Friday, April 2, 2010

White Custard Cream, or Patience is a Virtue

I made this cream to go with the apple and orange cobbler from the last post. Such a simple recipe, and yet it involved a broken dish, intervention from Sami, and being 30 minutes late for our dinner party. The problem was all about patience.
(not pictured: sugar. Also, note the fresh-from-the-chicken eggs) This custard cream is like a crème anglaise but made with egg whites. I had never seen anything like that before and worried that it would curdle as soon as you looked at it. So I got it up to about 135 degrees when Maida said 170, but then it seemed to be curdling, so I took it off the double boiler, strained it into another bowl, crossed my fingers, and put it into the fridge.

About half an hour before we were supposed to leave, I asked Sami to check on the cream--it looked weird to me. "This is too thin," he said. And so we put the bowl back over the pot of simmering water.
Unfortunately, the bowl we were using was not tempered glass and cracked noisily after about 5 minutes. Due to Sami's cool head, we were able to rescue most of the cream (but not the bowl--we owe our landlords a glass bowl) and strained it into a genuine Pyrex bowl. Then Sami stood there and stirred. And stirred. And patiently stirred.

I swear it took at least 40 minutes for the cream to reach this stage. And we even added a bit of cornstarch slurry just in case. But it did whip up into a thick cream, and it eventually reached that target temperature of 171.
This shows me that I've been making undercooked crème anglaise for years. Rose Levy Berenbaum always has you take the custard off the heat when it starts steaming: this started steaming at about 135 or so. But really it needs more time and temperature to thicken properly. And above all, it requires patience, which I don't always have.
So now many things occur to me: Perhaps you could make a sauce like this on the stovetop if you kept the heat low and stirred like crazy. And perhaps you could make custard sauce with whole eggs: if you can make it with just whites and just yolks, why not both?
But it all boils down to this: I need to plan for a good 45 minutes at the stove to make a good custard sauce. Which I will need to do more often now, since French (industrial) ice cream doesn't do it for me...

Here's the recipe. Put on some music or a podcast or your favorite TV show and prepare to stand at the stove.

White Custard Cream

2 c. cream
2 T. sugar
4 large egg whites
1 t. vanilla
a few drops almond extract

Put a few inches of water in a saucepan that your HEATPROOF mixing bowl will fit over, and put that over medium heat to get the water simmering. You'll also need another bowl or pitcher with a strainer over it. Microwave 1 cup of the cream for about 1 minute to 1-1/2 minutes until it is steaming but not boiling. Add the sugar and stir to dissolve. In a HEATPROOF mixing bowl, whisk the egg whites and the remaining cold cream until the whites are no longer gooey and the mixture seems uniformly liquid. Whisk the hot cream mixture in gradually, then put the bowl over the simmering water in the saucepan and stand around stirring and scraping the mixture until it reaches 171 on a candy thermometer. Maida says that takes 5-6 minutes. Things must heat faster in Florida. Once you've reached the magic temperature and the custard has started to thicken nicely, pour it through the strainer into the bowl or pitcher you've gotten ready. Now add the vanilla and almond. Maida makes the very good suggestion of first pouring a few drops of almond into a spoon and then pouring it into the custard so that you don't accidentally make Almond Medicine Cream. Let the cream cool down at room temperature, and then cool it. Serve this with fresh fruit or with cobbler or anything that calls out for something white and creamy.

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