South Park Self

cat's got the cream

Noxious day, again, continual students. My job is pretty much the pure paradigm of continuous partial attention. In addition, today's particular horrors included a high-level faculty meeting at which I was forced to defend Admin Streamlining Innovation #Umpty-thing against (a) determined and idiosyncratic opposition, (b) determined incomprehension and (c) determined and rather aggressive irrelevance. Academics. I do love them, really. Fortunately reasoned explanation gave me enough support on (a) and (b) that I carried the point. On (c) I was able to bring to bear my new favourite arguing technique, which is to pretend the aggression never actually happened and to calmly, quietly and in a subsequent email forum be sweetly reasonable and explanatory. This made lions into lambs with gratifying swiftness. I'm feeling exhausted, but faintly smug.

first_fallen asked me for my crème caramel recipe earlier today, so I shall continue the cat/cream connection, and incidentally soothe my soul, by posting it here for posterity. Apart from being my Evil Landlord's favourite and one of those perfect comfort foods, crème caramel is actually surprisingly easy to make. No blowtorch required, even. Go on, try!


I should add that my extremely syrup-stained copy of this has an annotation which reads "NB Claire doesn't like" in an anxious scribble. The secret of successful hostessing is to keep a hitlist of guestly preferences. Claire also doesn't eat green pepper. I should also add that I don't remember where this recipe originated, except that I'm fairly sure I got it from my mother extremely back in the day when I raided her personal handwritten cookbook for my first year in digs. Hi, Mum!

You need:
  • 250ml cream
  • 300ml milk
  • vanilla pod or extract or a squirt of that gorgeous vanilla paste stuff
  • 4 large eggs
  • 6 oz sugar, for a value of "oz" which reads "a rounded tablespoon"
Important note: don't stress too dramatically on the quantities, this seems to work within the nearest 20ml or approximate spoon size. Important other note: the Evil Landlord holds that this dessert is better with 550ml cream, rather than half cream half milk. I find it too dense and solid. We argue. YMMV.

So, you need a smallish pot with a fairly solid base, and an ovenproof dish about (gods, now I'm going to have to go and measure it, aren't I? this posting recipes lark is a Huge Responsibility) 22cm across and 5cm deep. Pyrex is nice because you can see the layering. You'll also need an equally deep ovenproof dish or pan which will hold the first one comfortably. You will need to remember to preheat the oven to 150oC (300oF) round about now, and put the rack in the middle. (NB yes, this is a very slow oven. If you cook custard too fast it tends to curdle).

Put 4 oz sugar into the pot and place on medium/high heat. Restrain your urge to add water, you are caramelising sugar, which only needs sugar and heat. It is COMPLETELY VITAL that you stand over this like a hawk. A hawk with a wooden spoon. A wooden-spoon-equipped hawk with a sugar fetish. You cannot let your attention waver. The first minute or so is uneventful, I usually give the completely boring and unmoved sugar a couple of stirs just to break up any lumps and persuade myself I have a purpose here. However, as the sugar heats up, which it will do logically enough from the bottom, you will see it start to turn liquid and transparent. Give it a stir, whereupon it will form hard sugary lumps. Ignore this, it's a necessary ugly stage in making beautiful lethal molten syrup. Leave for another ten seconds or so, and stir again as it melts. Keep doing this. You'll have to give the stirs a fair amount of elbow, this stuff sticks to itself and the spoon - I tend to scrape it all off with a knife at intervals. Gradually the syrup will increase and slowly melt the lumps of sugar - towards the end you should be stirring continuously. If the syrup turns too dark a brown or starts to smell as though it's thinking of smelling burnt, turn the heat down and stir like crazy. You should end up with all the sugar a molten caramelised golden syrup. DO NOT splash this on yourself. It's the equivalent of your own organic kitchen napalm, it both sticks and burns like a fiery glue demon.

Pour the molten syrup quickly but carefully into the ovenproof dish. If you scrape the pot fairly quickly you should get most of it before it hardens into toffee, which it will cheerfully do at the first opportunity. While it's still molten, tilt the bowl so that the bottom and as much of the sides as possible are covered while it's still running. Put the pot and spoon immediately into water and leave to soak off the toffee for ten minutes or so. Have a celebratory gin: that was the hard part.

Right. Take a medium sized mixing bowl. Break the four eggs into it and add the remaining two spoons full of sugar. Whisk like mad with one of those balloon whisks. It should be well mixed and slightly frothy, although there's no real point in serious whiskage at this stage, you're making custard, not sponge cake.

Put the milk and cream into the rinsed pot and put back on the stove on medium/high. If you're using a proper vanilla pod, split it and add it to the milk as it heats. You'll get little black vanilla grains in the custard, but I consider this to be a sign of authenticity and absolutely worth it. You don't quite want to boil the milk: you want it to form a skin on top and start to foam a little at the edges. Remove from the heat and take out the vanilla pod if you're using it. If you're using essence or paste, add it at this stage. (Variation: this is surprisingly amazing with 1 tsp orange blossom water in place of vanilla).

Take the whisk in your left hand and the hot milk pot in your right, and steady the egg/sugar mix bowl with your third hand, your foot or a passing cat. Pour the milk in a fairly thin stream onto the egg/sugar mix, whisking like mad as you do so. This is how you avoid Evil Lumping. Once all the milk is in, give it a few more whisks for the hell of it.

Right. Now. Place the ovenproof dish containing the syrup coating into the larger pan. Pour cold water into the larger pan until it comes about halfway up the side of the smaller dish. You get the most amazing patterns in the syrup as it cools and cracks while you're doing this: about half the time mine makes little scallop/scale patterns, for unfathomable but presumably sound reasons having to do with Basic Physics. What you have just created is the fancy French cooking apparatus called a bain marie, a water bath: you are surrounding the custard with water to regulate the temperature and cook it gently rather than quickly. (Works like a dream for cheesecake, too).

Now pour the whisked custard mix into the dish on top of the set caramelised sugar. (If you've had a Lump event or are feeling fancy you can strain it, but I never do). Put the whole bang shoot - pan, dish, custard - carefully into the oven. It will attempt to slop. Restrain it with the statuesque calm of your motions.

Bake at aforementioned slow temperature for 45 minutes. Don't overcook, it goes a bit tough. It'll still wibble gently when you take it out; this is as it should be, it'll set up a bit as it cools. When it's cooled you should technically be fancy and turn it out like a mould, so that the caramel tops it, but I never bother to do this, mostly because I prefer it hot and it falls apart if you try to turn it when it's still warm. It's also very good chilled, though.

It's possible to make this in small ramekins rather than one big dish, but it's far trickier; the caramelised sugar is quite difficult to spread evenly in multiple dishes before it's turned to toffee. The cooking time is also much shorter, obviously - just under half an hour usually does it.

Recipe repeatedly stress-tested under Germanic conditions for slightly over a decade, and guaranteed Evil Landlord-friendly. Contents may settle in stomach. Void where prohibited by law.

  • Current Mood: exhausted still ded
Demanding woman ;>. Actually, I really enjoy writing them up in the horribly lengthy and personal style showcased above, so you will certainly see more of them. Still have to post Evil Chocolate Cake, and Jo's Favourite Rice Salad, and That Beef Chasseur I Finally Learned To Cook, and My Favourite Chocolate Chip Cookies, and The Thai Chicken Salad That Bites...
Lack of willing tasters is not, statistically speaking, a problem which correlates highly with instances of this recipe. Although there are actually two members of my social circle who bizarrely don't like custards, particularly this one, so I suppose you could get unlucky...
I make it like this, but I call it flan, (the noble Spanish dish) not creme caramel, (the effete French dish). Also, instant custard because I am lazy.
You just put in the bit about the instant custard because you wanted to hear my shriek of horror clear across the city, didn't you? Foiled, I say. I suppressed it in favour of gibbering quietly in my chair for a bit instead. INSTANT CUSTARD? Ye gods and little fishes, that's horrible.
Shall have to try this! Yum! Sadly, Ultramel is unavailable in the US. :-> I shall be forced to do custard from scratch.
Righteous indignation.
Ultramel and custard are two totally different things! Both are delicious :D, but you can't substitute one for the other.