Monday, April 27, 2009

The Eggshell as a Perfect Vessel



The eggshell, naturally, contains an egg. Everyone knows that. On average a large egg weighs (without the shell) 50 g. For me that is the ideal weight of a small dessert. The shell also happens to be highly impact resistant, making it easy to transport and handle. Its design is practically flawless.
We have a set of desserts we call "petit plaisirs" (small pleasures, if you will) which all weigh between 40 and 75 g. The item pictured above is simply a dark chocolate pot de creme, garnished with chocolate covered puffed rice for texture; the circular wafer paper with the farmhouse design is purely aesthetic, but it also implies rather obviously the idea of the egg coming from a farm, and this egg did come from an actual farm. Originally, this pot de creme was made and baked as such, in other words, the custard base was made on the stove and then it was portioned into egg shells that had been carefully topped and their membranes removed, then baked in a water bath in a oven until set.

It occurred to me that it might not be necessary to bake this custard. I could make it as a creme anglaise and then add the chocolate while it was still hot. The chocolate almost acts as cement in preparations like this or as in a mousse. It did in fact work as I had expected it to, but I think this was just a lucky strike, because you could not make a pot de creme in this way (as an anglaise) with any other type of pot de creme that did not contain chocolate. For example, we also have a maple sugar pot de creme on the menu which we bake in a 60 ml mason jar in a waterbath in an oven. We could never get away with simply cooking it on the stove, since, if anything, it would only thicken as much (or as little, depending on how you see it) as an anglaise does.



But this brought me to another thought. When you make any custard on the stove, you usually bring the dairy mix (milk or milk and heavy cream) up to a boil with half of the sugar, and then you have a bowl on the side with the yolks, the other half of the sugar (and the cornstarch, if you are making pastry cream); once it boils you temper the egg yolks and continue according to the type of custard (either finished on the stove or the oven). While this is a generally accepted practice and the resulting products have been around for years, it is not necessary to take all these extra steps. You technically can start with all of your ingredients in a pot and slowly stir over medium to medium-low heat until you reach the texture you are looking for. For example, if I wanted to make a creme anglaise, I could place the ingredients in a pot along with the probe of a good thermometer (or even better, a thermo-whisk, which is a whisk that doubles as a thermometer, displaying the temperature at the top of the handle of the whisk), place it over medium-low heat and cook it until it the egg yolks have been properly coagulated (82 to 85 degrees Celsius), turning the heat down slightly and stirring until the custard has thickened properly. The same could be said for most items that are started on the stove and then finished in an oven, such as creme brulee bases, creme caramel bases and pot de creme bases.
This idea came from a method for making ice cream bases, in which you add certain ingredients as the dairy gets warmer and warmer. In this method, the egg yolks are added when it reaches about 35 to 40 degrees Celsius, but in reality it could be done sooner.
Is this a better method? No, it is just different, and in reality it can take longer to make than with the traditional method, since in the traditional method the boiling liquid speeds up the cooking process of the eggs. Except if you own a Thermomix (which I do), a machine that I plan on posting about soon, which is essentially a blender with a heating element; it can be switched to scale out the ingredients. You can program the time and the temperature you want to cook it at, and then you can turn it on and walk away. But that is for another day.

2 comments:

  1. We used to make chocolate pot de creme at Les Elysees in a very similar way, no baking. That's also the way I learned how to make chocolate tart...

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  2. Roberto, is this the restaurant in the Hotel Vernet in Paris?

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