Crème Brûlée has always had me reaching, not for the whisk, but my copy of Dirty by Sonic Youth. The song is a curiosity but Kim Gordon has the right elements of a female vocalist and this custardy confection – hard candy with a soft under. As a stretched out large sunglassed beatnik on the back cover, it would have a single me crawling across broken caramel to get to her. As shock art, the album fails only for the sumptuousness and beauty of the guitars, but the tray liner photo in the Japanese release is ummm well lets just say don’t look Big Ted (you’ve been warned).
Stretching the associations, 1992 would have been the year where, cooking for my then girlfriend and now wife’s 22nd birthday, I had my stepping out of the cave moment with a Crème Anglaise. Institutionally fed, custard had always been a flavourless yellowly liquid made from rehydrated powder. Slicing open my first vanilla pod almost had me running over to my neighbour’s house to say “Oi! Sniff this”. Creme Anglaise, along with the magnificent Italian Zuppa Inglise, may be a generous tribute or international baiting, is perfection. It also taught me two important lessons: better food was out there; and it was within my reach. Out of the cave and over the bridge I went.
Sweets are still my weak point but I was given a prod by Guamand Santos at the scent of green bananas. and her very excellent thing ch-ch-cherry bombs . The Rock Dinner steps a little further forward and I’m tumbling towards turning into a conceptual foodist.
To make Crème Brûlée properly you need a blow torch to caramelise the top. I didn’t get one for three reasons; they are very pricey, I’d be off scraping paint before you could say Australian Dream, and I wouldn’t have been happy with anything less than this.
My plan was to, instead make a flambe hybrid. Sugar on the top, soaked in brandy, and then up it goes. Fortunately, in a rare flash of common sense, I tried it out with some yoghurt in a ramekin first. A damp squib, so plan abandoned. A shame, it would have been spectacular, so if anybody has any better ideas on sparking this up, get back to me (and no dishwashing liquid and petrol is not going to happen).
Usual trick of using a few sources to come up with something. I went to this Recipe for Creme Brulee Recipe and this Creme Brulee » Recipe (which just seems wrong on a few points), and fudged around and came up with this
8 free-range eggs yolks; 3/8 cup of caster sugar; 1 vanilla pod (you could use vanilla essence but you wouldn’t would you? No didn’t think so); 500ml of double cream.
Egg yolks and sugar whisked until pale and creamy.
Vanilla pod spilt carefully with a knife, the innards scraped into the cream and then the pod put in as well. Gently heat the cream, just until bubbles start to form around the edges. Don’t boil.
Warmed cream slowly mixed into the egg and sugar and then the whole lot put into a ceramic bowl and heated over a saucepan of simmering water. Non stop stirring until the mix is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.
Ramekins (8) 7/8th filled with the mix and then put in a roasting tin, half filled with hot water. Covered with foil and cooked in a 170C for 40 minutes. Taken out and left to cool in the fridge.
Tricky bit not least for the fact the this was well into beer tasting over at a friends house. Each ramekin is topped up with a 5mm level layer of caster sugar. Friend’s oven was smokier than a Japan Tobacco conference room so I put a dish of water in there in the hope that it would absorb some of the smoke. Top element nice and hot and slid the ramekins under it, keeping a sharpish eye on them, moving them around to compensate for the irregularity of the heat.
The caramel crust is a very fine balance to get and I had mixed results. The photo of the two leftovers represent the Diamanda Galas and Little Nikki Webster ends of the spectrum. A blowtorch would have helped a great deal with consistency. Enjoyed it but detected a tiny degree of tooth edginess of caster sugar and wondered if better results could have been had with normal sugar. The sugariness did seem to settle down from between off the stove and the finished product. Any ideas?
As for female vocalists, ichiban is Aiha Higurashi of Seagull Screaming Kiss Her Kiss Her and while I’m at it Mayumi Kojima. If you’re interested, mail me and I might just brûlée you a sample.