Crème brûlée aka Caramelized Custardy Carrots – 1980
This is NOT a How To Cook Post!
You know, there are some things l am seriously good at in the whole ‘cooking’ arena. I trained as a chef, l qualified as a chef … but the reality is l only got trained as a chef because l wanted to get into catering management and the way to do that in the 80’s was to have a secondary skill and so l chose ‘cheffing’ or cooking. It worked as a strategy … l got into management via the kitchen although l never had to actually work in the kitchen except basic larder preparations. I got a job as a banqueting manager in Guildford and it required chef knowledge … so you can see that the decision to travel through the kitchen was well thought out.
Now whilst l qualified as a chef … there would be no British or International chefs quaking in their aprons at the thought of my culinary skills entering the market back in the 80’s. Sure it was a pass, and in some areas l even had distinctions and merits – but l was studying a three year catering course [diploma] and this meant that in addition to cheffing, l was also learning other aspects of catering as an industry for my career.
So l earned distinctions in housekeeping, larder prep, sommelier [wine stewardship], banqueting management, kitchen prep and l earned merits in hospitality, customer services, food safety supervisions and cooking and l earned passes in all of the subjects studied … yes l did. BUT, l never earned a distinction or even a merit for my actual cooking aka cheffing skills!
I did however earn a valuable distinction for my social party chef’ skills but that wasn’t an actual catering skill l was trained in … another story soon in the Confessions range!
Sure l can cook and l am not bad if l put my mind to it, and l specialise in salads, fish dishes and desserts and stir fries and vegetable preparations – but as Suze would agree l only like to cook if l am seriously motivated and enthused by it or the dish. Otherwise, food is very ‘meh’ to me and more so as l have aged and food has almost become enemy number one to me! It is either that or my body simply doesn’t want me to eat ever again!
Yesterday I was reading a post written by Gary titled Ticked Off which is about his culinary skills at creating from scratch a gluten and dairy free French Baguette – kudos to Gary for even contemplating making one for starters! It’s a very funny post, so please do make sure you stop by for a read and a giggle!
But it sparked me off sufficiently to remember a tale of my own l have been meaning to pen into archives – which was about my attempt in college at making Crème brûlée. Well in truth, l had no choice – that was the task of the day set by “Chef – Don’t Call Me Sir – aka Mr Swalloe!”
The Crème brûlée is a lovely little dessert that is known by a variety of names ranging from burnt cream to Trinity cream to Caramelized Custardy Carrots which was my own personal creation! Of course the latter was awful, and as a speciality dish it never left the kitchen, hell it never left the saucepan … well it did, but not through fame, more a case of flame!
You see the main ingredient of the Crème brûlée is custard topped off with caramelized sugars and then once done and ready for serving usually chilled , you can then add in other flavours, well that is how it was done at the college l studied at in Guildford, Surrey. It’s a truly delicious dish! When made by professionals! I am however nowhere remotely close to a Crème brûlée Professional!
Now to some, perhaps even Gary – the making of custard is a doddle …. l wouldn’t know per se, having never attempted custard even shop bought packets since that fateful day in 1980! I kid you not, what l did to that custard that day even put me off and it was nearly twenty years before l even allowed custard back into my mouth again!! You see – what l made in my saucepan that day scarred me for life – okay it also scarred or seared the saucepan and my eyebrows and Mr Swalloe’s eyebrows too for that matter!
Making custard is a freaking art skill!!
Custard from scratch is no easy task! I had never made custard from scratch before and to say it was messy was an understatement! Although working with the vanilla pods was fun and l have had an addiction to Vanilla since then!
This is not a ‘how to make custard video’ more like a ‘how to NOT make lumpy custard video’ perhaps maybe! To make custard you need milk, vanilla pods and eggs [ well yolks actually, mm] and castor sugar. Your milk needs to be brought to the boil, you need to whisk your eggs and sugar together, pour the heated milk over the whiskings. Keeping the balance is the tricky bit with your egg yolks and made harder if you have completely and utterly forgotten to seperate the egg whites from the yolks!
Once whisked and heated milk is added, place the saucepan back onto a gentle heat, slowly stirring until you achieve the right consistency. Once done pour into a sieve into a cold dish to stop the cooking proceedure and voila!
Lumpy custard is produced through overheating issues – in short terms getting the heat balance right is a skill, a learned skill from experience and listening to and following instructions and not being a goof ball in the kitchen whilst making custard and caramelized sugars! Overcooking custard results in curdling and for some poor unlucky sods the curdling or lumpiness can resemble carrots protruding from a sea of yellow!
Whilst in the process of learning to be a professional chef, constantly being told off for whistling in a no whistling kitchen by a chef who is most assuredly a chef and not a Sir and trying to create from scratch caramelized sugars and making unlumpy custard for Crème brûlée is NOT easy as a task!!
Caramelized sugar making should not be taken lightly! My serious advice? Don’t even start! You see the secret to success for both custard and caramel is control – yes, yes, instructions also important, but balance and control are more important! You have to watch what you are doing and not try and multitask too much else. Being in control of your heated content is also very, very important.
Not getting nervous when the Sir Chef approaches you and demands to know why your custard has carrots in it? Then on closer inspection starting to panic and accidentally turning up the heat at the wrong time and it is like an alchemist’s spell gone wrong using lumpy custard and very hot boiling sugary liquid which is quite astonishing how 1] very hot it is, 2] how liquidy it is, 3] how high that liquid can splash and continue to burn and finally 4] how to totally piss off a catering lecturer for the entire duration of your first year 1980 – 1981!
I am not totally sure what happened, but l think it played out like this ….
“Chef!! Why do you have carrots in your custard??”
“What Sir, l …”
“Don’t call me Sir, l am not a bloody sir, call me chef chef, before l start calling you cook chef!”
“Yes chef … l , l !”
“You are all eyes chef and yet not one of them is on your bloody lumpy custard that has carrots in it and something else? DID you do the eggs properly? Don’t look at me chef look at what you are doing and if l hear you whistle one more time l will cut out your fucking tongue with a spatula!”
“Yes chef, sorry chef, l am on it chef!”
“What in lords name is wrong with the caramel, your heat is too high, turn it down, here get out of my way, l’ll do it!”
At the same time that Mr Swalloe moved towards my boiling caramel l also moved to my boiling lumpy custard and we crossed at the stove. I slipped and my hand hit high flamed heat, he slipped and tipped the custard down whilst my slipping threw the caramel pot up and suddenly we were engulfed in a kind of yellow stickied candied liquid sugar and lumpy carrots and flame!
We had to quickly tee towel ourselves off and l thought he was going to literally kill me on the spot. His military precisioned tunic was covered in gunk and one of his eyebrows was singed …….. off – and l am pretty sure he had a third degree nasal burn inside his nostril or his snot had been caramelized. I too had my eyebrows singed and the caramel and lumpy custard had splashed into my aproned groin area and l had a sensation spreading over me like l had both ejaculated and wet myself at the same time whilst sitting on a warm mud cushion!
I was officially named ‘Accidentally Clumsy and Disaster Orientated’ after that incident and was under very close supervision in the kitchen lessons that followed, of course l still made mistakes …………….. horrible, horrible mistakes!
But another time maybe!
I think it suffice to say that l failed that class and l have never made nor attempted Crème brûlée ever again!