Monday, 23 December 2013

Little pots of silky lusciousness

Little ramekins of loveliness
As with pretty much anything else in life, if you stick with something, you will learn.

One of my earliest cookery books was Gordon Ramsey’s Passion for Flavour.

Having started cooking, I’d finally picked up his little book of pasta sauces that had come with two pasta bowls and some herbs in a Christmas gift from The Other Half.

Having nearly dazzled myself by managing a velouté sauce, I’d reached for the stars with far more complex dishes in a full book.

It gave us, without too much pain, venison with a chocolate sauce, and crème brûlée with roasted rhubarb.

Well, I say without “too much pain”, but the latter might have involved beginner’s luck, because when I tried it subsequently, the times when I produced something akin to scrambled eggs rather outnumbered the times I managed a silky custard.

At the weekend, however, I needed a recipe for a set custard, since I was making créme Catalan to finish a Catalan meal – Boles de Picolat – as the main, with olives, an anchovy paste (from Collioure), bread and a homemade tapenade to begin.

Créme Catalan is a close relative of the crème brûlée, but is flavoured with orange and has slightly softer texture than the more familiar French version.

Given that the basis is set custard, I decided to return – carefully – to Ramsey’s recipe. And there, I noticed something.

“When the cream mixture starts to boil and rise ...” says the recipe.

It struck me that this is the root of the problem: if the milk/cream is that hot, it’s more likely to scramble to egg mix.

I decided to try it slightly differently.

The milk and cream were heated, but not to boiling point, before being drizzled onto the egg yolk and caster sugar mix and stirred gently in.

Everything was then returned to a clean pan and heated through gently until it started to thicken a little, when the strained juice of a mandarin was added and the mixture was decanted into ramekins.

These were popped in a roasting tin with a little water, and baked in a low oven for around 40 minutes.

After that, they were chilled and went into the fridge over night.

Cometh the hour, however, my blowtorch had run out of fuel and the can I’d bought earlier in the day didn’t have the right fitment, so the only option was the grill.

Using caster sugar instead of anything heavier, I eventually got the tops caramelised – with the added benefit that the heat of the grill had gently softened and warmed the custard, which was very pleasant.

They were silky smooth, with a nice hint of citrus – no hint of scrambled egg.

The lesson, it seems, is not always to fret about cooking to the letter of a recipe, but learning to trust your own instincts and also your own understanding of what is going on.

The ramekins were served, incidentally, with a garnish of redcurrants and physalis – the latter of which was absolutely made for such a purpose.

Such lessons are handy – and today has seen a similar situation as I made a mandarin sorbet. Recipes seemed to have vast amounts of sugar, but I didn’t worry too much about reducing it – or at least the ratio of sugar to juice.

Around a dozen fruits were juiced and sieved, with a generous squeeze of lemon juice added.

To that was added a syrup of 250ml water and around 210 caster sugar that had been allowed to cool after the sugar had all dissolved.

This was then decanted into a box and popped in the freezer.

Take a fork to mix it thoroughly once an hour for about three hours, and then simply allow it to freeze completely.

So easy – and a perfect palate refresher.

And with that, the pre-Christmas prep moves into a new gear.

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