September 14, 2006

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Cracking the custard code
Don’t bother making it; just buy the silky flans, smooth custards and sexy crème brulees
By Susan Reilly  news@hippopress.com

Sexy, smooth and sensuous — creamy custard desserts inspire such food porn descriptions.

Custards are a fragile marriage of a hot liquid and eggs, treated gingerly by attentive cooks. A simple misstep and you end up with a very unsexy pot of scrambled eggs. Think of it as the risotto of the dessert world — something you are more likely to order out than venture to make at home.

While scary to some cooks who are unfamiliar with the ins and outs of this innocent-looking sweet (at first blush, it seems easy enough) custard in all its incarnations — flan, crème brulee, the Greek galaktobourek, the Japanese chawan mushi, panna cotta, Chinese dan tat (dim sum custard balls), zabaglione, pots de creme and the Thai sangkaya fakthong — can bring an inexperienced chef to his knees.

Custard is one of those dishes, that can be found everywhere from a local hole in the wall to a four-star restaurant.

Count on most northern New England diners to have Grapenut custard on the menu. Served a dollop of whipped cream, it is a regional classic.

Flan, also popular in France, can be found on the menu at Manchester restaurants El Mexicano Jr. (mostly Mexican food) and Don Quijojt (a mix of Caribbean cuisines) that offer food with a connection to Spanish cuisine. The French version, crème brulee, is on the menus of many area restaurants including Michael Timothy’s in Nashua, Cotton in Manchester and 55 Degrees in Concord (which offer drop dead crème brulee for your après dinner sweet).

“Crème brulee is one of those truly classical dishes that restaurants really can do better. I think people order it when out because they really don’t want to make it at home,” said Corey Fletcher, executive chef at 55 Degrees.

Fletcher explained that managing the custard is the difficult part.

“It looks simple, but it is not an easy dessert to make,” he said.

Crème brulee at 55 Degrees has a ginger flavor and is topped with macerated blackberries. Sometimes customers request that Fletcher brulee the crème table =side.

“People get a little scared when they see me walk up with a blow torch,” he said.

If crème brulee is tough, Sandra Sepulbeda, owner of Don Quijote, makes flan look easy.

“Flan is a staple in Spanish cuisine. I sometimes like to call it Spanish cheesecake,” she said.

At Don Quijote, flan is served simple, the way customers may make it at home.

“We have tried to mix up flavors in the past, but it just ends up in our bellies because it doesn’t sell. When it comes to flan, plain is better,” said Sepulbeda.

In some parts of the world, the words “custard” and “pudding” are interchangeable. In the states, they are two very different things. Pudding is eaten with a spoon; custard, with a fork.

At Athens Restaurant in Manchester, owner Vagelitsa Kourtis makes a creamy custard and layers it with filo and tops it with a sweet sugar sauce. This traditional Greek dessert is called galactobouriko. Kourtis makes it every Saturday, and by Sunday, it is likely gone.

“Making custard is very tricky. You need to stay on top of the store or the dessert is ruined. If I didn’t make it for the restaurant, there is no way I would labor like this,” she said.

Kourtis said that her galactobouriko has a faithful following of customers who know that it is best eaten out of the oven on Saturdays. She has been following this recipe for 30 years, when it was handed down from her mother in Greece.

“What can I say? It is really delicious. People just love custard. There is just something about it,” she said.


Find flan
• Bread & Chocolate, 29 South Main St., Concord, 228-3330. ($15.50 for an 8-inch; $23.50 for 11-inch flan)
• Don Quijote, 333 Valley St., Manchester, 792-1110. ($2.99 per slice)
• El Mexicano Jr., 197 Wilson St., Manchester, 665-9299 ($3 per slice)

Bringing the Brulee
• 55 Degrees, 55 Main St., Concord, 224-7192; Ginger infused vanilla crème brulee with macerated blackberries ($9).
• Cotton, 75 Arms Park, Manchester, 622-5488; Cappucino crème brulee ($7).
• JW Hill’s, 795 Elm St., Manchester, 645-7422; Crème brulee ($4.95) flavors vary weekly.
• Michael Timothy’s, 212 Main St., Nashua, 595-9412; White chocolate crème brulee ($8).

Collect custard
• The French Bistro, 15 Elm St., Milford, 249-9605; crème caramel au Grand Marnier ($6.50).
• Tenth Planet, 157 Amory St., Manchester, 621-9009; baked egg custard ($2).
• Poor Boy’s Diner, 136 Rockingham Road, Londonderry, 432-8990; Grapenut custard ($2.95).
• Airport Diner, 2280 Brown Ave., Manchester, 623-5040; Grapenut Custard ($2.59).
• North Garden, 715 Mast Rd., Manchester, 668-1668; custard egg tarts ($2.70).
• Café Mangia, 114 Londonderry Turnpike, Hooksett, 647-0788; cream Caramel ($4.50).
• Athens Restaurant, 31 Central St., Manchester, 623-9317; Galactobouriko ($3.25) a Greek style custard pastry.

Recipe
Don Quijote’s Flan
Recipe by Sandra Sepulbeda
6 eggs
2 cans sweetened condensed milk
1 can evaporated milk
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup of sugar
Blend eggs, milk and vanilla in a blender. Over medium heat in a heavy saucepan, caramelize sugar slowly without burning. Pour warm sugar sauce onto the bottom of a half sheet pan and completely cover the bottom of the pan. Next, evenly pour custard over sugar layer and cook at 300 degrees for 30 to 45 minutes. Let cool slightly before cutting. Serve with caramel layer on top.


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