"Home cooks never really cook with high heat". That was what my chef-instructor told us on the first day of “Chef Skills”, the second course of my Culinary Arts Certificate class. This reminded me of the time when I was a child and I would snoop around the kitchen of our restaurant to see what my dad was cooking for dinner. Off to one side, where our other cooks were busily preparing dishes for the restaurant customers, I would see flames shoot up 2 feet high; they (the cooks) would continue briskly tossing the food in the wok like nothing was out of the ordinary. Well those flames frightened me and I am amazed at how no one ever singed their eyebrows while performing that trick.
I have since conquered my hot oil fear here (I still do not take deep-frying for granted but I have no problem nowadays making a dish when it requires it.), but there was that shadow of Mr. Hot Sugar still lurking in the murky depths of my culinary consciousness.
Fortunately, in class, we were going to make caramel. Instead of wimping out, I volunteered to make the caramel which we would be drizzling over the macadamia-crusted pineapple rings with vanilla ice cream. It was quite easy in class. Maybe because the chef was there to guide me; when the caramel turned golden amber, I deftly added the cream and it did boil furiously but did not splatter out of the pan. Beautiful!
Now what can I prepare at home so I can practice this new found confidence in caramel-making?
When the hubby and I started dating, he usually takes me to this wonderful Italian restaurant for special occasions. I always looked forward to their dessert. It was an Italian crème caramel called budino. It had the creamiest texture and the most complex flavor I have ever tasted in a crème caramel – or crème brulee for that matter. The budino tasted of vanilla but there was something else to it. I became obsessed with finding out what that secret ingredient was. I looked through Italian cookbooks but had not found any recipe that was even remotely promising. I even had the crazy notion of volunteering the “hungry” hubby for kitchen duty at the Italian restaurant – even as prep cook – as long as he could find out how the budino was made. Of course, that was wishful thinking – and hope faded.
Then the chef of the same Italian restaurant started teaching at the local Sur La Table. I quickly scanned the dishes that were to be covered in his class: duck confit, pan-seared duck breast, risotto Milanese, osso buco, goat cheese budino. What, goat cheese?! I do not want a goat cheese budino, I want THE BUDINO. Wait a minute, far-fetched as it may seem what if the secret ingredient really was goat cheese! Hope reawakened. It was in September when I learned about the class; but it was not going to take place until the middle of October. I was impatient! So I decided to use an existing creme caramel recipe and added goat cheese to it. With the help of the “hungry” hubby I “kinda sorta” made the caramel it needed. This was my first time cooking with hot sugar and I did not know what to expect. We somehow got through the ordeal, but we took the caramel off the heat early and it was quite anemic-looking. The custard itself, though very good, did not taste like the budino but it did not taste like goat cheese either, so that was promising! Sigh, I guess I just have to wait for the class to find out if this indeed was my budino.
Anyway, October finally arrived and the class took place. The chef demoed the budino first since it had to chill a while before it can be served. I was anxious to taste it; would my search finally come to fruition? The rest of the class was a blur…quick duck confit (not for me), pan-seared duck breast (hmmn… yummy), risotto Milanese (perfect!), osso buco (needed more time in the oven) …and so forth. When the time came for tasting the dessert, I eagerly dug my spoon into the goat cheese crème caramel, and I could almost weep for joy – it was indeed MY BUDINO. I have the recipe!
Now about the caramel (don’t you feel like you’re in a movie with flashbacksJ?)
To practice my new found wisdom on boiling hot sugar I decided to finally make the budino. The “hungry” hubby was at work so there was no one to rescue me in case my sugar got to hot to handle. Dare I make this? Heck, yeh!
So I took out my sugar pot, measured out the water and sugar and squirted some corn syrup on it (I think I was supposed to measure the corn syrup too but the budino recipe did not use corn syrup, it was something I learned in Chef Skills class). I set the heat to medium high and waited. In my chef skill’s class, my instructor told us that you may stir the sugar–water-corn syrup mixture but once it starts boiling , to just leave it alone. Now how easy is that? The sugar mixture soon started bubbling furiously and I watched till it turned light amber, then medium amber, then uhh…I think it’s ready?! Crap! I just realized that it’s going to continue cooking and burn if I don’t pour the stuff fast enough into the ramekins. (In class I had the cream to cool the caramel down, but with this I had nothing.) Gathering my wits about me I poured the molten amber liquid in the six dishes I had set out earlier. With each pour the liquid got darker and darker. The copper pot itself turned really deep muddy copper. Luckily I had a pan of water sitting on the counter and I submerged the pot into it after I was done. That cooled down the pan but it also hardened the caramel at the bottom, so it is not ideal to do this if you still needed to use the caramel. Whew!
So who won this round, the caramel or the Test Kitchen? I think it is a draw. Although I did not quite know what to do with the hot pot in the end, I did get the caramel I needed to make the budino which, by the way, better taste good after what it put me through!
Goat Cheese Budino
Adapted from Paolo Randazzo of Franco’s Ristorante and Sensi
3 cups cream
8 egg yolks
¾ cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla bean paste (this, in my opinion is the next best thing to using a real vanilla bean)
1 cup goat cheese (soft)
Preheat oven to 325 °F (my addition)
Place cream in sauce pan and slowly bring to almost a boil
In an electric mixer bowl place egg yolks, vanilla bean paste, and sugar and whisk at high speed until pole ribbons are formed.
Transfer egg mixture to a large bowl and slowly temper the cream into it. Incorporate goat cheese.
Pour into prepared ramekins with bottom filled with caramelized sugar.
Bake in a shallow pan with water bath for about 50 minutes. (timing is my own)
For the Caramelized Sugar
1 cup sugar with 2 tbs of water. Cook until golden and pour into ramekins.
The custard was different from most I have made. Instead of simply whisking the eggs and sugar until combined, it needed to be whisked in a stand mixer for a few minutes until it was thick and lines appeared and held its form.
As with any hot liquid combined with eggs, you have to temper the egg mixture first with a little of the cream to prevent the eggs from cooking.
Use a soft goat cheese to mix with the custard.
The original recipe above did not specify oven temperature, but I figured 325 °F for 50 minutes would be just right based on my experiences with most baked custards of this type. I also covered the ramekins with a baking sheet so it will cook more gently.
Finally! I am able to make the long coveted budino! My version did have a slight taste of goat cheese but I think this is just from the brand I used; I will try to find a milder cheese next time. At first the goat cheese appears to be an odd component for sweet custard but you will be pleasantly surprised with how well it enhances both its visual and taste appeal. It transforms the flavor of plain vanilla into something more sophisticated and sharp but it counterbalances it with the creamiest texture you can ever imagine with a hue as white as snow.
As for caramel making, there is more work to be done in the Test Kitchen – no spun sugar in the immediate future for now. Maybe I am not yet ready to use a copper pot – it is such a superb heat conductor that I am too slow to handle the speed at which the caramel cooks. Submerging it in ice water will harden the caramel at the bottom of the pot – not what I want. I have also heard that adding lemon juice will stop the cooking or is it to prevent crystallization? There is another version that uses cream of tartar. So, all in all, there are a lot of techniques on how to handle caramel and I have yet to discover which one I will find the easiest. Stay tuned for round two of Veronica vs. Mr. Hot Sugar.