Friday, September 21, 2012

Recipe #1: Custard

I've been stalling today because I was nervous to try this recipe, but I've said that before.  I did everything I could before I decided it was time to belly up to the bar and actually MAKE the recipe.

So here it goes!

The recipe calls for 2 cups of whole milk and 2 cups of heavy whipping cream; since I didn't have whole milk, I substituted in 2%.  I thought about trying sweetened condensed milk and instead omit the sugar, but I figured it'd still be too sweet, and probably overwhelmingly rich.  I made two more modifications in my case: I used a tablespoon of corn starch, and 1 whole egg.  The starch and egg white both act as thickeners, and since I didn't have whole milk, I decided to use it as my "insurance policy" to help the recipe along.  To the mix, I added 4 tablespoons of sugar, one whole vanilla bean with its seeds scraped out and pod tossed in, as well as a teaspoon of vanilla bean paste, which I love.  Every time I use the paste, people rave about the flavor!

While the milk was heating up, I began whisking together the 7 egg yolks and 1 whole egg along with 2 tablespoons of sugar.  Since 5 my yolks had been frozen and defrosted, they didn't want to mix well, so next time someone says, "oh yeah, you can free egg yolks!", I'll just remember this experience and keep my mouth shut when I want to say, "Really??  Is that so!"  Besides, we're all learning and we all make mistakes with cooking.  The three eggs I added to the mix, plus a lot of whisking, I managed to make the best of a less than ideal situation I was in.  I also added in at this point the tablespoon of corn starch as I knew I'd be tempering the egg mixture with hot milk, and that's going to result in some amount of curdling of the yolks no matter how good you are.

Tempering is when you take a little bit of something hot and add it while vigorously whisking it into the cooler ingredient.  The next best example I can think of is melting chocolate to the right temperature to create its signature glossiness; granted this isn't a perfect example as it doesn't curdle if done wrong, but if you get the smallest amount of water splashed into chocolate, it'll seize right up and you'll have to throw it away.  I've tried rescuing it with cocoa butter or shortening, but frankly it doesn't work (or hasn't for me!).

Once you get the cool eggs warmed up, you pour the egg mixture and the hot milk in together, and whisk gently over medium heat until it thickens.  How long to cook?  Maybe 10-15 minutes was my experience, but it depends on whether your milk is pretty hot to begin with, how thick you like your custard, and if you're cooking with gas or electric.  Everyone knows a cook prefers gas because you can control it better, and in my experience, the cooking surface is more evenly heated.  Whenever I've cooked on a electric stove and burnt something to the bottom, the resulting scouring action you're sentenced to guessed it - in the shape of the damned element!

Once you get your custard to the consistency you like (you can go pretty thin and pour it over whatever you're pairing it with), remove it from the heat and pour it into a strainer propped over a Pyrex bowl or large measuring cup.

You strain the mix because no matter how good you are at pouring and whisking during the tempering phase, you're undoubtedly going to wind up with some egg yolk chunks in your custard.  In my case, I knew I was going to have a lot because the five yolks that didn't quite have the right consistency when they were thawed out.  I could see during the whisking process that I was going to have bits that weren't going to incorporate, so the amount in the strainer was no surprise.

Put the finished bowl in the fridge and let the contents cool down a bit, making sure to cover the top with plastic wrap to avoid a skin forming on top of the custard.

When the custard has cooled to a manageable temperature but not cold, pour it into serving cups and garnish with fresh fruit and sprigs of mint.  Place back in the fridge and let it continue to cool and set up a bit more before serving.

Now that I've made this recipe, I can't understand why I was afraid to try cooking it, and based on a warm taste I stole from the leftovers in the Pyrex bowl after plating takes me back to the pies Mom used to buy for Thanksgiving.

Happy Eats!    :)

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