|From Summer 2013|
At the end of last year, I jumped at the opportunity to work at the summer camp my school was running. Though I had initially been set on teaching English, the empty slots in the younger classes meant that my friend and I would spend time with the 4-5 year olds.
It was remarkable how many distinct personalities I encountered that first day. Some were interested only in play, trekking off to the hula-hoops and colorful scarves the minute they laid their eyes on them. Others immediately took to holding my hand and asking me questions. They wanted to know where I was from, why there weren’t any pink scarves, and what was my name, again? Most had personalities so defined that I could imagine them years older, at my age.
|From Summer 2013|
Though every child had a different level of involvement in the activities we played, even the more timid ones were delightfully uninhibited.
Unfortunately, I caught the flu the second day on the job.
I woke up in the middle of the night with a parched throat and a groggy certainty that come morning, I’d be too sick for work. I was bummed. I missed two days, too contagious to be around the children.
There is a line from The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister that has always evoked images of custard in my mind. Though the little girl is describing a white sauce—“its smell feeling of quiet at the end of an illness, when the world is starting to feel gentle and welcoming once again”—it strikes me as the perfect description of a crème caramel.
|From Summer 2013|
This crème caramel is pleasantly dense, and easily gives way to the gentle pressure of a prodding spoon. It is rich, comforting, delectably sweet. It was my sole post-flu craving. Imagine my disappointment when the kitchen sink revealed the last little dish soaking in water, crème caramel scraped away, evidently eaten straight from the cup.
Although I am not quite up to par with my grandmother’s crème caramel-making abilities, mine still elicited the tranquil, tender qualities that are so beautifully portrayed in Bauermeister’s words.
And as I finally returned to the summer camp and told the inquiring children about my flu, I began to search the drawers of my mind to place the quote that described just how relieved I felt to be back at work.
lightly adapted from The Yummy Morsel
makes 6 servings
2 cups milk
1 and 1/3 cup sugar
2 tsp vanilla bean paste, or seeds scrapped from one vanilla bean
Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees
Heat the milk until very hot. Turn off and let it cool while you prepare rest of the ingredients.
In a heavy saucepan, melt 1 cup of sugar until the sugar starts to turn amber in color. Keep in mind that the caramel will continue to darken once removed from the heat. You do not want to end up with a bitter caramel. Divide the caramel among 6 ramekins. Let the caramel cool for about 5-10 minutes to harden.
In a bowl, beat the eggs and sugar until pale and well blended. Slowly temper the milk into the egg/sugar mixture little by little and whisk until well incorporated.
Stir in the vanilla bean paste/seeds and let the mixture cool for a bit. You can run the mixture through a sieve/colander to remove any lumps that could have formed while combining the hot milk and egg mixture.
Prepare the water bath for baking. Pour some boiling water to about an inch deep in a deep baking pan. Pour the egg custard mixture on top of the caramel filled ramekins.
Set your ramekins into the baking pan. Add more water if necessary; the water bath should come to about half way up the sides of the dishes.
Bake for about 20-30 minutes until the custards are just set and a knife inserted into the center comes out clean, and the centers jiggle slightly moved. Depending on the temperature of the water in the water bath before baking, the custards may take more time to bake. Mine took 45 minutes to bake.
Carefully remove from the oven, remove the ramekins from the water bath, and let cool to room temperature. Refrigerate and chill for about 4 hours before serving.
To serve, run a thin, sharp knife along the sides of the ramekin to loosen, and invert onto dessert plates. Shake gently, or slowly tap on base of the inverted ramekin to release onto the plates.