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Not all of the recipes I turn up are winners from the get-go. My “eureka” moment in finding Gram’s recipe for soft chocolate custard with meringue turned sour the other day.
Why? Because I forgot the primary rule of melting chocolate: Don’t get it wet.
Remember that bad experience you had with the old double-boiler — the one where the top didn’t quite fit — in your attempt to melt four squares of Baker’s unsweetened chocolate? The splash, and the subsequent seize-up? Yeah. Well. I blocked that out. When this newly found recipe read “melt chocolate in 1/4 cup water and stir,” my red flags just lay there on the tarmac.
After the seizure, I dumped the hardening chocolate into the custard base. Much stirring later, the chocolate still clumped.
My friend Zoë and I reminisced about chocolate and water disasters, and we talked about fixes for this recipe. Cocoa, maybe? (Possibly not chocolatey enough.) Melt the chocolate straight in the custard? Melt the chocolate plain, and temper the custard and chocolate together? Any of these might work. And I now dedicate myself to the pursuit of chocolate custard that doesn’t fight in the pan.
Local tasters for chocolate pudding? Anyone? Anyone?
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.
“What,” you ask, “is cream custard?”
Cream custard is several things: Rich, weird to look at, a star turn for nutmeg and a perfect comfort dessert. It’s also economical: In her notes, Grammy connects this recipe with Cordon Bleu basic cake so cooks can use up the egg whites the cake recipe kicks off.
I don’t remember eating Titusville Cream Custard. When I made in a few weeks ago during my mother’s visit, however, she greeted it like an old friend. Someone familiar, not seen for a long time.
That’s one of the great things about family recipes and foods. Food memories — and recipes — can skip generations, or float in the subconscious, or land with great dramatic effect. Things I remember eating as a child may not even have registered with my cousins. Recipes last made three decades ago can resurface at just the right moment. And a comfort dish to one child can be anathema to a sibling. (Which, by the way, works out pretty well if you’re sitting at the same table. Ask my brothers about calves’ liver.)
Back to cream custard. The roots of this dish remain vague. Titusville is a town in Pennsylvania; why it is known for its cream custard is a mystery. Did the town have a bustling ice-cream business in summer and wanted a winter alternative? Because that’s what this is: Warm, nutmeg-scented ice cream in the form of soft custard. The “weird to look at” part is how unappealing this dish looks going into the oven. You begin with a pallid, foamy pool freckled with nutmeg. The slow bake transforms the ugly duckling: Nutmeg melds into a crunchy top as the anemic pool morphs into a creamy ivory pudding.
As with Lemon Sponge, this would be worth putting into separate containers for a fancy dinner party. If you’re gathering around the kitchen table, though, just put the pudding dish in the center, dig in, and see if this reminds you of a dish from way back when.
Titusville Cream Custard
- 4 egg whites
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup milk
- 1 cup heavy cream
- Ground nutmeg
Preheat oven to 300°F.
In a large bowl, beat egg whites until soft peaks form. In a smaller bowl, combine sugar, salt, milk and cream; stir until sugar dissolves. Pour cream mixture down the inside of the larger bowl, then fold egg whites and cream mixture together.
Pour mix into a two-quart souffle dish; sprinkle top generously with ground nutmeg. Place the souffle dish into a larger dish and fill outer dish about half full with warm water. Bake custard for an hour and fifteen minutes. Test with a silver knife; when it comes out clean custard is done.
Photos and recipe copyright 2010 Garside Group LLC