Lemon tarts at Le Papillon!

Ah, lemons. Today I hit up the St. Lawrence Market with Hobby Victim. I was looking for some pure vanilla extract by the Saffron Imports Co. (my supply is dangerously low but alas, none was to be found).

After checking out the lower level of the market, we took a stroll to find a nice restaurant for lunch. We stopped at Le Papillon.

I’ve walked by Le Papillon many times but never ventured inside. We both ordered the Crêpe du Marché, which is a galette containing St-Laurent bacon, cooked apples, and cheddar cheese. The apples had a flavour I cannot identify, but it was quite tasty.

Choosing dessert was so hard. I just could not make up my mind, but after several agonizing minutes we narrowed it down.

Hobby Victim ordered the Gâteau au Chocolat, and I ordered the Tarte au Citron (French lemon pie).

How was it? From the first bite, as I felt that elusive afterglow feeling creeping over me, my taste buds sang. I could not stop smiling. It was truly delicious. So tart, so good.

Whoever does the desserts at Le Papillon is an artist of the highest calibre.

I know what I’m going to learn to make on the weekend.

Candy cane crème brûlée

My affection for custard is well-documented. I made this on Sunday, for no particular reason aside from the fact that I just wanted some. It’s still winter (faux-spring if you live in Toronto) which means it is still candy cane season and adding crushed candy canes to my crème brûlée seemed like a good idea.

Good to know before you start:

If this is your first time making crème brûlée, fear not! I have covered this before. Read my earlier posts about my first time making it, and my pumpkin flavoured variety to see the technique in action. You’ll need to make a water bath, and a kitchen torch.

Time required: 2 days

Yields: 6 portions

Cost per serving: $4.59

Total cost if you have none of the ingredients: $27.59

Special kitchen implements I used:

  • mesh strainer
  • 6 ramequins
  • baking pan: 9″ x 13″
  • a dish towel you don’t mind getting wet
  • fire-proof surface (ie: marble slab or glass cutting board)
  • awesome kitchen torch™

Ingredients:

  • 2C heavy cream, room temperature
  • 5 egg yolks, room temperature
  • ⅓ C granulated white sugar
  • half of one vanilla bean, split & scraped
  • ⅛ TSP fine sea salt  (normally I use table salt but I was out)
  • ⅛ TSP ground cinnamon
  • 1-2 TSP demerara sugar per portion (do not add until serving)
  • 1 crushed candy cane

Instructions:

1. Pre-heat oven to 325°F / 162°C, using centre rack.  Fill kettle with water and simmer for later.

2. In a heavy-bottomed sauce pan, add cream, cinnamon, and vanilla bean (pods and shell). Heat on LOW until scalded then remove from heat.  When scalded, the bubbles have just started to form and break the surface.  (It’s normal for a skim to form.)

splitting like mad!!

Watched pots never boil and all, but the instant you turn your back it’ll burn. Not that I burn anything, by the way. Just observing.

3. In a medium bowl, mix sugar and salt together.

4. Separate the yolks from the egg whites, and gently whisk yolks into sugar mixture until just combined.

5. Pour the hot cream through a strainer as you temper it into the egg mixture; add about a third of the cream, gently stirring between each pour. (Doing this slowly prevents the egg from scrambling.)

6. To prepare for the water bath, fold a dish towel until it sits evenly in the bottom of a 9″x13″ pan, and place your ramequins atop the towel. This will prevent the cups from slipping.

7. Use a spoon to scrape the bottom of bowl, where all the vanilla bean has sunk, and make sure each ramequin has a fair amount of the bean; then pour the liquid into the ramequins.

8. Place pan in oven, and create your water bath by carefully filling the pan with hot water from the kettle, until the water reaches at least halfway up the sides of the ramequins.

9. Bake for 35-40 minutes until the edges of the custard are set. Test for doneness by shaking, the centre should wobble like Jell-o. If the whole surface shakes give it 3-5 more minutes. If nothing shakes it’s overdone.

10. Remove from oven, and carefully remove ramequins from pan. Set them on a rack to cool for at least one hour.

11. Cover each ramequin with plastic wrap, and chill overnight.

12. Remove from fridge 30 minutes before you want to eat them.  After 20 minutes, remove the plastic wrap, and use a folded piece of paper towel to gently blot the surface to remove any condesation.

13. Add the topping, sprinkling the demerara sugar on top, tilting and tapping each ramequin to cover the entire surface, and then repeat with the crushed candy cane.

14. Place the ramequin on a fireproof surface  and torch that sucker, using a low flame held 1-2 inches from the surface. Start in the middle and slowly go in clockwise circle to the edges. Oooh, pretty!

15. Return to fridge for 10 minutes, then eat.

Verdict: Father forgive me. It had been 90 days since my last crème brûlée and I was helpless to resist the siren song of the heavy cream in the fridge. I succumbed.

Christ, I’m glad I did. I love this stuff. It’s delicious.

This was good. Objectively speaking, you couldn’t really taste the candy canes. Boyfriend says he couldn’t taste them at all, but I distinctly remember tasting candy cane in two bites. (The cane I used was from last year, maybe it went stale?)

I had planned to add a drop of peppermint oil but decided against it, not wanting to overwhelm the cinnamon, which had a gentle hint of flavour.

Heavy cream and vanilla beans are expensive, but if you wait until the cream goes on sale and get the beans in bulk, making crème brûlée does not cost you much. Buying it in a restaurant can start at $8.00 for one tiny bowl, so when you think about it, making it at home is the fiscally responsible thing to do. Canadians are in record levels of debt, so… you’re welcome!

Playlist: Barenaked Ladies – Call and Answer

Patty’s pumpkin crème brûlée

Yes. I’m afraid it’s true. I have dangerous news: it is possible to make crème brûlée even more glorious.

I’ll be frank, I am tired of the trials and tribulations of fudge.  I needed a day of distance. Today is Thanksgiving, and Boyfriend and I are heading to Hobby Victim’s house for dinner. We each made a dessert. Mine was my favourite custard, tweaked with an inspiration from The Globe and Mail. I took my existing recipe, and tinkered with the proportions for the spices, and used real vanilla bean.

Toronto look out: something delicious this way comes!

Good to know before you start:

As I mentioned previously, custard should be made the day before because it needs to chill overnight. Before you serve it, remove from the fridge for 20 minutes, then caramelize the sugar, then chill for another 10 minutes before eating – we want cold custard and glassy sugar, not hot.

To achieve the silky texture that crème brûlée is famous for, it is imperative to use a mesh strainer. Double-straining into ramequins in a pain in the ass but so worth it.

You’re also going to need a fire-proof surface and kitchen torch. Don’t have a torch? Check out my guide about making your own. It’s way better than using the stove broiler. People, this is crème brûlée for Thanksgiving. Go big or go home.

Time required: 2 days (1 hr prep and bake, 1 hour cooling, chill overnight)

Yields: 12

Cost per portion: $3.00

Total cost if you have none of the ingredients: $36.00

Special kitchen implements I used:

  • mesh strainer
  • 12 ramequins
  • 2 baking pans: 9″ x 13″
  • 2 dish towels you don’t mind getting wet
  • fire-proof surface (ie: marble slab)
  • awesome kitchen torch

Ingredients:

  • 4 C heavy cream, room temperature
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 1 TSP ground nutmeg
  • 1 TSP ground ginger
  • 1 C canned pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling)
  • ⅔ C granulated white sugar
  • ¼ TSP salt
  • 10 egg yolks, room temperature
  • 12 TSP turbinado sugar (save until final stage, 1 TSP per portion)

Instructions:

1. Pre-heat oven to 325°F / 162°C, using centre rack. Fill kettle with water and simmer for later. Fold dish towels so they sit nicely in the baking pans, and add ramequins, like so:

2. Pour heavy cream into a sauce pan, then split and scrape vanilla bean, and add to cream (including shell and pods). I do this at the very beginning and let the vanilla infuse into the cream while the cream comes up to room temp.

3. Add nutmeg and ginger to cream, then scald cream on medium heat. A skim will form, that’s normal. Once bubbles form at the edge, remove from heat.

4. Pour cream through strainer into a medium-size bowl.

5. Stir pumpkin into hot cream, let stand 5 minutes.

6. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, mix sugar and salt.

7. Separate the yolks from the egg whites, gently whisk yolks into sugar mixture until just combined. (Save the whites for something else.)

Tip: try to crack the shell halfway between the top and the bottom of the shell. It’s easier to separate the yolks if you have two fairly equal sized shells to work with.

8. Use a ladle to temper the hot cream into the egg mixture; adding one third at a time, stirring it in. Don’t rush this, you don’t want scrambled eggs.

We are almost ready to divvy up the mixture into the ramequins.

9. Place a small strainer over a ramequin. Use ladle to reach the bottom of the bowl where all the vanilla bean pods have sunk, and ladle some mixture through the strainer. Do this for each one to ensure every portion gets a generous amount of vanilla pods.

After that, ladle out the mixture evenly, and strain each time.

Double-straining is very important because you’ll notice that on each pour, the strainer will get clogged with skim on every pour and you don’t want that gunk in your custard.

10. Place both pans in the oven and create a bain marie using the hot water from the kettle.

11. Bake 35 minutes until the edges of the custard are set. Test for doneness by shaking, the centre should wobble like Jell-o. If the whole surface shakes give it 3-5 more minutes. If nothing shakes it’s overdone.

12. Remove from oven and use an egg-flipper type spatula to lift the ramequins out of the dish, and place on wire rack to cool for one hour.

13. Cover each cup with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

14. Set ramequin on counter for 20 mintes to stand. Then remove plastic, and gently blot the surface with paper towel to remove condensation.

15. Sprinkle one teaspoon of turbinado sugar, cover the edges first and work towards the centre, then tilt and tap the ramequin to spread the sugar evenly.

16. Place ramequin on fire-proof surface and use your mad torching skillz.

The key to doing this properly is don’t let the flame get too close, and always keep it in motion. It takes around 3 minutes to melt the sugar properly into a nice glassy surface.

17. Chill for 10 minutes, then devour.

Verdict:

Patty: <setting up camera> “You can have first bite.”

Boyfriend: “Really?” <grabs spoon>

Patty: <taking photos and looking down> “Well?”

Boyfriend: “Oh my God!!”

Patty: “Is it good?”

Boyfriend: “No. It’s awful. You don’t want any.”

Patty: “Give me that spoon… ooohh, nice.”

Boyfriend: “This is amazing. I love the after taste, the nutmeg, it’s totally there. It kind of reminders me of egg nog, just a little. It’s so good.”

Playlist: David Bowie – Ziggy Stardust

What dessert are you celebrating Thanksgiving with?

Patty’s peach flans

What do custard and Final Fantasy IV have in common? Flans!!

A flan – or crème caramel – is a custard dessert with a layer of soft caramel on top,with similiar characteristics to crème brûlée.

As all Square fans should know, one of the toughest enemies in old school FF games were the pudding class, and in IV (my favourite), the rarest creature of all was the “pink puff” or “princess flan”.

Looks can be deceiving! These pink monsters were immune to magical attacks, almost immune to physical attacks, and you had to whittle away at their high HP.

They could only be found in one tiny room in the entire game, where you had a 1 in 64 chance of finding them, and if you defeated them you had a 1 in 64 chance of earning the rarest item in the game. But I digress.

I had flans on my mind for some reason or another, and decided to give it a go.  Usually I wouldn’t preface a recipe with a warning, but you should read all the way to the end before trying this one.

Time required: 2.5 hr

Yields: 6 flans

Cost per flan: $6.30

Total cost if you have none of the ingredients: $38.00

Kitchen implements I used:

  • 6 ramequins
  • baking pan 9″ x 13″
  • sieve

Ingredients:

  • 6 peaches, peeled and diced
  • 2 TBSP butter
  • 1 vanilla bean, split & scraped
  • 1 cinnamon stick, split
  • ⅓C granulated white sugar (for caramelization)
  • 3 beaten eggs
  • 1½C milk
  • ⅓C granulated white sugar sugar (for custard)
  • 1 TSP pure vanilla extract
  • 3 shakes of ground cinnamon, per custard

Instructions:

1. Pre-heat oven to 163°C / 325°F. Fill kettle and boil, then let water simmer.

2. Peel fruit and dice into thin pieces.

3. Melt butter in a pan. Add fruit, cinnamon stick, and vanilla bean (pods and shell).

4. Bring to a boil, and simmer 15 min.

5. On Medium heat in a heavy-bottomed sauce pan, caramelize 1/3 C sugar. Do not stir it, shake the pan gently until it starts melting. Once melted, reduce heat to Low. Cook for 5 min.

At this point all the sugar should be melted and it’s okay to stir.

6. Immediately pour this melted sugar into the ramequins, titling to coat evenly.

Let stand 10 minutes.

charred molasses WTF?

7. Meanwhile, combine eggs, milk, and the other 1/3 C sugar, and vanilla.

Beat until well combined but not foamy.

oops, is this foamy?

8. Place peaches in ramequins.

8. Divide custard mixture evenly amount ramequins.

9. Sprinkle with cinnamon (I have a glass shaker filled with ground cinnamon for this)

guessing this doesn't look normal

10. Place ramequins in baking dish and create bain marie.

11. Bake up to 45 min.

12. Immediately remove ramequins from bain marie and place on cooling rack for 10 min.

13. Before consuming, loosen edges of flan with knife, and place a plate over ramequin, and invert.

Verdict: Burnt, with a bitter liquer aftertaste, and  a consistency of hard-boiled egg. Not exactly what I was hoping for!

Where did it all go wrong?

The first problem was the peaches, they were under-ripe, and I overcooked them in my eagerness to include them. Alas, adding fruit to flans changes the consistency and cooking time considerably.

Second, a third of a cup of sugar was not enough to coat each ramequin – I ran out, made more, and burned it – and used it anyway. The sugar tasted like burnt brandy, bitter and horrible.

Third, flans should take no longer than 45 minutes to cook, and when they are done, a knife blade inserted will come out clean. I accidentally set the oven to the wrong temperature and didn’t realize until they were already in, so I adjusted the temperature and checked them at 20 minutes, then every 5 minutes. After 70 minutes they still had not set, the knife was covered in runny custard, but I took them out anyway, only to discover they had mysteriously cooked all the way through. WTF.

I think peach flans have potential. I’m going to retry this with plain flans first, to get the technique down, then I’ll try adding fruit. I will not cook the peaches again, just use ripe peaches, one or two slices per cup max. The butter that the peaches cooked in looked unsightly. I think I’d prefer smaller ramequins for this too.

What a waste of vanilla bean!

Playlist: Final Fantasy IV – Into the Darkness

Patty’s crème brûlée

I love crème brûlée. Cold, silky custard, topped with a layer of caramelized sugar, which looks like a golden brown pane of glass, waiting to be crunched with a spoon. Made with real vanilla bean and I’m in heaven. Oh, bliss!

This is my dessert of choice when I dine out, and I learned to make it at home in 2010. Making the custard is the easy part, but getting the caramelized sugar just so is tricksy.

perfect!

Time required: 2 days (custard takes 40 min, plus over night chilling)

Yields: 6 portions

Cost per custard: $2.16

Total cost if you have none of the ingredients: $16.00  (plus $12.00 for a real torch)

Special kitchen implements I used:

  • strainer
  • 6 glass ramequins
  • 1 deep baking pan 9″ x 13″
  • blowtorch (propane tank, regulator, and flint)

getting started

Good to know before you start:

TIMING this dessert is difficult. The custard has to be prepared, baked, left to stand, chilled, left to stand again, sugared, torched, and chilled again. Ask 5 people how to make this dish and expect 5 different opinions on how long each stage takes. You might need to experiment. I highly recommend making the custard the night before you plan to eat this. If you want to make the topping out of brown sugar or demerara sugar, leave 6 TBSP of that sugar out to dry over night, dry sugar is much easier to caramelize.

TORCHES: you can make your own blowtorch for $12.00, with 3 parts; a mini propane tank, air regulator, and flint. This works much better than any kitchen torch you find in kitchen-specific shops. Don’t caramelize the sugar with an oven broiler because that heats the custard, when it’s supposed to be served cold.

SUGAR TOPPING: I’ve tried using granulated white sugar, golden brown, dark brown, icing/confectioners, turbinado, demerara, and a blend of white and brown. It’s hard to make it look right. I think brown sugar tastes best but since it is moist, it’s hard to caramelize (so leave some out overnight). Neither white sugar nor icing sugar produced the result I wanted. Fine-grain sugars like demerara and turbinado are what most recipes recommend, yet I haven’t been able to get the consistency that I want. Your kilometers may vary.

RAMEQUINS: these are very cheap, made from fluted ceramic or glass. The best ones for this dish are shallow and wide, because that provides more surface area for the caramelized sugar.

Although it’s called “burnt cream”, you do not want to actually burn it, one or two dark spots is okay, but you’re trying to achieve a golden brown caramelized colour, not dark brown or black.

Crème Brûlée ingredients:

  • 2C light cream, room temperature (some people use Heavy or Half  & Half)
  • 5 egg yolks, room temperature
  • ⅓ C granulated white sugar
  • ½ vanilla bean, split & scraped
  • ⅛ TSP salt
  • 1-2 TSP demerara sugar per portion (do not add until serving)

Step 1 – pre-heat oven to 325°F / 162°C, using centre rack.

Step 2 – fill kettle with water and simmer

Step 3 – add cream and vanilla bean (pods and shell) to sauce pan

vanilla bean split vanille bean scraped

Step 4 – heat on LOW until scalded and remove from heat.  When scalded, the bubbles have just started to form and break the surface.  It’s normal for a skim to form.

scalded cream

Step 5 – in a medium bowl, mix sugar and salt together

Step 6 – separate the yolks from the egg whites, (freeze the whites), and gently whisk yolks into sugar mixture until just combined

egg yolks eggs and sugar

Step 7 – temper the hot cream into the egg mixture; add about a third of the cream, gently stir,  add another third, stir, then add the final third (doing this slowly in thirds prevents the egg from scrambling)

temper the cream into the yolks fully tempered

Step 8 – pour liquid through a strainer, into a glass measuring cup

straining the liquid

As you can see, straining is important for this dish. You don’t want any part of the skim or shell pieces in your custard:

sludge

Step 9 – fold a dish towel until it sits evenly in the bottom of a 9″x13″ pan, and place your ramequins atop the towel.

Step 10 – use a spoon to scrape the bottom of your glass measuring cup, where all the vanilla bean has sunk, and make sure each ramequin has a fair amount of the bean; then pour the strained liquid into the ramequins:

ramequins in place

Step 11 – place pan in oven, and carefully fill pan with hot water from the kettle, until the water reaches at least halfway up the sides of the ramequins, this is a bain marie which ensures the custards cook evenly without drying out. Don’t let the water touch the custard:

water bath

Step 12 – bake for 30-40 minutes until the edges of the custard are set. Test for doneness by shaking, the centre should wobble like Jell-o. If the whole surface shakes give it 3-5 more minutes. If nothing shakes it’s overdone.  This depends heavily on your oven, and the size and shape of your ramequins.

Step 13 – remove from oven, and carefully remove ramequins from pan. Set them on a rack to cool for at least one hour.

cooling

Step 14 – cover each ramequin with plastic wrap, and chill at least 2 hours (overnight chilling is best)

ready to be chilled

Step 15 – removing from fridge 30 minutes before consuming.  After 20 minutes, remove the plastic wrap, and use a folded piece of paper towel to gently blot the surface to remove any condesation.

Step 16 – sprinkle the demerara sugar on top, tilting and tapping each ramequin to cover the entire surface.

Step 17 – place the ramequin on a fireproof surface, like a marble slab, and use the blowtorch, with a low flame, holding it about 2-3 inches from the surface. I start in the middle and slowly go in clockwise circle to the edges. The sugar will turn a dark golden brown, but if it turns black it’s burnt.

I’ll show you a custard with too much sugar, and another with just enough.

This one has far too much sugar:

1st one; too much sugar

Step 17 – return to fridge for 10 minutes, then eat.  How long to leave it in the fridge before eating is up for debate. Some people say 30 min, some say 45, I do 10. If you leave it too long the sugar starts running down into the custard and won’t crack, so this is where you really have to experiment.

Attempt # 1 is so ugly, I’m ashamed:

burnt

Attempt # 2 is perfect! This used 2 rounded teaspoons of sugar:

perfect! oh yum

Using a blow torch makes me nervous. I’m afraid of fire. The key to not buring the sugar is be patient, don’t hold the flame too close, and keep it moving in a circle.

So, I didn’t realize before I bought my ramequins that the shallow ones work best.  Mine are narrow and deep, holding: 0.25L / 0.2 qt / 105 x 550 mm / 4.8″ x 2″. Eventually I’d like to replace them with shallow ones.

Last night I used demerara sugar… the ugly one was used with the sugar fresh out of the bag, the nice one was made with sugar that had dried out over night and was crushed with a rolling pin. It was definitely easier to melt the sugar this way. I still prefer the taste of brown sugar, so I will look at drying out equal parts brown and demerara, and combining them.

Update Oct 9, 2011: When this entry was posted I forgot to add the salt measurement. Oops. Fixed.