipan note, just like how it’s supposed to. Let me just say, all those people online who bitch about how the annoying purists leave the pits in is rather useless, saying to just add almond extract or purely ignore and just leave the cherries because ‘who wants to eat around a pit, waaaaahhhhh,’ don’t know crap about what they’re talking about. There’s a clear, elevated difference, and I’ve found no issue in letting the pit pop from its fleshy constraints in my mouth to be spit back on the plate or some side bowl. Not if it equals the aromatic extra experience that I’ve found here.

And I can see why many say this is best served lukewarm instead of hot, for the texture and the cherries, which release more of those deliciously fruity flavors. Though I still say there’s nothing better than something hot out of the oven, creamy and flavorful, with those heady pops of aromatic chemicals when chewing on those stone fruit. Either way, I am very happy and satisfied with the results. Something tells me I’ll be making this again (the mother seems quite intent about it).

Possible Pairings

There really is nothing better than a nice, chilled shotglass or snifter of Kirsch or Kirschwasser next to this. I mean, cherries and cherries, almond flavors with almond flavors (they both have it), you use it in the dish, and it just tastes damn good. Trust me, when you nail a clafoutis in such a way that makes you happy like this, there’s no better reward than a delicious bit of cherry brandy (assuming you’re the kind to drink good liquor straight, which I am).

To a similar note, something like an Amaretto, either chilled over ice or made into a cocktail (perhaps shaken with brandy?), would be another delicious choice. There are also plenty of emulsified ‘egg liqueurs’ (they’re basically more custardy cream liqueurs) like Advocat that would highlight the custardy flavors and textures.

And as for wine, I wish I could name something great from the Limousin region, but they sadly have very little wine industry nowadays (they used to, sadly, but it was devastated during a certain period of disease along with the rest of France and didn’t recover as well), so what they have, though delicious, is quite rare. I knew the name was familiar though, as the oak trees are famously used for some of the most prized barrels for aging wine and Cognac.

Blanquette_de_LimouxWhat I would definitely want to serve this with is a nice glass of bubbly, some simple and refreshing sparkling wine, perhaps a Cremant from some southern region just for fun. A Cremant de Alsace, perhaps a rose, from the region that borders France with Germany could have a certain cultural perfection, but I have a ‘Blanquette de Limoux’ which I’m saving for a certain savory dish that I wouldn’t mind playing around with here. It’s from the exact opposite region, the very southern border, but it should have a great fruity focus and a touch of sweetness. But the great combo of tart acids and frizzy bubbles should cut through the custard nicely, and those almost-toasty/yeasty flavors mixed with those almond notes… I like the idea.

p1: Quiche Lorraine

msliving_quichelorraine_vertThe Dish

I don’t really have that many stories from college; never was great at the whole social thing and getting into adventures (but I won’t bore you with details of my depressing alone-ness); but one of the few amusing moments I had in culinary classes involved the ‘baked Quiche.’  Can’t remember too many details nowadays, whether I or my partner had put the quiche together, popped it in the oven, or whether my frantic  sprint to check on it was due to accidentally leaving it in for who knows how many hours, realizing it was in at a temperature WAY too high, or a combination of them both.

Nevertheless, the first thing I see after opening the gateway of hell is what looked to be a landscape of black, punctuated only by the yellow of the eggy center, which pushed itself about two inches upwards and above the crust. It’s reminiscence to a certain other dish was simply too amusing for me at the moment, as I called out to the rest of the class: “We’ve got a soufflé over here!!!”

Ohhhh, ‘dem schooling days, filled with us feisty rapscallions (please don’t comment on my sad college high notes, it’s all I have!!); thankfully it was one of the many lessons learned early, but my experience with the French custard afterwards was painfully minimal, besides some breakfasts at home using those extremely shallow pre-bought frozen pie crusts (actually inspired by watching an episode of Good Eats). Then I was able to delight in one of the dish’s best qualities: flexibility. For, as I’ve come to learn, one could say that there really are two kinds of quiche. First, there is the delicately measured, finely seasoned and tender custard that’s filled carefully with select ingredients and featured in history and restaurants, something one can properly term “Quiche.” And then there’s “Refrigerator Pie,” as I (and I think Alton too) like to call it; that’s basically when one just puts in whatever they have on hand, mix the eggs with enough of whichever dairy they prefer to what looks good, and pops in the oven. It’s always how I’ve enjoyed practicing at home or in the kitchen, but today’s foray into this egg-centric recipe is truly that of the former as we study proper Quiche Lorraine.

Quiche itself really did originate in Lorraine… only at the time it was called Lothringen, when it was under Medieval German rule, who also provided the origins of its current name, “Kuchen/Kueche,” meaning ‘cake.’ Which certainly isn’t too accurate even by their standards, as the base used to be made from bread dough, then baked with the savory egg and cream filling.

As the bread evolved to a flaky, tender short pastry crust, so has those ingredients that we put in it. Quiches elsewhere have of course changed and fluctuated the traditional veggie, meat, and cheese additions throughout the centuries (there are some interesting classic recipes, like one using rillettes and another based on pumpkin), but the base of Lorraine has and always will be Bacon. 20140916_165853Only this was sometimes just lain in long strips on the bottom before custardizing; even my Larousse Gastronomique features this old habit. Cheese wasn’t added until much later, perhaps when they started to actually chop the meat, officially turning it into quiche vosgienne if using gruyere (cooks have often also used Swiss or Emmental). When onions become involved, fulfilling the classic trio with cream and cured pork, it then becomes the quiche alsacienne version of Lorraine, which I really believe to be most indicative of how we view and treat it today. Many may debate its trueness to lie back in the extreme simplicity it was before, while others then take this and add more things such as herbs, but a dish’s evolution and changes through time help culminate its identity to what we know today. As such, the Alsatian version, bereft of any other additions, will be what I base my meal on today.

A Word On…

Crust: Tart dough experimentations continue, though there do seem to be a few styles particularly intuitive with quiche. In fact, I ended up following a specific recipe that came along with the Larousse Gastronomique’s section on Quiche Lorraine, which is basically what I based most of my prep and recipe specifications around (it seemed very classic, old-school, and proper). This iteration’s baking formulation is that of a classic French Shortcrust, in particular one very much like Pate Sable but without sugar, in which one folds in SOFT butter instead of cold (oh the horror, how does such a tart dough exist!?), along with egg.

It was also one of my first attempts in a long while in mixing all the ingredients together on the counter instead of a bowl! Attempts at pasta making sorta ruined the practice for me, but I think I’ve found some fun and purpose in it again.

Also important to note that all quiche crust should be pre-baked before adding the fillings; if one tries baking both together, the bottom simply won’t cook (learned that watching Cutthroat Kitchen!). Oh, and I might suggest really curling the dough around the edge of your desired baking pan (again, springform is best and practically required) to prevent it from shrinking a large amount; either that or have a LOT of baking beans to fill the ENTIRE pan. Pricking the dough will only do so much.

Bacon: I’ll admit, I didn’t go the full mile in finding super-quality bacon, I was a bit more concerned with crust and custard on this experiment. Not to mention I was trying a new technique, also mentioned in Larousse, where one blanches their bacon in boiling water before frying in butter. Offers a great way to crisp and golden it up quickly without shriveling, losing too much fat, and keeping that nice meaty texture. I will say I think it worked out quite well, so feel free to get yourself a big chunk of uncut cured pork belly, make some thick slices, and then dice up some sizeable cubes after blanching for that REAL Bacon Experience.

20140916_163134Oh, and instead of transferring the cooked bacon to paper towels, why not put it in your pre-cooked tart shell!? Get eeeevvvveerrryyyyyyy bit of bacon fat and flavor soaked into the dish.

Onion: Generally speaking, recipes call for using Raw onions; sliced or diced simply dependant on preference. Though I do want to stay true, at the same time I just never like using so much raw onion in something; it’s not gonna cook and get soft inside, you know that. But a little bit of raw crunch and delicate flavor is nice when handled delicately; thus, I sautéed half of my available onion (in the leftover bacon fat of course) and left the other half raw for the best combo of flavor with just enough texture.

Custard: I’ve seen, and applied, many quiche recipes that use milk and half-n-half mixed in with their eggs. If I was discussing any general quiche home cooking, actually, ANY source of dairy would do; I’ve seen mini-quiches made with just the eggs and blue cheese. Hell, I’ve made salmon quiches while mostly using sour cream. However, as we’re considering a very traditional, very French Lorraine where the goal is to get that perfectly set custard, there’s really only one option: Cream (some hardcore French fanatics go a step further and use stiff crème fraiche). And lots of it, with a relatively high ratio of the fatty dairy to the eggs (see following recipe).

Quiche Lorraine
½ lb Bacon, in strips
Tb Butter
½ of an Onion, minced
2-3 oz Gruyere
4 Eggs
1 ¼ cup Cream
1 tsp or so each Salt, Pepper, and Nutmeg
Pre-baked Tart Shell (recipe follows)

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400F20140916_154223
  2. Blanch Bacon in simmering water for about 5 minutes, remove and let cool.20140916_160640
  3. Chop into large, square pieces.20140916_160940
  4. Heat pan to medium-high heat and toss in Butter and Bacon, cooking until lightly and evenly browned.20140916_161221
  5. Remove, placing directly into the empty Tart Shell, and re-fill pan with half of the Minced Onion.20140916_161818
  6. Sweat in the butter-fat mixture until soft and transfer into tart shell with bacon and Raw Onion.20140916_172045
  7. When onion and bacon are cooled enough, grate the Gruyere on top until the tart is almost fully filled with ingredients, mixing them together to evenly distribute.20140916_173800
  8. In separate bowl, whisk Eggs, Cream, Salt, Pepper, and Nutmeg until fully combined.20140916_174621
  9. Slowly pour into shell until mixture just reaches under the top of the crust (make sure to give it time to let settle into air spaces before adding more).20140916_183455
  10. Move into oven, on a baking sheet, and cook for at least 30 minutes, until the middle is set but still shakes and jiggles when moved.20140916_184134
  11. Remove, transfer to cutting board (or cooling rack), leaving a minute or so until cool enough to handle.20140916_184443
  12. Carefully undo springform pan sides (if using), and/or start slicing servings.
  13. Serve with side of light salad and enjoy.20140916_184428

Savory Pate Sable
250g Flour
Pinch Salt
125g Butter, softened
1 Egg
3 Tb Ice-Cold Water

Directions

  1. Sift Flour and Salt onto clean counter20140915_160127
  2. Quickly and gently, mix the Butter into flour until mixture is almost sandy, well combined.
  3. Pile this into a mound and make a deep well in the center, to which it will be filled with the Egg and Water.20140915_160451
  4. Carefully swirl liquids, mixing into the flour until fully incorporated, kneading briefly with fingers and palms until a smooth dough forms (may need more flour on the board)20140915_161009
  5. Flatten to a disk, wrap in plastic and let chill in the fridge for about an hour.
  6. Preheat oven to 400F and flour your countertop in preparation.20140915_170826
  7. Once chilled enough, roll out dough to 1/8” thickness, ish, and as large and round of a shape as you can get.20140915_170856
  8. Fold in quarters and move into a Springform or other Tart/baking pan, buttering and flouring the surface if non-stick.20140915_171014
  9. Unfold, lift-and-tucking the corners, press into the sides, and cut off dough at the top or whichever height is desired, noting it will shrink after cooking.20140915_171617
  10. Prick bottoms and sides with fork and cover with parchment paper laden from beans or other pie dough weights.20140915_192751
  11. Move to oven and cook 20 minutes, checking often near the end, or until dough is lightly browned and cooked on bottom.20140915_192909
  12. Remove and reserve until needed.

The Verdict

20140916_184456Truth be told I was much worried about the crust; having made it ahead of time, leaving it sit for a day, and also worried there was too much water as well as some kneading, it felt potentially bready and chewy. Once finished with the filling, though, I found it indeed had a nice crunch and thick flakiness to it; to my surprise, it actually reminded me of the crusts used in those frozen mini-quiches, in a good way!

And the filling… I’ve come to accept that I have a deep addiction to custards, especially those of the cheese variety. This really was just the perfect example; smooth, tender, creamy, that richness from the egg carrying through without that eggy, thick flavor and texture that just makes you think of fritattas. Almost felt like it was one step away from flan consistency, and I loved it. Then we add in bacon, onion, and that cooked tart dough and we see why quiche Lorraine has become the staple example of its group.

20140916_183932Primary Pairing – Chablis or Alsace Gewurztraminer

So, to explain why I didn’t focus my primary down to a single selection, I actually wanted to pair this particular meal with a Gewurztraminer I had picked up. Then I went looking on the morning of and, egads, couldn’t find the thing! At one point I decided that, in fact, I never bought the bottle in question and just thought I had, so my plans had to quickly change to a bottle I had planned for something else (and of course, one day later, I spot the bottle located on a shelf across the room from the others, in an area it WAN’T SUPPOSED TO BE IN. Thanks for moving yet another thing without telling me person-who-knows-who-they-are). It would have been so nice, having that interplay of the thickly oiled texture of the famed Alsatian wine with the mouth-filling fattiness of the custard, the spicy grape adding another dimension of flavor to quiche’s blank canvas while also complimenting the meat and onions.

But, Chablis and other Chardonnays (that are GOOD and FRESH and not overoaked or super-cheap-crap… seriously) work too. The nice acid structure holds up through the richness, flavors are often gentle and should mingle with the subtle depth which egg and dairy can so create. And it is close by, many a simpler/non-pungent Alsatian dish can be paired with Chablis, that chardonnay-centric region in the north of Burgundy that creates such minerally, refreshing versions of the grape. One doesn’t have to get the really expense bottles from the Petites and Grand Crus, there are some well-priced options that work just fine when eating with classic fare, when one just needs those certain additions of flavors and taste bud-interactions to complete a dinner.

20140916_183742My Bottle: – 2011 William Fevre Chablis AOC

Point in question, Fevre made a really decent, balanced product that provided a well-structured compliment to the simple meal for a great price compared to others. If you’re one of those who enjoys a decent non-oaky or buttery chardonnay, without exploring too high in the price listings, the style is a good option to try when you have the chance.

Secondary Pairing – Cider

I use it as a pairing for a lot of Northern French dishes, but it works; not too heavy, freshness and acidity cuts through, with light flavors to let the not-so-strong flavors in Quiche and other dishes shine through. If one wants a little changeup, they could always try a nice, pub-reminiscent English Cider; notably fuller and more fulfilling to match the custard.

p2: Creme Brulee

Image                I do seem to enjoy starting each of my projects with a dish that’s just classically cliché (such as the Coq au Vin), so of course Crème Brulee should be my first adventure here. Not to mention it was a fun V-day Brunch Dessert with strawberries.

The Sweet

THE classic dessert, served in a variety of French cafes and restaurants, fine dining US spots, even brunch buffets. Who knew as simple Custard with Burned Sugar on top would have become so popular?

Maybe most of Western Europe, considering how much they’ve contested ownership rights. It is an interesting bit of history, since no one is TRULY clear as to where the dish properly originated. The earliest Recording seems to have been in the mid-1600’s, in England of all places. Trinity College, Cambridge, the cooks made a simple sugar-topped Custard dish where they burned the College Crest on with a branding iron, and thus their claim to the recipe is born. Which I wouldn’t be too surprised if it turned out true, considering the widespread use and popularity of Custards and other Egg-binded “Puddings” in English dessert cuisine. Then it was known simply as Burnt Cream, or Trinity Cream to honor the college origins.

It’s first appearance in a cookbook came in 1691, in France, the Cuisinier roial et bourgeois, called Crème Brulee; though interesting he changed the name to Crème Anglaise (English Cream) in a later book. Also taking into account that early French versions simply made a disk of caramel on the side beforehand to place on top for service, the argument for French dominance seems a bit weaker and weaker.

The Final, and least likely, originator comes in Catalan (Spain), with crema catalana/cremada(burnt). Same kind of recipe, but with cinnamon and citrus zest added, its first recorded appearance seems to have come sometime in the 17th century.

Though the dates on all these seem to go back and forth; one place said that Cambridge started burning in 1879, another that the French didn’t first list until 1731, it’s all a bit confusing and unclear. And not to mention this is all just based off of records, there’s still no evidence or word of mouth who actually made the first version. But either way, we have this delicious dish of contrasting textures and rich toffee-cream. Who cares when it’s all about indulging?

Chef’s Overdramatic Self-Centered Lecture Corner

SAMSUNGVanilla beans are a pretty pricey thing these days, so I only like using the ones I have when it fulfills two criteria. 1: it’s a special dish/occasion, and 2: the vanilla is able to SHINE, i.e. it’s usually a very, very simply flavored dish with no notably competing/contrasting element, usually custard. Crème brulee is a good dish for this.

But because I so rarely use them, MY vanilla beans seem to have “dried up” ever more than usual; they’ll actually snap if I bend them far SAMSUNGenough. It makes splitting them open not so easy, and a pain in the ass trying to get all the seeds out. Turns out it’s an easy fix when using them to infuse though; just let it soak in the Cream (or other liquid you’re cooking) overnight beforehand. It softens up so nicely, just look!

Seeds are easy to scrape out again, and if anything you just got some extra infusion time for a more in depth flavor.SAMSUNG

As for the custard, my recipe searches have found that nearly all recipes use ONLY Heavy Cream as their dairy of choice; which is usually odd with custard recipes. The main differences come simply in how many yolks are used (my favorite being Alton Brown’s, who uses the minimum 6 for a quart of cream; it keeps it to a really tender and soft pudding) and whether it uses cornstarch or some other binder. Ignore the starch additions, you don’t need them at all, and they only serve to mess up the flavor.

Finally, when it comes to Torching your sugar, I do always suggest using a blowtorch if you have one (the little handheld guy is so fun and a great tool to have); but not everybody does. Fear not, a simple solution presents itself; just turn your Broiler on High and stick it in (after the broiler’s warmed up of course). There are a couple adjustments to how the dish should be treated as you go, and I’ve made a couple notes in the recipe where suited.SAMSUNG

Crème Brulee
1 Vanilla Bean
1 Quart Heavy Cream
Tsp Salt
6 Egg Yolks
½ cup Sugar + Extra for dusting

DirectionsSAMSUNG

  1. Split vanilla bean, thoroughly scraping its insides of the fine seeds with a paring knife.
  2. Transfer both seeds and leftover bean pod to a pot with the Heavy Cream and Salt; warm on Medium heat untilSAMSUNG thoroughly Scalded (skin starts forming on top and the edges are barely simmering).
  3. While warming, whip Yolks thoroughly with a whisk, slowly incorporating the ½ cup of Sugar, until it turns very pale yellow and fluffy.
  4. Slowly pour in a bit of the warmed SAMSUNGcream at a time, “tempering” the delicate yolks to the heat. After about 1/3 of cream is incorporate, simply dump the rest in, whisking to fully mix.
  5. Let cool on counter, cover in plastic wrap (pressing to the top to prevent skin formation), and transfer to fridge for a minimum 2 hours or Overnight.
  6. Strain out vanilla bean and ladle your custard into whatever ramekin or other ramekin-like container you have.
  7. Turn oven to 325F and start boiling a large SAMSUNGsaucepan (2 quarts) of Water.
  8. Transfer ramekins to roasting or other baking pan, carefully filling with the hot water  until it’s just a bit below where the custard level is.
  9. Bake until mostly set and the center still jiggles when you shake, about 40-45 SAMSUNGminutes.                Note: if using a larger baking dish, or Broiling later, then feel free to take out earlier than it may seem. The residual heat, greater than in the small pan, should follow it through further, plus the Broiling heats the custard up a lot.
  10. Move to fridge for overnight, or until chilled completely.SAMSUNG
  11. Remove 1/2 hour before ready to serve. When close to ready, sprinkle on an even, only slightly heavy layer (don’t want it super fine or thin, just a bit more sugar than that) over top, shaking and rotating ramekin to get an even coating.              SAMSUNGNote: if Broiling, I actually DO prefer a finer layer, as it takes longer for the sugar to start cooking, and can get much more spotty than with a torch.
  12. Brulee sugar however desired, whether with blowtorch, broiler, or the classic branding iron.
  13. Let sit 5 minutes after caramelizing and serve, on its own or with fruit.

My Thoughts

SAMSUNGI really like this custard recipe; very nice and creamy, not that rich/heavy with the yolky custardy flavor, simple but developed. The vanilla bean is able to shine through along with the sugar flavor very well. As for the dish, always a classic; crispy, crunchy sugar caramel with a smooth milkfatty pudding. French comfort dessert at its finest.

Possible Pairings

layon-vv-18One of the many French desserts that have lost a sense of belonging to a particular region, being seen all over. Often with those kinds of desserts, they’re usually attributed a bit more towards the Parisian area, so Loire pairings it is.

I think one of the lightly sweet Coteaux du Layon dessert wines made with Chenin Blanc would be delicious, or a Methode Ancien sparkling Loire (also made with Chenin), especially if one could find a Demi-Sec version (half dry, or really half-sweet).

Vouvray_Sparkling_Chenin_blanc_wineCan’t leave out the other countries vying for credit on the burnt cream’s creation. And England has been creating some wonderful Sparkling Wines as of late; with their continental temps, they might even have Ice Wine. Either of those would be a fantastic, simple drink next to this I believe.

As for Catalan in Spain, hmmmm….. I SAMSUNGknow! They make a great lightly sparkling, off-dry Cider in the Basque. It’s sort of musky, but pure and simple, and just a nice little gulp. Would go great with the cinnamon-citrus zest version, and I happen to have a bottle that I used to pair with an upcoming Savory French 44 dish.

IMG_4499And to end on hard alcohol, a glass of Calvados (an apple brandy made in Northern France); it’s on the border of France and England, shares similar flavor profiles with cognac to make it match the burnt sugar of the dessert, not as overpowering when young. But gentle and deep when old, a good drink with complexity to go with the very simple but delightful custard.

And that ends the first of hopefully many “sweet” posts on the subject. Hope those reading enjoyed it, and are able to take some fun things into consideration with their next baking session. I’ll see you all on the next go-round!