Saturday, June 28, 2008

Custard: From the jaws of defeat

Cooking with eggs, beyond the average breakfast preparation, scares me. Eggs require a gentle touch and gentle heat. If you master that, you can make fantastic souffles, meringues, custards, butter creams, hollandaise, and mayonnaise, among other things. I've got meringues and mayonnaise figured out but the others are tough. I have made butter cream successfully only once. Hollandaise? Forget it. My trouble is that I get too hasty. These sauces with egg require patience that I struggle to summon. Pouring hot liquid drop by drop into beaten egg yolk is boring.

Anyway, I decided to try a custard (the runny type not the set type) because it is a necessary requirement for the iles flottants (floating islands) I'm making for a dinner party chez moi tonight. Floating islands are light puffs of poached, sweetened egg white, aka meringue, swimming in a pool of custard with toasted almonds and spun caramel for garnish.

Custard is also great on just about any fruit or cake or pie. I'd even eat it w/ cereal for breakfast.

Here is the recipe for runny custard:

8 large egg yolks (save the white for a meringue or souffle)
2 c. plus 3 T. whole milk
2 c. heavy cream
6 T sugar
1 vanilla bean scored lengthwise and seeds removed

Put the egg yolks and 2T sugar in a standing mixer and whisk until the eggs are pale yellow and creamy. I just let the Kitchen Aid run while I do other things.

Meanwhile put the milk, cream, sugar and vanilla seeds in a saucepan. Bring almost to the point of simmer and then turn off. Slowly ladle small spoonfuls into the eggs. I keep the mixer running. Go SLOW or the eggs will scramble. Once it has been incorporated, put the entire mixture back into the sauce pan and heat gently over low heat for a couple of minutes until the mixture thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon. Whisk often, using a wire whisk. Once finished, put the saucepan into a cold water bath with ice to stop the custard from cooking. Keep whisking.

I ran into trouble when I put the custard back on the stove top. The gas was too high so I could not get the custard cooled down quickly enough to stop the cooking. I was aghast to see little curds begin to appear in my beautiful custard. Quickly I strained the custard through a fine mesh sieve a couple of times into a bowl. Then I whisked like mad with the bowl surrounded by ice. Thankfully my custard was saved, and it taught me the lesson I already knew: be patient and do not rush. It is a valuable lesson for life in general, and I do need reminding.

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