The egg, I realized in my baking adventures, is a very significant ingredient in the building blocks of haute to rustic cuisine. Though a seemingly humble elliptical shell, it transcends all cultures and all phases of the meal from hor D’oeuvre to dessert. The egg in its simplicity of yolk and white is a very important protein that depending on its uses can make or break a dish. The egg whites are an incredible drying and leavening agent as well as the basis for towering soufflés. The yolks are great emulsifiers and a great contributor to the creaminess of what I think is the undisputed muse of the egg…the custard! Custard is a blend of milk and eggs set with heat. As a dessert, it usually is combined with sugar and flavorings especially vanilla. The most popular custard sauce is Crème Anglaise which can be served wonderfully warm or cold, poured over cakes, pies, pudding or fruit. When you add flour to it, you end up with Pastry cream or Crème Patisserie which you use in éclairs, cream puffs and the like. Truth to tell, custards were never my favorite growing up. I did not like the egginess of it all. It was only when I tasted a creamy budino (an Italian crème caramel) from an Italian Restaurant that I realized the finer points of this dessert. And so began my fascination of what makes a perfect Crème Caramel, my favorite incarnation of the custard. In fact, I believe the true benchmark of an excellent bistro is the quality of its desserts, among this of course, the crème caramel.
For this research, I looked to different books and finally settled on the recipe by Thomas Keller from his book “Bouchon” and Reynaldo Alejandro’s “Philippine Cookbook” for his recipe called Leche Flan which is a Spanish version of crème caramel. Keller’s version involved using the whole eggs, extra yolks, sugar and whole milk. Alejandro’s version uses evaporated milk, condensed milk and the yolks only. Guess which yielded the creamiest texture? The Leche Flan! Keller’s crème caramel is perfect by most standards but then it has that eggy texture which I think I’d rather not taste but if the “Hungry Hubby” ate it then it must be good J . Funny thing is the flan is also the easiest to prepare since it does not entail heating the milk just mixing all the custard ingredients together. This brings us back to the egg. I think the creamy and silky texture was due to the absence of the whites, just having pure yolks and cooking to just “jiggly”. As an added experiment I added goat cheese to two ramekins with the “Bouchon” recipe, it seemed to have increased in creaminess but I think the way I combined the goat cheese seemed to have interfered with the setting of the custard. I will provide both recipes I used since if there are some of you who have an aversion to using canned milk (as my hubby does) then you can still make Crème Caramel.
Caramel to be used for both recipes, I find Keller’s recipe easiest to work with:
½ cup +1 Tbs sugar
3 Tbs light corn syrup
3 Tbs water
Combine sugar, corn syrup and water in a clean non-stick saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Continue to simmer and stir until color is deep amber, about 13 minutes. Pour syrup into molds, two at a time and swirl to make sure the surface is covered. If the caramel thickens too much in the saucepan, reheat to soften.
“Bouchon” Crème Caramel
* I divided this recipe in half for my test but I will provide the full original recipe from the book .
4 cups milk
1 ¼ cup plus 3 Tbs sugar
5 large eggs
3 large yolks
2 ¼ tsp pure vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 300 °F
Combine milk and sugar in a medium non-reactive saucepan and bring barely to simmer until the sugar dissolves. Whisk eggs and yolks in a large bowl to combine. Add ¼ of the “warm” milk mixture to the egg and temper. Add the rest of the milk mixture then add the vanilla extract.
Strain the mixture into ramekins and arrange them on a baking pan, pour hot tap water up 2/3 the sides of the ramekin, cover with two layers of plastic and place in the oven. Bake for 40 minutes. Start checking at the ½ hour mark. When it is jiggly but set it is done. (I cooked it for an hour in my oven)
“Philippine Cookbook” Leche Flan
* Now this is half the original recipe + 1 added yolk
1 can evaporated milk
6 ounces of condense milk
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 325 °F
In a large bowl, combine all custard ingredients. Stir lightly when mixing to prevent bubbles or foam from forming. Strain slowly while pouring into ramekins. Cover each mold with tin foil. Put mold in water bath. Bake in oven for 1 hour until mixture is firm. Cool before unmolding onto platter.