Yesterday afternoon, the girls (Mom, my sister, Daisy) and I braved the heat and went on a treasure-hunt. As soon as I opened the car door, I felt like a vampire out way past his bedtime. The sun seared my face. We rushed into the shop and the first thing that caught my eye was an old 1950’s stove. There she was, dressed in white, cute as a button. Click-click, off went a pic to Shawn.
It does not matter whether or not it works. We already have a sexy Italian stove. This little girl would be perfect as my new baking station. A nice marble slab over the burners will serve as a counter and the oven compartments will hold my baking things. My dreamy plans will have to wait til tomorrow for my hubby to check whether she will fit into our kitchen or not, but I will stop by the church on my way home tonight to do a little prayer.
When we got home after our little adventure, I was craving something sweet. Daisy was parched and asked for cold milk. So, I snuck some vanilla almond milk into her sippy and handed it to her. After one sip, this is what happened:
Daisy: Blekh. Mommy, what’s dis?
Me: It’s vanilla milk, BabyCakes. (Technically, I told the truth.)
Daisy: P’tooey. Mommy. I want cow milk.
Me: *long sigh* Right.
I grew up on this stuff. In the 1970’s, there was a small restaurant in Tehran called Paprika. My parents used to take me there all the time. The summers were my favourite time to visit because the outdoor patio was enclosed in a big white tent. I felt like we were in a big teepee. The chef-owner would make Crème Caramel in small aluminum dishes that were actually part of a children’s kitchen play set. Creamy, mildly sweet custard with a nearly burnt caramel, the taste was unforgettable, even after 37 years. It has taken me about that long to find a recipe to match.
French recipes are either elegantly simple or lengthy and laborious, requiring some measure of culinary skill or saintly patience. There probably are not very many recipes for Crème Caramel I have not tried. If a famous chef offered it, I made it. The classic ones are somewhat fussy: Use a non-reactive pot and a wooden spoon. Take care not to scald the milk. Keep stirring constantly. Confirm the planets have aligned in perfect syzygy formation before attempting this recipe.
Then, there is the dreaded slaving-at-the-stove step: Stir the cream and sugar over medium-low heat constantly until bubbles form at the edges. You had better take a pee break before starting this one, because you are not going anywhere for a while. Then, the bottom of the custard mixture still manages to stick to the pot and the mixture must be passed through a sieve to take out the lumps. Did I mention the 8 egg yolks? After spending 90 minutes working on the crème caramel, now I have to do something with 8 egg whites? Oh, HELL, no.
The Secrets to Success
This recipe for crème caramel is my trademark. It’s simple to whip by hand and you just need to keep a few things in mind. Start by melting the sugar with a knob of butter in a stainless steel frying pan, but keep a watchful eye as the sugar burns very quickly after it liquifies. Let the caramel cool completely before adding the custard to it.
Make sure to add a reservoir of water to create steam in the oven. If you can, set your crème carame in a tray filled with water. In the summertime when it’s too hot to run my Bertazzoni, I make this in my trusty little toaster oven. There isn’t enough room for a tray to fill with water. So I put a couple of little metal cups filled with water into the oven next to the custard.
Beware of over-baking the custard. That is what causes an unpleasant eggy smell. The center should still have a bit of jiggle in it when you take the custard out of the oven. HAVE FAITH. It will set as it chills in the fridge.
If it didn’t need to chill in the fridge, Crème Caramel would make an impressive last-minute dessert for those unexpected guests. This is why I recommend you make you sure always have one ready in the fridge, you know, just in case.
No Fancy Attire Required
Last weekend, I made one in my trusty stainless frying pan to take to my sister’s for a family dinner. It got raving reviews from everyone…”This is the best one you’ve ever made, Coco jan,” they said. I was shocked. Earlier that day, when I was putting it together, I was too lazy to deal with the food processor, blender or mixer. I just grabbed a big bowl and a whisk.
The hardest part is making the caramel, which isn’t hard at all. The trick is to set the pan/skillet over water in the oven. While the custard cooks on top, the caramel is heated more slowly in the water bath. After they are removed from the oven and allowed to cool, the custard becomes more firm, but the caramel stays a liquid.
My choice for making Crème Caramel is a shallow stainless steel skillet with two handles and a heavy bottom that I found at Home Goods. I melt the sugar and butter right in the pan over the stove top. Then I add some water to a 10-inch cake pan and set the skillet over the cake pan. The handles of the skillet balance on the edge of the cake pan so that keep the caramel bottom is immersed in water, but not touching the hot bottom of the cake pan.
Every time I make crème caramel, I think about the time I was pregnant and made a batch just before the doctor put me on bed-rest. Mom sat with me and we shared one of those little ramekins. We giggled about the terrible movies I had been watching just to pass the time and how delicious that custard was. Maybe that is why Daisy turned out to be such a happy little sweetheart.