The recipe was so disjointed that I saw it as a challenge.
|A Book of Selected Recipes, Mrs. George O. Thurn, 1934|
1 egg, beaten
2 cups milk
2 tbsp cornstarch
¾ cup light brown sugar (or ¼ cup white sugar and ½ cup dark brown sugar)
1 tbsp butter
¼ cup chopped nuts
½ tsp vanilla
Beat the egg in a large heavy bowl, set aside.
Take out about 2 tablespoons of the milk, dissolve the cornstarch in it, set aside. Scald the remaining milk,* cover it with a lid (or suitable-sized dinner plate) to keep hot, and set that aside too.
In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt the brown sugar and butter together. Use a flat-ended spoon and scrape the bottom of the pot constantly. The sugar will first turn clumpy and gravelly, and then gradually become what looks like a thick sauce.
Turn off heat and add the scalded milk, one spoonful at a time, stirring very hard as you go to prevent it from clumping. (Watch out for steam when you add the first few spoonfuls of milk.) Turn the heat to medium-low, and stir until all is dissolved.
Slowly pour this onto the egg, whisking very hard the whole time. If you have no one to hold the bowl, you really want to use a heavy one. That way the weight of the bowl will keep it from tipping or wandering as you whisk everything with one hand and slowly pour steaming-hot custard with the other.
Return the egg mixture to the pot. Stir up the cornstarch mixture to dislodge anything that settled to the bottom. Then stir it into the pot along with the nuts. Cook over medium heat until thickened. The mixture should coat a spoon. Remove from heat and add the vanilla.
Pour into your storage container of choice, and cover it with plastic wrap. Press the wrap directly onto the custard so it's in contact (this prevents a skin from forming).
If desired, you can cool the custard faster by setting the container in a large bowl of iced water. Stir the pudding until it is lukewarm. (If you don't have ice, you can use cold tap water. You may need to change the water a time or two as it absorbs the heat from the pudding.) Then cover it with plastic wrap, pressing it directly onto the custard so it's in contact.
Refrigerate until ready to serve.
If you make this a day or two ahead, you may find that some water has separated out and is sitting on top (rather like a container of yogurt or sour cream). Just stir it back together.
Serve with whipped cream on top.
*While you can scald the milk on the stovetop, we recommend doing it in the microwave. It's faster, and you don't need to worry about scorching. Just put the milk in a bowl that has a fair bit of room on top in case it boils up. Then microwave it until you see it start steadily simmering around the edges. Turn off the microwave before it starts boiling all over.
A Book of Selected Recipes, Mrs. George O. Thurn, 1934
That's right, today we are returning to our sporadically-successful attempt to make a recipe every month that I've been wanting to try for a while. This one comes from Mrs. George O. Thurn, whose recipes have made regular appearances here at A Book of Cookrye.
In her (apparently only) book, Mrs. Thurn's recipes are somewhat unevenly written. Some have tidy lists of ingredients at the top and crisp, clear instructions below. Others, like today's caramel dessert, read more like a note-to-self. But while many of the recipes seem like quick notes instead of explicit directions, this is the only one in the entire handout that is so indecipherable. I had to reread it several times and then write out the steps in actual chronological order. (Maybe the recipe would have made sense upon the first reading had I attended one of her demonstrations and brought a notepad.)
After reworking the instructions into what seemed like a logical order of steps, we could proceed. I have to admit that I was less interested in the results of the recipe than I was in making it work. I imagined that after turning the recipe's four scrambled sentences into something usable, we would get an ordinary yet lovely brown sugar custard.
I've done a few recipes like this before. They require patience. You will spend an inordinately long time stirring a pot of sugar that looks resolutely unchanged.
After a while, the sugar starts to turn into gravelly brown clumps. You may wonder if you've ruined everything as they scratch against the sides of the pot. The sugar will continue to look like this for a long time, which likely will make you wonder if it's ever going to melt like the recipe claims. But eventually, you will see the slightest hints of a sludge seeping across the bottom of the pot.
This first signs of melting will disappear as you keep stirring, but eventually you'll have a pot of sludge-soaked rocks.
And after a very long time, you will have what looks like the sauce you'd pour into a pan if you were making pineapple upside-down cake. (But it's scorching hot. Keep your fingers out.)
After reducing the sugar to sludge, we reach the point in the recipe where I have ruined it so many times before: adding some form of liquid to this near-candy. If you dump it all in at once, your sugar instantly hardens into big rocky shards and you've ruined the recipe. So you have to beat the contents of the pot very hard while you carefully pour the first small splash in. Also, watch out for the steam!
It may end up looking like steaming-hot paste, but that's fine. As long as you don't have any extra-large shards of hard candy in there, it'll come out fine. Just keep beating the dessert really hard so that any hardened sugar doesn't have a chance to turn into big chunks. As Fanny Cradock would say, think of someone you've never really liked but you're too well-bred to say anything so you take it out on the dessert.
Despite your best efforts, you'll probably still have small granules of hardened sugar, but they'll dissolve after a minute or two over a hot stove.
And so, we reach the other tricky part of the recipe: tempering an egg. In other words, pouring this boiling-hot stuff into the bowl of beaten eggs without making a syrupy egg-drop soup. Once again, one must beat furiously. Use a bigger bowl than you think lest you slosh your half-made dessert all over the counter.
At this point, the recipe is a simple matter of stirring it until thickened. It occurred to me that I could probably do this part in the microwave, but I didn't want to risk turning this into a bowl of scrambled eggs in syrup.
We put the custard away to cool, but it stayed quite sloshy and runny. However, a test spoonful tasted almost exactly like the the candy coating on Cracker Jack. I was very annoyed at having something so delicious yet so gloppy. Then I noted that I mismeasured a crucial ingredient. Instead of using 2 tablespoons of cornstarch, I added only two teaspoons of it. (For those who only speak metric, I only added one-third of the cornstarch that I should have.)
I thought that perhaps I can add the missing amount of cornstarch, reheat the whole custard, and fix it. That didn't work. No matter how careful you are with a thermometer in one hand and a spoon in the other, an egg custard absolutely will turn into a curdled mess if you try to cook it twice. However, it was the perfect thickness. If you get your ingredients right the first time, it's a really good pudding.
Unfortunately, it looks terrible if you cook it twice and curdle the eggs. The little chunks of chopped nuts suspended in it didn't help.
Whipped cream would have solved the unfortunate appearance, but we didn't have any. But this tasted too good to leave a bad visual impression. Instead, here is an attempted rendering of what it could have been.
|I don't like wine and therefore love to use to use wineglasses for everything else.|
I thought the caramel dessert would be pleasantly bland, but it has a very nice burnt-sugar undertone that makes it better than it has any right to be. However, it seems like it should be on top of something, or perhaps served in little tartlet shells.
But as much as I liked the caramel dessert, I only recommend making it if you have a dishwasher. You'll have a lot of dirty bowls when you're done. But if you do have one of those wonderful machines under the kitchen counter, then I would definitely make this. After all, what effort is washing dishes when you merely put them on the rack and push the magic button?