Friday, September 16, 2005
SHF # 12 Sugar High Friday & The Great Custard Fiasco
A funny thing happened on my way to making fried custard for this month’s Sugar High Friday, hosted by Elise at Simply Recipes. The theme is Cooking up Custard. Although my choice for dessert when eating out is crème caramel or crème brulee, the reality is, the only custard I cook is when I make tarts. But I was game to try and excited to finally get to use some of the vanilla beans we bought when we traveled to Tahiti last summer.
I also have been writing about significant cookbooks recently, and found a few I’ve never even tried. So I thought I’d test out two different custard recipes from The Essential Mediterranean Cookbook. I don’t remember when I bought it, but I think it’s one of those books that have such a gorgeous cover it jumps off the shelf into your arms. And I was probably starving at the time. (You know the rule about never going grocery shopping when you’re hungry? Well the same applies when you are browsing in a bookstore.)
Anyway there were two interesting sounding custard recipes from the section on Spain. One is called Leche Frita (fried custard squares). It sounded so exotic – with cinnamon, vanilla beans, zest of orange and lemon – and FRIED – how unique. First you cook the custard on top of the stove. Pour the custard in a long baking pan. Let it set at room temperature for an hour. Cut it into squares and coat with egg white and bread crumbs. Fry in oil. Sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon and serve. It intrigued me, so naturally I had to try it. Well it’s now 4 hours later and it’s still not setting. It’s so soupy I can’t cut it into squares to dip it in egg white and bread crumbs and, obviously can’t fry it. So that’s how the above picture came to be. It really was quite tasty with the fruit – just a little too cinnamony for me. That was fiasco number one. Salvageable, but not spectacular.
The other fiasco (er, recipe) is more like crème brulee with a little twist. It’s called Crema Catalana (Catalan burnt cream). This one is made with corn flour instead of regular flour. Everything was coming along well and then it happened.....I was diligently standing and stirring, watching for the custard to thicken and then….. Just as I took a quick peek at the recipe to see what comes next, I saw the line “Do not boil as it will curdle”. As I turned back to the pot I saw the first bubble and before I could grab it off the stove it curdled. At first I thought that maybe it was the corn flour making the texture anything BUT smooth and creamy, and ever the optimist, I poured the custard into the ramekins and put it in the fridge to set, hoping it was supposed to look like that. And, I suppose, that is what finely scrambled eggs is supposed to look like. That’s certainly what it tasted like!!!
When I was growing up, my mother (who was a great baker) would bake for all her sisters’ and brothers’ families as well as for us – especially around the holidays. The kitchen would be where all the action was. Of course, sometimes that meant we were allowed to be sous chefs (often enough that meant dish washing, wiping counters and sweeping floors). Other times we were banished from the kitchen entirely. Sponge cake baking was particularly terrible for us as kids because there were so many rules - no running, no shouting, no slamming doors. If a cake fell…..well, let’s just say you wouldn’t want to be around.
If you ask any of my aunts or cousins about my mother’s baking, their eyes glaze over and they sigh that sigh of delight we can all relate to when thinking back to some delicious recipe of our childhood. And they will tell you what a wonderful baker she was. That everything she made was awesome and that no one could bake the way she did. Of course they saw only the perfect cookies and cakes. They never saw the cakes that fell or cookies that burned.
My mother’s philosophy was simple – show only your best. She wouldn’t go shopping without her hair and make-up just so. And she certainly wouldn’t show off un-perfect baking. So it goes against my upbringing to show off my total failure. But in the spirit of fun, here’s a shot of my Crema Catalana just before it hit the trash. I even managed to burn the topping without actually crisping it at all.
So, I guess I will just have to stick to my tried and true custard recipe. It makes a mean tart filling and creme brulee base.
Please check Simply Recipes for the round-up. Everybody's custard choices look awesome.