Thursday, January 26, 2017

Crème Anglaise

Many a year ago, when we lived in Yorkshire, I made my first custard sauce. Though I love eating this British classic anywhere, its pleasant taste, cheerful colour, and velvety texture is particularly comforting if the eater is gazing through a rain-drenched window overlooking windswept moors. Adorning many a dessert from fruit crumbles to sponge cake to parfaits and fools to just the simplicity of its flavoursome richness swirled through some plain yogurt or serving as a base for making ice cream, this sauce with its flaxen colour and a whiff of vanilla is versatile. Easy to make, any surplus will last about a week in the fridge and will present no difficulty to being gobbled-up.

Custard sauce topping rhubarb crumble in a pool of coulis (recipe)

makes approximately 1/2 litre

  • Cream, heavy, 295 ml/10 fluid oz
  • Egg yolks, 3
  • Sugar, vanilla, 2 T (add more to taste if a sweeter sauce is desired). A whole vanilla bean could instead be put in the cream to be warmed, in that case use plain sugar. Remove, clean, dry the bean, and store it in a jar of sugar, to make vanilla sugar!

Beating yolks and sugar until thick and lemon-coloured is . . .

. . . something I never tire of doing. Just yolks thickened with sugar in itself is adaptable by lending its deliciousness to eggnog and zabaglione with which The Calm One would take a shower if he only could figure out how to get it to flow through the plumbing.

Whisking takes about five minutes; note how the mixture coats the whisk and bowl

Gently warm up the cream in a saucepan. Take it off the burner and let sit for a few minutes. If using a vanilla bean, remove it now. Stir a few tablespoons into the yolks and sugar. Stir in a few more. Stir in the final amount. Then pour the tempered yolk/sugar mixture in the pan, stirring all the time over low heat until when swiping a coated wooden spoon with a finger, the remaining sauce stays put. It can be strained for an even more silky finish.

Sauce takes about five minutes to get to this stage

Fill a suitable storage tub with the sauce.

Refrigerate for at least an hour to firm it up.

To assemble the rhubarb fool we had for dessert following our holiday dinner this past December, for two ample servings, fold in gently and completely 118 ml/4 fluid oz of custard into 118 ml/4 fluid oz of whipped cream.

Then incompletely fold in 118 ml/4 fluid oz of rhubarb puree. Use more if you want it to be very fruity. Instructions for roasting rhubarb which retains most of its pinkness (of course forced pink rhubarb will be the pinkest) and also provides copious juice for coulis are here.

I took a stick mixer to the roasted rhubarb to make puree

Aim for threads of rhubarb throughout.

Pile into dessert glasses, make a depression in the fool, and fill with rhubarb coulis. Though custard sauce can be made with milk or a fool just with whipped cream, using a cream-based custard to be folded into whipped cream makes it closer to unfrozen ice cream and oh so good.

À la prochaine!

Monday, January 23, 2017

Flour, Water, Fire, and Polly Jane

Today I have the pleasure of introducing to Souped-up Garden's readership, Botany Bakehouse, whose twitter stream has inspired and comforted me for many a month. Her joyous interface with life, food, and words is contagious. If that was not enough, she also pairs chilli jam with sourdough pumpkin bagels.

How do you do, this is Botany Bakehouse. Michelle has kindly asked me to write a piece for this lovely blog. I’m honoured! I run a tiny, tiny bakery in a small village deep in the mountains that are in the background of all those tourist photos of Alhambra. My business constitutes three staff. Me, the baker, the bread slinger, and Polly Jane.
Before Polly came into my life, a bake off took all night. The electric wiring in our house is too capricious (not to mention the danger of taking the whole village out) which meant that getting a commercial oven with a massive appetite was too impractical. Gas is very expensive here too.  The maximum I could fit in a domestic oven was two 500g loaves at a given time. I was exhausted! I even contemplated becoming a cookie business, or a novelty cake maker. I drew the line at cup cakes. But I love baking bread.

Spelt and rye boule tied in raffia

And luckily for me, many villagers on this mountain and the next accepted my bread with open arms. One day my bread slinger decided enough is enough and contacted a local stonemason. Painstakingly, layer after layer of brick, concrete, insulation, and more concrete was formed into a vaulted arch oven perfect for making bread. Polly Jane was born.

First food!

But she was a feeble child. The bread slinger and I would feed her log after log of the best olive wood we could find but she remained cold. Then suddenly she became an angry, young woman. Burning everything inside. I would shed tears over the charred loaves while the bread slinger conducted desperate searches online for answers on how to control temperature on new, wood-fired ovens. That was all last month. She is more than fine now. We have an understanding. Her teenage years aremostlybehind her.
  1. I heat Polly Jane the night before to the point of inferno.
  2. The bread slinger gets pizza for supper.
  3. Before sunrise Polly Jane starts baking boule.
  4. Then she bakes Viennoiseries. 
  5. The bread slinger sets off. 
After washing up, I pop some simple ingredients in a clay pot and leave it to slowly cook in Polly Jane so that when my bread slinger gets back we can have a slow and lazy lunch after all the excitement.

Rabbit and butterbean stew

Even as the heat dies off the following day, you’ll find me and Polly Jane experimenting with slow infusions of herbs in the olive oil we have produced, drying herbs, or just making sure the logs for the next bake are bone dry.

I love Polly Jane to bits. When I was working for a busy café bakery in a big, big city I took the heat generated and used up for granted. Too many other matters to worry about. Energy is precious here, and Polly Jane channels it beautifully.