Sunday, March 16, 2014

The Great Custard Experiment

One of my favorite recipes is egg custard. Simple, vanilla-y goodness. It reminds me of my childhood, made by my mother on special occasions or just because. Oddly enough it's one of things things I just never got around to making for myself. So I decided to try it.

My mom had once said it was very simple: You take eggs, hot milk, sugar, vanilla, and a dash of salt, combine it, pour into ramekins, and bake.

No problem.

Thursday night, around 10, I decide to walk through the woods, over the bridge, past the mining site, beyond the town's edge, past the church, cross the highway, down the boardwalk by the lake, past the gas station, and down the hill to the grocery store. It is not a walk I take lightly. I wanted custard. 

I'd looked up a recipe online, that suggested six eggs, about half a cup of sugar, and three cups of milk. Along with my other necessary groceries I had my hands full for my late-night trudge back.

It also meant I'd only bought enough ingredients for one shot at this thing.

So Friday, after work, I decide to make the custard. The first problem I encountered was that I didn't have a baking pan. I had baking sheets, yes, but not a baking pan. You need the ramekins to be submerged about half-way when they bake. I tried this on the baking sheet, and ended up cleaning up a lot of water on my stove-top and counter.

Back at the computer I recalled how my dad had cooked eggs in the microwave when his stove was broken, and seemingly had some success. Custard is basically eggs with milk, right? Maybe there'd be a recipe for microwavable 'baked' custard.

Sure enough there were some few. I read a selection until I got the gist of the thing, which basically said, combine ingredients, pour into ramekins, microwave on half heat for a while, and cool.

And that's exactly what I did. I then put them in my fridge and went to a party:

Nutmeg garnish optional (but not really).

I got up very late Saturday morning. The night before, before going to sleep I had checked on my custard, to see if it had firmed up:

The approach...

It had not.

So I tried, before bed, microwaving it for another 6 minutes or so on half power, and put the still very liquid-looking custards back in the fridge. By sleeping in until nearly noon I had a better chance of them being good little custards, and hardening appropriately.

It was the same as before. Still liquid eggs.

In light of this I decided on two things: 1) I was going to cook the damn things at full power, and for longer time and 2) I would stir the mixture midway, since I was concerned the sugar was settling.

Unfortunately the sleeping in meant I had only a short amount of time to get ready before I had to catch the last train into the city. Quickly I went about my scheme, and as planned, by changing those two variables, the custard now looked like it was firming up nicely when I threw it into the fridge to cool while I went into town.

I went to a bookstore and read Balzac for a couple of hours, the difficulties of custard far from my mind. As evening came on I moseyed across town to a cafe, to catch their free jazz concert, where I was joined by some friends.

It was quite the scene.

We then went out to dinner, met more people we knew, told stories, compared Lothario tales. After this it was around 9 and we went back to my friends' apartment for an hour before heading out to a couple of clubs to hear more live music along the shoreline.

I got back to my apartment around 1. There, waiting for me, was the custard. Lurking in the dark confines of the fridge was the desert that would either prove my success or failure.

I didn't go there right away. I'd ended up microwaving these custards some six or seven times. True, the last looked right, but all the more reason not to hurry. For if it wasn't proper custard now, I wouldn't know what else to do but throw the contents out and declare defeat.

So I put away the book I'd bought, and tidied up the room. But I was stalling. The inevitable awaited. I went into the kitchen.

Warily, I took out a custard, firm on top. I got out my knife, for the moment of truth:

A clean knife, and hopefully, a clean stroke.

Success! I grant you it doesn't look clean, but the knife wound was perfect. 

See? It looks like custard, and not 'egg and milk soup'.

In the end the Great Custard Experiment turned out for the best. The custard tasted fine (although the bottom quarter inch was liquid-y), and I now can make it whenever I want. Join me next time when I attempt to render crepes in a Cuisinart.

No comments: