“The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you’ve got to have a what-the-hell attitude.”
― Julia Child
Some days I wish Julia Child were with me in the kitchen. By nature, I am the kind who studies a problem from all sides, reads up, prepares. And when nothing goes according to plan, my despair and doubt come flooding in. What made Julia Child so admirable and endearing is not simply a je-ne-sais-quoi attitude, but rather a defiant “je-ne-sais-quoi-but-I-sure-as-hell-can-handle-whatever-comes-my-way” kind of take on life. It’s an attitude I can only aspire to, both in the kitchen and in life.
After the Caramel Catastrophe that I shared with you all yesterday, I was finally able to develop a deep amber, glistening pan of caramel with my third batch of sugar. As humbling and irksome as the botched tries had been, I was now exuberant! I may have cooed over the stove-top with unveiled pride at my creation: Oh, sweet caramel, you are mine! I may have danced my little happy dance right then and there as I raced back to my dog-eared Bon Appétit issue to proceed triumphantly to the next step.
And it was there that I hit upon what I shall call:
The Pan Predicament
You see, dear readers, the next step called for pouring the long-ago simmered and vanilla-infused pot of cream into the pan of caramel. A whole pot of cream (organic, special-trip-to-the-fancy-grocery-store precious cream) into the pan. The pan, which the recipe had described as — let me see here, oh yes — “a small saucepan.”
Small, as in — one would think — not big enough to, say…. hold an ENTIRE POT OF CREAM ON TOP OF THAT THIRD BATCH OF CARAMEL SO HELP ME GOD.
And so, after another round of thrashing about and beseeching the gods and questioning what kind of cruel, cruel people work at Bon Appétit and wondering whatever possessed me to want to cook anything, ever, in my whole life, let alone share it on a blog, and long after the third batch of caramel — the beautiful, deep amber one (glistening, folks) — was discarded, it was time to admit defeat and once again get back to basics.
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“Always start out with a larger pot than what you think you need.”
― Julia Child
How to Make Caramel Custard, Part III: What The Hell
I can honestly say that after my fourth attempt, by the time I was ready to pour that pot of long-ago simmered and vanilla-infused organic cream into the sure-as-hell-big-enough saucepan containing my picture-perfect deep amber, barely smoking, notes-of-toasted-marshmallow-tasting, glistening-to-heaven-with-goodness caramel, I was a better person, and a better cook.
To the unsightly skin that had formed on the surface of the cream during the several-hours-long Caramel Catastrophe and Pan Predicament, I said, “What the hell!” and scooped it out with a handy strainer. To the caramel (see “picture-perfect,” “glistening”) that solidified at the bottom of the pan in the moment of the much-awaited pouring of the precious organic vanilla-infused cream, I countered, “What the hell!” and stirred with a vengeance until a low heat coaxed it back to liquid form. To the farm-fresh eggs that seized up upon my impassioned albeit heavy-handed streaming of warm creamy caramel over them, I uttered, “What the hell!” and whisked in a frenzy, then strained out the lumpy parts. To the Bon Appétit editors who instructed me to fill the pan with water around the ramekins but failed to tell me whether it should be hot or cold water, I yelled, “What the hell!” and decided on luke-warm. To the luke-warm water that splattered into a ramekin or two full of that precious creamy caramel-y egg mixture, I declared, dear readers, “What the hell!” and stuck it all in the oven anyway.
And I tell you, after
a two three an undetermined number of startlingly smooth and creamy and praise-be-to-the-culinary-gods-worthy delicious caramel custards, I’m ready to put all thoughts of catastrophes, predicaments and that tricky business with the eggs behind me. Another helping of these dreamy delights and, you know, I think I could handle whatever comes my way.
Bon Appétit‘s Burnt-Caramel Custards
(from the October 2013 issue, with my personal annotations in bold to save you from any frustrations, lamentations or beseeching of the gods)
- 1 quart heavy cream
- 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
- ¾ cup plus 4 Tbsp. sugar, divided
- 6 large egg yolks, room temperature
- pinch of kosher salt
- Whipped cream (for serving; optional)
- Flaky sea salt (such as Maldon, for serving; optional)
- Eight 6-oz. ramekins
- [French chanson-playing radio]
- [Blowtorch, for use on said radio (optional)]
Preheat oven to 300°. Place cream in a medium saucepan; scrape in seeds from vanilla bean and add pod. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Remove from heat and set aside.
Bring 3/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp. sugar
and 2 Tbsp. water [What the hell – Simplify and do a dry caramel instead] to a boil in a small saucepan [For the love of Custard, go get your BIG saucepan out for this one] over medium-high heat, stirring [WTH?] to dissolve sugar [WHATEVER YOU DO, DO NOT STIR, people. Give the sugar some space to do its thing.]. Boil, swirling pan occasionally and brushing down sides of pan with a wet pastry brush, until mixture turns a deep amber color, about 4 minutes [What the…okay maybe this will happen to you, in four freaking minutes, if you’re a secret member of the golden Bon Appétit circle, in which case I don’t know you]; remove caramel from heat.
Remove vanilla pod [and, WTH, any skin on surface that might have formed during long torturous hours of failed attempts at caramel and a pan predicament, AHEM…] from cream and slowly add cream to caramel [which is already in a large saucepan, thankyouverymuch] (mixture will bubble vigorously), stirring constantly, until smooth [and if your
*bleep* caramel solidifies at this moment — what the hell — just breathe and keep stirring over low heat].
Whisk egg yolks, salt, and remaining 2 Tbsp. sugar in a large bowl. Slowly stream in caramel, whisking constantly. [Strain out lumpy parts, you’ve come to The Tricky Business with Eggs… Are you still with me? Mmmmkay? WTH. Smile.]
Divide custard among ramekins and place in a kitchen towel–lined large baking dish or roasting pan. Fill pan with [what the hell, luke-warm] water to come halfway up sides of ramekins. [If you splash water into custards, what the hell, it’s fine! Really!] Bake until custard is just set but still jiggly in the center, 60–70 minutes. Remove ramekins from baking dish; place on a wire rack and let cool. Chill puddings, uncovered, at least 3 hours.
DO AHEAD: Puddings can be made 2 days ahead [so as to give you enough time to recover your sanity, WTH?]; cover and keep chilled [in a secret compartment in your very own happy place at a safe distance from chansons, your blowtorch, and dinner guests knocking at your door].