Once burnt, twice lucky

 

Oh, You Beauty!

Crème renversée au caramel

I don’t know French, so the name itself was intimidating enough. To top it all, I wasn’t just about to make any regular  crème renversée au caramel. This was a recipe from the famed French cooking school Le Cordon Bleu, handed down to us by Julia Child. 

If the name hasn’t intimidated you enough already, here’s a background tip. If you are a first-timer, don’t try this recipe without doing some homework first. Like learning how to make caramel, for example. The recipe asks you to mix 1/4 cup water with 1/2 cup sugar and I promptly did that only to find myself saddled with sugar syrup. If it weren’t for David Leibovitz’s online hand-holding, I’d still be a little jittery about caramel.

The recipe also asks you to pour boiled milk in a thin stream, whisking the mixture of eggs, sugar and vanilla essence as you do so. What it doesn’t tell you, is that whisking constantly while adding milk, even at a low speed, can create a lot of foam. The first time I saw the custard mixture foam, I almost collapsed. By the time I had added the milk, I had already managed to overboil it, spill some on to the stove, and the kitchen counter, burn my fingers and create a general mess. Then, to see it froth like that was a  bit too much to handle. Needless to say, it was a highly stressful experience. (It’s okay if the custard foams. You can either let the mixture rest, or spoon the foam, or just use a fine sieve before pouring the custard into the mould).  

But I am going to let you in on a secret that I haven’t really seen on any other website that shares the recipe for Creme Caramel. You cannot make this under stress or pressure. It needs a lot of TLC to make the perfect custard and Zen-like patience and temperament. (If you’ve seen the steps involving the hot tub for the moulds, you will know what I mean).

Here is the recipe for Crème renversée au caramel

2/3 cup + 1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
2 cups hot milk
1 1/2 tsp vanilla essence
2 large eggs
4 large egg yolks
Hot water (for the water bath)

1. Preheat the oven to 180 °C. Begin by making the caramel. Use a thick-bottomed saucepan and let the sugar melt completely before adding the water. Be careful when you add the water because it does make quite a splash! And not in a good way. Also, keep watching the colour of the caramel, so that you aren’t stuck with a colour that’s too pale or too burnt. A shade darker than honey is good.

2. Once your caramel is done, pour them in the moulds you want to use. You could either use store-bought ramekins, but conventionally shaped, ceramic tea-cups do just as well. You could even try a ceramic / glass bowl. Just choose a bowl or a cup that is oven-safe. You need to tilt your mould so that the caramel coats the side. Do wear oven mitts. The caramel is very, very hot at this stage. Don’t risk a battle scar.

3. Boil two cups of milk and set aside. If you are using actual vanilla pods, cut them in half and boil them along with the milk. Then sieve the milk and set it aside.

4. In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs and sugar till well blended. Well blended, from my inference of the recipe, has been when the eggs are starting to go just a little pale. I haven’t seen any drastic damage, but if I am wrong, please correct me. Add the vanilla essence at this point (if you are using it).

5. Pour the milk slowly into the egg/sugar/essence mixture and whisk it while doing so. This requires a bit of dexterity, so if you are not comfortable the first time round, feel free to get parent/legally adult sibling/partner involved. DON’T PANIC if it starts to foam. Once you’ve poured in all the milk, let the mixture rest for a while. It’s okay if the foam doesn’t ‘calm down’.

6. Use a really fine sieve to pour the custard into the moulds. That way, you will manage to keep all the foam out. Also, before you pour in the custard, ensure that the caramel has hardened.

7. Once that’s done, you need to give the custard a bath. I am just trying to be smart with word play here. If you have a picture in your head of a mould of custard standing a shower, shoo it away. Creme caramel is actually baked in a bain maine (that’s French for a water bath). The moulds need to put in a deep oven-proof dish of hot water. There must be enough water in the dish to cover up to 2/3 the height of the moulds. Do note that the water doesn’t have to be boiling. Just hot.

8. Once that’s done, set the dish on a gas stove till small bubbles start to appear on the bottom of the dish. The bubbles mean the water is at a low simmer. Once that happens, put it in the pre-heated oven. The custard usually takes about 40-50 minutes to bake. Keep checking on the dish because the water must stay at the low simmer. If it boils, the custard will overcook. If the water does start to boil, just reduce the temperature of the oven.

9. To check whether your custard is done, just insert a toothpick into the centre. If it comes out clean, your custard is ready. The centre of the custard, at this point, must be a little wobbly. Do not remove the moulds from the water. Let it cool with the water in the dish itself and then refrigerate. Or eat if you want to. Before serving it, just run a knife around the edges to loosen the custard. Cover the mould with a plate and immediately turn it over. You’ll have a delectable custard swimming in gorgeous caramel. Bon appetite!

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