Tag Archives: madeleines

A day of sad crème brûlée and nearly everything else

I love baking and cooking, but yesterday was one of those days where nearly nothing worked out right. My plan was to make crème brûlée and earl grey madeleines with honey. Mikal is always complaining that there are lots of coffee foods, but nothing really with tea in it. I saw the recipe for the earl grey madeleines and was tickled – Mikal loves earl grey.

You will notice at some point that most of what I make is French, or at least the recipes I love and am familiar with. I’ve always loved to eat and liked to cook and bake, but my passion was not truly aroused until I spent a quarter abroad in France.

My friend Anneke and I stayed for a couple of weeks with a couple named Marie and Farid. We had found them through Craigslist; they were offering a very reasonable price for a room, especially since we were splitting the cost. They lived in one of the outer arrondissements, a bit outside the main part of Paris, but still close. The were very nice, we had a good dinner with them the first night.

The following morning Anneke and I woke to something wonderful: fresh coffee and freshly baked pastries for breakfast. Now, I had been having pretty much the same sort of breakfast the preceding weeks – grabbing a café crème and pain au chocolat or croissant aux amandes at various cafés – but this was different. We got to sit on the terrace and talk for hours while the coffee and pastries kept coming. So relaxing and so refreshing. I really can’t describe it adequately, but the closest I can come is… You know those commercials for resorts and spas where everyone is lounging on a beach, not a care in the world, sipping some cocktail and everything is sickeningly staged and fake? I think my experience was what those advertisements promise – it wasn’t completely carefree, but it was very much a mental vacation. It was just amazing.

This continued for a full two weeks. Turns out Marie is a baker, and she and Farid wanted to open up a patisserie in the States. I voted for them opening up one in Olympia.

Anyway, having fresh baked goods for breakfast every morning reminded me of how much fun I had had baking in the past, and Marie made it look so easy and natural. I resolved at that point to stop letting Mikal and his sister have all the fun in the kitchen.

French: The Secrets of Classic Cooking Made Easy was one of my first acquisitions after I returned home, and it has been my go-to book for French dishes ever since. I found this book on Borders’ clearance rack a couple of years before it folded, and I absolutely love it. This book is wonderful for easy-to-understand recipes for great French dishes. The crème brûlée is easy, though time-consuming, but oh! so very worth it.

Crème Brûlée

4 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup sugar
1 vanilla bean pod, split lengthwise
6 egg yolks
2 tbsp orange or almond liqueur
1/3 cup soft light brown sugar

Preheat the oven to 300°F. Plase six 1/2 cup ramekins in a roasting pan or ovenproof dish and set aside.

With a small sharp knife, split the vanilla pod lengthways and scrape the black seeds into a medium pan. Add the cream and bring just to the boil over a medium-high heat, stirring frequently. Remove from the heat and cover. Set aside to stand for 15-20 minutes.

Since I almost never have vanilla bean on-hand, I use real vanilla extract. (Believe me, there is a difference between real and imitation.) I add a splash of it, which is anywhere between 1 tsp and 1 tbsp. I like vanilla, so I tend to go more, especially since this recipe calls for liqueur, which I never actually use.

In a bowl, whisk the egg yolks, sugar and liqueur until well blended. Whisk in the cream and strain into a large jug or pitcher. Divide the custard among the ramekins.

You do want to strain the mixture before you put it into the bowls. It makes the texture almost silky, which is a little strange to say about a custard, but you’ll see what I mean.

Pour enough boiling water into the roasting pan to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Cover the pan with foil and bake for about 30 minutes until the custards are just set. Remove from the pan and leave to cool. Return to the dry roasting pan and chill.

It was right around this point that things started going south. For one, I was already impatient because I had had to run out to World Market to grab more bakeware… I ended up leaving a batch of my pumpkin pots de crème with my friend Denney, and had completely forgotten to get them back. And it was getting late and I was getting crabby. But I wanted to get this done before I got too tired, so I put them in the oven, put the timer on. I took a peek at them when the timer went off at 30minutes, and they weren’t set. I thought, “Hm… give ’em five more minutes.” Five minutes later, developing a skin, but not so much set. Another five minutes, nope. Another -ten- minutes, still no. At that point there were these funky bubbles on the top, but the cream under the skin wasn’t custarding at all.

My oven was hot (and had in fact been perfectly fine cooking a pizza immediately before this…), but they just weren’t getting done. I will be investigating this… I was looking all over yesterday for a stove thermometer, but didn’t want to pay $9 for one when I know I can get one for $3-4. This is what happens when I don’t follow through with things I feel the need to do. I’m hoping that once I test the heat in the oven, I might be able to remove the skin from the top and pop them back in to complete the baking. They’re about half done. I tried brûléeing one, just to see how it would turn out, but it was a funny not-completely-liquid half-done consistency. Still tasted wonderful, but I might be able to salvage them.

Preheat the grill (broiler). Sprinkle the brown sugar evenly over the surface of each custard and grill (broil) for 30-40 seconds until the sugar melts and caramelizes. (Do not allow the sugar to burn or the custard to curdle.) Place in the refrigerator to set the crust and chill completely before serving.



I started the earl grey madeleines while I was initially letting the crème sit and develop flavor. Of course, my penchant for not reading a recipe through decided to kick my ass – the dough needs to sit in the fridge for three hours XD Of course! Me being oblivious. Go me! I will be documenting the madeleines in the next post tonight, because after the crème brûlée flopped, I really didn’t have the heart to attempt anything else. Except I already had.

I decided to make some bread because there is nothing better in the world with tomato soup than grilled cheese sandwiches. I have a very clear memory of sitting at my grandparents’ kitchen table dipping my sandwich into the soup while looking at the designs in the glass door and the plants beyond it. Outside of coffee, it’s one of my favorite comfort foods.

I like making bread, though it almost never comes out the way I want it to. I think the only time I’ve made bread that turned out really fantastic was some ciabatta bread a couple of years ago. Ever since then, it just hasn’t quite turned out right – either it’s too dense, I forget to add salt, something. So I decided to check and see what the CIA says about it in Baking at Home with the Culinary Institute of America. One of the best things about CIA books is their depth about techniques and information about ingredients. I looked through what it said about yeast breads, and was surprised: “If using a stand mixer, put all the flour in the bowl followed by the yeast. Add the liquid and salt, then mix on low speed with the dough hook until the flour is evenly moistened.” Every other bread recipe I have followed has you put the yeast in with the water and either sugar or salt or something for it to nom on. I was intrigued, so I tried to follow it. First of all, 2 cups of water didn’t really moisten 5 cups of flour. Maybe that was the problem. I added what I think was about half a cup all told, did the rest of what it told me to do, and set it to rise on the stove (since the house is warm, but not really -that- warm). Usually I’ll see it visibly rising when on the stove within ten minutes. After half an hour: nothing. An hour: nothing. I finally poke at it, and notice granules spread throughout the dough…. Looks like the yeast didn’t even have a chance to start its thing. Really? Really?! That was the last straw as far as attempting to make anything as far as I was concerned. I’m not sure where it went wrong. I’ll probably try it again at some point and see if I was just not paying attention last night or what happened.

But! I do have something of a recipe that worked and is somewhat shareable! I mentioned a tomato bisque I made. I like old-fashion tomato soup, but ever since I had Safeway’s Tomato-Basil Bisque, I’ve been hooked. It’s rather expensive, though. So I tend to make poor-man’s tomato bisque.

1 20oz. can condensed tomato soup
1 small onion, chopped
2 14.5oz. cans petit-diced tomatoes
1~ cup cream or half-and-half (half-and-half makes a thinner soup, but still adds the creaminess)
black and white pepper
granulated garlic
ground ginger
basil (fresh is better, but dried works)
butter or oil

Put the onion in the pan with either the butter or oil, and caramelize. (I never really noticed how long it takes to caramelize onion. Of course, I’m kind of impatient most of the time, so I may not have wholly let the onions properly caramelize until recently >.>) Once caramelized, add soup, tomatoes, and spices and leave at low simmer for 30mins or so, stirring a bit, until nicely cooked and the flavors have spread. Add cream, let it cook in for a few minutes, then blend the soup. I used a hand blender, but a normal blender works (do it in batches – much easier that way, unless you have a huge blender). I blended until mostly smooth. If you like yours with some more texture, blend less. Voilà, you have yummy soups. Change the spices out if you want – I like ginger because it adds a slightly sweet zing, and I also added chopped garlic before I blended – the less-cooked garlic gave nice little bites of flavor here and there.

So I will be posting more tonight after I finish the madeleines. The dough can sit comfortably in the fridge for up to 24hrs, so I will be able to post my results on that then. So… I haven’t managed to get ahold of an oven thermometer to check, but I have a feeling I know what the problem may be. I turned the oven back on when I came home from work, and noticed that when I accidentally hit the knob again after setting the temperature, it changed the temp displayed on the digital screen by 15 degrees. I tried just pushing it straight in, and the same thing happened – I didn’t shift it one way or another. So, I have a feeling that something has gotten screwed up. I’m hoping Mikal will be able to get the thermometer on his way home from school tonight so I can check to make sure, but I have a feeling I’m going to have to wait until at least tomorrow to do any baking. But there’s a conundrum… I’m not sure the madeleine dough will last that long. It says it can be refrigerated up to 24hrs, but does not say one way or another what would happen after that. Ugh! Whyyyyyy Mr. Stove?! Why must you hate me ; ;

Update: re-baking crème brûlée = bad idea. Le fail.