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When I first read this — in Grammy’s scrawl in her “Guests and Menus” book — I thought I was looking at a bad spelling of “creme brulee,” the creamy custard with a crunchy browned-sugar crust. I was not. The French verb “brouiller,” to mix up or to scramble, has nothing to do with blowtorches and caramelizing sugar. It has everything to do with creating a mind-blowingly rich pudding of mixed-up cream and eggs.
Grammy got her “Guests and Menus” book in 1974; my parents brought the red, pebbled-leather volume back from London. By then, Grammy was 74 and had been widowed for a decade. Did that cramp her entertaining style? Not at all. The table-layouts in the book show dinners for 14 or 16, luncheons for 10, cocktail parties for dozens.
This dessert was listed several times on the “menus” side of the page. After making it, I can see why: It is dead easy, yet tastes complicated, rich and fancy.
Think ice cream — but not cold. Or vanilla pudding — but no actual vanilla in there. You end up with a pudding topped with sliced or mashed fruit. As you serve the pudding — particularly if you’re using a big bowl rather than individual ramekins — everything shifts around into a creamy-fruity smoosh.
After serving this dish in winter with frozen fruit, I could see a parade of creme brouilles to celebrate the fruits of summer as they come into high season. Start with strawberries, move to raspberries, blackberries, marionberries if you live out west. Sliced peaches, with a bit of lemon juice. Blueberries probably do not have the oomph for this — not enough acid to stand up to the cream.
And if we could get passionfruit to look less weird, wow, that would be a perfect partner. Someone fix that, would you?
Strawberry Creme Brouille
You can use frozen strawberries or other frozen fruit; just thaw, then crush or slice as needed. If your frozen fruit is already sweetened, don’t add more sugar.
Serves 6 to 8
- 2 cups cream (I used heavy cream)
- 4 eggs
- 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
- Pinch salt
- 1 quart ripe strawberries, washed
- 2 tablespoons confectioner’s sugar
Begin to heat cream over medium heat in a double boiler. In a large measuring cup or bowl with spout, thoroughly beat together eggs, sugar and salt. Whisking constantly, pour egg mixture into warming cream. Continue whisking or beating mixture with an egg beater for 5 minutes over heat. Remove pan from heat and let mixture cool slightly. When not hot, pour into individual ramekins or a large glass bowl. Put into refrigerator for at least one hour.
Hull and slice or crush strawberries into a medium bowl; mix in sugar. When cream has chilled, remove from fridge and cover top of cream with the crushed strawberries.
Recipe and photograph copyright 2010 Garside Group LLC. All rights reserved.
I love food given or gotten as a random gift. Someone goes to the gourmet shop and gets your favorite coffee, or they bring you a bottle of good olive oil from a trip to France. You give a new neighbor maple syrup and barbeque sauce — condiments for their shiny refrigerator.
The gift of food jumps to a whole different level when it is homemade. A summer jam, or toffee pulled in someone’s hot kitchen, or even fruitcake — improved by incremental addition of an entire bottle of rum — is a gift that glides like a queen into any kitchen. For all its plainness, Grammy’s custard sauce had that homemade gift-of-food sparkle.
Custard sauce would arrive in Grammy’s bag in a large and well-worn former Peter Pan peanut-butter jar, lid firmly anchored over a square of waxed paper to ensure a tight seal. The jar of billowy pale-yellow custard would be whisked into the fridge. Theoretically, it was going to come out after dinner, to be poured over drained canned apricots, or fresh strawberries, sliced and lightly sugared.
The siren call was too strong, though: In mid-afternoon, my middle brother and father would be found leaning over the counter, spoons in hand, with a random bowl of something that “needed a little sauce.” Or they would abandon pretense and dive spoon-first into the jar, claiming “medicinal value” to a spoonful or two of custard sauce straight up.
This is that custard, creamy, soothing, perfect for vanilla-lovers. Custard sauce can dress up any fruit, turning “but that’s just cut-up fruit” into dessert. It’s a perfect recipe companion to the Surprise Meringue Cookies that use three egg whites. And it certainly still offers a beneficial something-something for those of us who eat it straight from the jar.
If you like a lighter vanilla flavor, cut the quantity of vanilla extract in half.
Makes 1-1/2 cups
- 3 egg yolks
- 1/4 cup sugar
- Pinch of salt
- 1-1/2 cups milk
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Off the stove, put yolks into top of double boiler and beat in sugar and salt. Put double boiler over medium heat. Add milk gradually, stirring constantly. Cook mixture over hot water, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens to coat the spoon (about 7-9 minutes). Do not overcook; mixture will thicken more as it cools.
Remove pan from heat and mix in vanilla. Cool slightly, pour into your favorite recycled glass jar and store in refrigerator. (In theory, this keeps for three or four days in the refrigerator. My jar is empty well before then.)
Recipe and photo copyright 2010 Garside Group LLC