Custard Advice for the Modern Gentleman

The method by which a gentleman handles eggs reveals much about him.

Can he grapple with nuance – recognizing that pans should be neither too hot nor too cold?   That there should be some butter but not too much butter?

Does he demonstrate care?  Does he slowly drizzle sugar into egg yolks, and does he fold whites gently without deflating the foam?

Is he observant?   Does he continue whisking his ice cream base until the sugary mixture falls in fully emulsified ribbon-like form, or does he settle for a grainy final product?  Will he notice when the poaching water is too hot?

And, maybe most importantly,  does he show a command of basic, commonsense skills?  Seriously, holding an adult conversation, balancing your checking account and matching your pants to your shoes are no more difficult than boiling water, separating eggs or operating a (*#$ ing kitchen timer.

If a gentleman cheats with egg cookery, there is no telling what else he might try get away with. Where else might he be sloppy and inattentive?  No one wants to end up shacked up with a guy who abandons everyone for days on end, leaving nothing but cheese-wiz and make-your-own-pizza-kits in the fridge.  (sadly, this culinary-emotional vacuum seems to represent like 90% of my Dating Strategy, but anyway…)

Not every occasion calls for a desert souffle.  And frankly even chocopots aren’t always appropriate.  But a guy who considers himself confident in the kitchen should have a couple of egg-desserts committed to memory.  This is critical, especially if you are prone like I am to cooking elaborate dinners and forgetting the sweet finale.  If one has modicum of skill, these are quick, delicious, flexible, and surprisingly forgiving if you keep the heat low.

Creme Anglaise is one, and I consider this non-negotiable for those who do not use their ovens as shoe-storage areas.  You can drizzle this over a poached pear, garnish a pound cake or just mix a couple of tablespoons in with berries for a lighter counterpoint to dinner.  Ten minutes, one burner, ingredients you ought to always have around.  No Excuses.

The other is a free-standing custard.

You call it flan, you can call it creme caramel, you can broil sugar on top and call it creme brulee (use a short wide ramekin for more surface area), but it’s just the idea of eggs and sugar, rich dairy and a hint of extra flavor.  Its richness without too much heaviness – the water bath seems to make for a soft, supple mouthfeel but this doesn’t overwhelm you like a bowl of ice cream.

For a recipe which serves two, this simple recipe holds up.  Gentlemen, commit to memory.

Flan for Two

Oven to 300.  Boil a bunch of water.

1 Cup 1/2 and 1/2
1 egg
1 egg yolk
1 t vanilla extract
1/4 Cup sugar

Place the half and half in a small saucepan, and heat to a bare simmer.  Do not allow the mixture to boil.

Beat the egg and the egg yolk together, and add the sugar very slowly and attentively.

Temper the sugar/egg mixture into the cream, making sure that no curds form.

Add the vanilla, and strain the mixture if you really like your dining companion.

Once complete, find yourself some caramel.  I will spare the lecture about making this yourself.  But you should.  You may substitute hot fudge or bacon jam, but use something, because the custard has a very mild taste.   Whatever you use should be just warm enough to be spreadable, but not so warm as to contact-scramble the egg.

Find a small pan or baking dish that will accommodate two ramekins.  Place this in the oven, empty.

Place two tablespoons of caramel goo at the bottom of each ramekin.  Fill the ramekins about 3/4ths of the way to the top with your custard mixture.  Place the ramekins in the baking pan in the oven, and pour enough boiling water into the baking pan so as to come about halfway up the sides of the ramekins.

Do not skip the water bath.  The water’s high specific heat will regulate temperature flow into the ramekins and allow the custard to heat slowy.  You have a much more forgiving window when you do this.

Check the ramekins after about 30 minutes, but they may take a little longer.  Remove from the oven when a sharp knife inserted into the center of the custard comes out “mostly clean.”  Like scrambled eggs, you have to assume that they will continue to cook once removed from the heat source.

For fancypants presentation, slide the dull end of a knife around the perimeter of the ramekin, place a flat sauce on top, invert, tap the bottom of the ramekin with the butt of the knife, and invert.  This works.  Garnish with something.

Pretend these took you all afternoon.

Not every meal has to be elaborate, but life is about making effort, and few things are more worthy of effort than a quiet dinner with a friend, catching up on all of the gossip while the tempranillo sloshes around your tablecloth.   Some things are just worth it.

8 thoughts on “Custard Advice for the Modern Gentleman

  1. jeff, i love Flan. it call it Flan For Lan. the thing is, i have dairy-woes AND my gentleman friend doesn’t like it. at all! but he’s ok with creme brulee. are we doomed?

    • Doomed? No, of course not. Quite the opposite. Call this a rationalization, my friend, but sometimes your blog stops me cold and I have to close the window – how happy you guys have been for the last two years… dairy or no. I wouldn’t trade that for a metric tonne of perfectly caramelized creme brulee.