Food-wise, the highlights of the evening were at the beginning and the end. For an appetizer, we shared a mac and cheese with smoked gouda and pancetta. YUM!! It was served on a hot slab of rock with a pretty sprinkle of sweet orange pepper and a drizzle of aged balsamic, which I thought was very cool.
But the thing that blew our minds was dessert, a duck egg crème brûlée. It was so incredibly ethereal and delicious that, as is my way, I had to come right home and try to recreate it for myself. I had a couple of problems, though. One was that I didn't know where to get duck eggs, and two, I didn't have a torch.
So I decided to practice using chicken eggs, and as I realized that the thing I like best about crème brûlée is the cream and not the crunchy topping, the solution to problem #2 became: POTS DE CRÉME! Pots de créme are exactly the same as crème brûlée (custards you bake in a water bath in the oven), except that you don't top them with sugar and torch them at the end. Plus, pots de créme are served cold, which I much prefer. Actually, crème brûlée should be served cold, too, but more often than not, a restaurant pulls them from the fridge, then torches the sugar topping and serves them immediately so that the custard is warmish when it gets to the table. ICK. Me no likey. Clearly, I needed to make my own...my own way!
First, I watched an excellent video tutorial on crème brûlée from the French Culinary Institute on YouTube, then I found an excellent pots de créme recipe from the New York Times that worked perfectly, except for one thing. The custard underneath turned out perfectly silken, but I realized that I needed to skim the foam off the top of the ramekins before baking. Still, it made for an interesting difference of texture, almost like I bruléed it on top. Overall, DELICIOUS!
Vanilla Pots de Créme
(Source: New York Times)
2 cups heavy cream, light cream, or half-and-half
2 vanilla beans or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
6 egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar (scant!)
1. Heat oven to 300 degrees. Pour cream into small saucepan. Split vanilla beans in half lengthwise and scrape seeds into cream. Put pod in cream, too. Heat cream until steam rises. Cover pan, turn off heat and let steep for 10 to 15 minutes. If using vanilla extract, just heat cream and let it cool while you proceed.
2. Beat yolks and sugar together until light. Pour about a quarter of the cream (remove vanilla bean pod) into this mixture, then pour sugar-egg mixture into cream and stir. If you are using vanilla extract, add it now and stir. Pour mixture into 4 6-ounce ramekins and place ramekins in a baking dish; fill dish with water halfway up the side of dishes. Cover with foil. 3. Bake 30 to 45 minutes, or until center is barely set. (Heavy cream sets fastest; half-and-half more slowly.) Chill, then serve.
P.S. In place of the broiled sugar, try topping your custards with some local strawberries that are just coming on (at least in these parts). They are so perfectly red and sweet this year!