Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Crème Caramel is a Saucy Minx *or* James Peterson is Teaching Me Fervor

When a lover makes a promise, and then breaks that promise, it can be difficult to mine the courage to trust again. Risotto did that to me. She whispered in my ear—when I was young and ripe and vulnerable—that she needed to be stirred constantly. She insisted. She pleaded. Not wanting to lose her, I obeyed.

Years later I learned her dirty secret: Constant stirring is unnecessary … constant stirring is for fools.

Tonight JP told me that I needed to stir my caramel constantly and because of my leftover risotto resentment, I didn't believe him. I put the sugar in the pot, looked at it every now and then, and didn't give it much thought.

My sugar burned.

So I went at it again. This time I stirred like I was supposed to and removed the pot from the heat after the lumps were gone like I was supposed to. The caramel was brownish red like the discussion and photos in his book and didn't smell like molasses. But it was hard. And for some reason the hardness unsettles me. It seems wrong.

The custards are out of the oven and have several hours of cooling ahead of them. I'll pop them out of their ramekins tomorrow and see if the hard caramel worked.

I'm not sure what the difference is, how this book is unlike the others, but I feel like I'm learning. The thousands of pictures help because if the food on my stove doesn't match the food in my book I know something is wrong and I think of ways to fix it. But the pictures aren't the whole story. JP doesn't ramble on about every detail. The book is instructional, but it isn't Baking for Dummies. The Dummies style controls for every variable and doesn't leave room for critical thinking.

The intelligence of Baking is that it documents enough background and technique to be enabling. With James Peterson's book in the dining room I am thinking and making decisions in the kitchen. I have fervor. And fervor is rare.

P.S. The photo is of the second go at caramel. The pot is an enameled cast iron pot by Copco that was a gift to my parents for their wedding. Most of the time I use it for spoon bread.


  1. Beautiful picture! I hope they turn out well! I am making a flan for my next book club so I hope to find new and glorious guidance! Any ideas?

  2. Joanne,

    Thanks for the compliment. I have a hunch they're going to work. We'll see later tonight (after an assembly meeting and sushi).

    I think flan for book club is a great idea. Is book club at your place or are you brining dessert? Are you going to make a big one or individual portions? Big might be nice so you can vary the portion size for different folks.

  3. Jessica,

    I can almost smell the caramel......