Sunday, 25 July 2010
I have written before about recipes I have made that have changed my perceptions and changed my course in life. My Pear and Chocolate Loaf Cake was one of these. It made me realise that I could make up my own recipes and they could actually work. It opened up a whole new world of invention. The Beautiful and the Damned Cake was another.
Now I have realised that baking and creating things with food is my passion and what I want to do with my life, these moments have become even more precious. Every time something flops, I question my choices. Do I have it in me? Will I succeed? From the very first bite, this dessert said yes.
A week or so ago, my mum and I went out for a special supper up the mountain at La Marlenaz. I had a truly wonderful duck dish with local honey and figs for main but it was my mum who won on dessert. She had 'une douce pour l'été' from the specials board, a new addition by the chef. It was, the waiter explained, a creme brulee base topped with raspberries. It was gorgeous - warm thick creamy custard topped with a raspberry syrup and fresh raspberries. Mum begged me to try and make something similar.
When we came out to go home, there was a rainbow stretching from deep in the valley to high over the mountains - a full semicircle. It was one of the most beautiful things I've seen recently.
Around the same time, we discovered a bank of wild strawberries just outside our apartment block. I've never seen so many growing wild like this. By the time I got to picking them yesterday, quite a few had gone over or been eaten by wildlife but I still managed to get a fairly large haul. Wild strawberries are incredible - so tiny and yet packed full of flavour. They have a slightly different taste and smell to regular strawberries, too.
My version of this dessert then started to come together - it seemed like the perfect place to showcase my precious little strawberries. I had thought of the original raspberries, blueberries, cherries... all of which I'm sure would be lovely, especially if you don't have wild strawberries.
My only reservation about the dessert we ate at La Marlenaz was that the custard was a little heavy and overly rich for summer. As a result, I tried to find a fairly light creme brulee base and used fairly thin double cream. Luckily, the first one I chose worked like a dream. I took them out when they were still fairly soft and wobbly. I added lots of gorgeous vanilla.
For my syrup I used regular strawberries as I didn't have enough wild ones. I added plenty of lemon to keep it fresh and not too sweet.
I spent the whole afternoon grinning like a cheshire cat after eating this. I felt on top of the world - I can do this! This is quite simply the best dessert I have ever made. Possibly the best thing I have ever cooked. The base is soft, creamy and packed with gentle vanilla. The syrup is just wonderful and complements the custard perfectly and the strawberries finish it all off.
I can't really describe this. It all goes to gibberish. I'm just sitting here wishing we still had some in the kitchen.
Mum declared this not only to be better than the restaurant version but the best dessert she had ever eaten. I can't imagine a compliment higher than that.
Wild Strawberry and Vanilla Creams
(custard adapted from Annie Bell's Gorgeous Desserts)
for the syrup:
20 ml water
1 tbsp lemon juice
few strips of lemon peel
30g vanilla caster sugar (or regular plus 1/2 tsp essence)
Cut the strawberries up into small pieces - I cut mine into 8. Put them in a small saucepan with all the other ingredients. Put over a medium heat, stirring until the mixture starts to bubble and the sugar is dissolved. Reduce the heat to low and cook for five minutes. Remove to a pot and take out the peel. Leave to cool and then put in the fridge to rest, preferably overnight. The next day, strain the syrup, squishing the strawberries lightly.
for the custard bases:
3 egg yolks
1 1/2 tbsp vanilla sugar
1/2 vanilla pod
300 ml double cream (not too thick)
Preheat the oven to 140C (fan)/160C. Chop the vanilla pod up into 1 inch chunks. Put all the rest of the ingredients into a food processor/blender and blend to combine and cut up the vanilla pod. Sieve the mixture into a jug. Pour into four ramekins or a small dish. Put the dish(es) into a roasting tray and fill the tray with hot (not boiling) water. Place in the oven. Bake until the custards are lightly golden and set, but still have a good wobble - you don't want these overcooked. Mine took about 50 minutes but check from about 30. Take them out of the water and leave to cool slightly. I then carefully scraped the crust off so the texture didn't interfere and the syrup could intermingle.
handful wild strawberries
When the custards have cooled a bit - you still want them warm to serve if possible - carefully pour the syrup over. It may try to dive down a crack but don't worry too much - the fruit will cover it up a bit and it will still taste wonderful. Top with the strawberries and serve.