A while back I received a cute little cookbook called "Easy Desserts". Upon glancing through, I noticed that there were a lot of recipes that called for vanilla bean, so I promptly added vanilla beans to my Christmas list. Like saffron, that falls into the category of, "It would be nice to have, but I'm not going to buy it." Brett's mom (again) indulged my eccentric wish list.
With a tube of vanilla beans in my hand, I went through the cookbook again and found a beautiful picture of creme caramel. I call it flan. Or at least that's what the picture looks like to me. Maybe they are completely different (which would explain a lot.) Brett and I love flan. We ordered it regularly at El Torito where, we believe, the best flan on Earth resides. (We have tried more "authentic" flans but have a special place in our hearts for El Torito's version.) Unfortunately the nearest El Torito is 3,000 miles away now, so we attempted to make our own.
I split the vanilla bean and scraped out the seeds and put everything into a saucepan of milk over medium heat.
I cracked five eggs and put Brett in charge of the caramel sauce.
Here is where I have a problem with "Easy Desserts." I think they left important information out of the recipe to make it appear easier. There were very little instructions about heating the sugar, water, and salt. No temperature. No high/medium/low heat instructions. Simply a color: "deep caramel color". It says to take it off the heat when it reaches this color and wait until it stops sizzling. We quickly realized that if we waited till it stopped sizzling it was going to be totally burnt. So Brett just poured the sizzling REALLY deep caramel colored liquid into the custard cups. He also poured boiling water into the baking dish for a water bath.
I added some sugar and salt to the milk mixture and then gradually whisked it into the eggs.
Brett poured the custard into the custard cups and then we baked them.
Again there were some missing instructions. We weren't sure what to do after baking them. All the recipe said was "serve at room temperature." We opted to remove them from the water bath and let them cool on a cooling rack.
They smelled great so I ate mine before it came to room temperature. I cut around the edge and flopped it onto a plate. It was not centered at all.
Brett got his in the center, but it caved in somehow.
The tasting was jarring. The caramel sauce looked perfect, but was way too bitter. Overdone. Near burnt. I poured my sauce off into the sink and focused on the custard. Brett followed suit. The custard was a little eggy. And despite all of that precious vanilla, it was bland. It needed to be sweeter.
We looked at the six custard cups left and briefly discussed throwing them out. Instead I covered them with plastic wrap and put them in the fridge. They were not at all a satisfying dessert like we had hoped, but they were edible.
The next day, I was surprised to find that they were much better cold. Again, not really a satisfying dessert, but better.
I can say definitively that we will never make this dessert again.
When all the little custards were gone I indulged Brett's request and made some wonderfully sweet and satisfying chocolate chip cookies.