Last Tuesday was Week 4 of the Great British Bake Off, where we saw the contestants' creativity tested with the design of a large flourless torte, followed later by a creative layered meringue cake. The surprise technical challenge was a classic crème caramel, chosen by Mary Berry for it's precise requirements. For us Irish bakers, the Great Irish Bake Off continued in parallel, with a choice between the crème caramel and layered meringue cake.
I really wanted to tackle both challenges and I had even spent my latest drive between Cork and Dublin thinking about flavours for the meringue cake. But time makes fools of us all, and I had to choose. Given that I had recently received 2 lovely sets of vanilla pods as a prize from Goodall's Ireland, and the simple fact that I love custard, I chose to make crème caramel.
|My prep board - eggs, vanilla pod and my new ceramic knife|
I started by reading the recipe, very carefully. This recipe involves making a sugar syrup and boiling it until it turns to caramel. I have a respectful wariness of sugar work, so I wanted to get this one right. One thing I do know is that you should use a clean, smooth saucepan. Unfortunately, most of my cookware is cast iron, so I had to dig out the small egg pan. I added the sugar and water and placed on a low heat, stirring occasionally until all the grains had dissolved and I could no longer feel any grittiness.
In the meantime, I preheated the oven and placed my ramekins in there to warm through. Once the syrup was ready, I turned up the heat and watched it keenly. You're not really supposed to stir the caramel, so I had to make do with gentle swirls of the saucepan. It seemed to take forever, but eventually the syrup started to turn from clear to gently golden. It then progressed very quickly to the desired copper colour, at which point I pulled it off the heat and poured a generous layer into the base of my ramekins.
|The dangerous part - making the caramel|
|First hurdle complete - caramel in the ramekins|
I left the caramel to set and turned my attention to making the custard. I took out one of my new vanilla beans and split it down the middle. I added the seeds to my egg and sugar mixture, while the empty pods were added to my milk. The milk must be heated until it's just about too hot to dip a finger into. At this point, I poured a tiny amount into the egg mix and beat well (If you add too much hot milk too fast, you will scramble your eggs). Once the egg mixture was tempered, I was able to pick up the pace and mix in the rest, bit by bit.
A good layer of butter is required on the ramekins, followed by pouring in the custard (through a sieve to catch all the vanilla pod bits). The ramekins were placed in a deep dish, which I placed in the oven, and then partially filled with boiling water, creating a bain-marie. This helps the custard cook evenly and gently. The BBC recipe calls for 20-30 minutes baking time, so I dutifully checked after 23 minutes! Some of my ramekins had picked up a little colour, while the others were wobbly. I decided to trust my instincts and take them out of the oven to cool.
|After the bake - cooling down|
Once cooled, the creme caramels were transferred to the fridge to chill and allow the caramel layer to dissolve around the custard. To free the cremes, I ran a knife around the inside of the ramekin, and then placed a plate of top. A quick prayer and a little shove, and the creme plopped out surrounded by a lovely puddle of rich coloured caramel. This was of course followed by a rebel yell of delight from myself!
|Turned out - successfully!!|
|A cutaway shot for the #GIrishBO judges|
After a few photographs, we settled down on the sofa to eat the fruits of my labour. I was amazed at the texture of the creme, which was silky smooth and as good as anything I've eaten in a fine restaurant. The rich, slightly dark flavour of the caramel was beautifully balanced by the smooth coolness of the creme.
I'm delighted that I chose to make this classic French dessert. Taking part in the Great Irish Bake Off has challenged me to tackle something new, and the results have been impressive. Here's hoping for some more interesting challenges from the #GIrishBO crew!