31 August 2011


Life has been sort of crazy lately. Work is piling up faster than I can get through it and I'm trying to get the house ready for guests (my cousin and his wife are coming from Athens!) We won't even get into the state of the garden. But I did take a moment to catch up on my 2011 Baking Project and make Caramel Pots de Creme (my first-ever PdC!) It was a nice (and tasty) break.

The ingredients were pretty basic. That's a jar of vanilla beans to the left.

My kitchen is pretty well-equipped but I am definitely ramekin deprived! I made do with four small bowls I know are oven safe and two that I hoped were (they ended up working fine).

Caramelizing the sugar was an interesting process. You just put the sugar in a pan over medium heat and wait...

...and wait...
...and wait...
...and then panic slightly when you realize one spot is getting too much heat and is liable to burn. But it turned out okay:

Vanilla bean and seeds steeping in milk and cream:

It smelled so good when I added the vanilla-cream mixture to the caramelized sugar! Unfortunately the recipe didn't mention that the caramel would seize up when you added the liquid. You can just barely see in the picture a lump of hardened caramel trapped inside the whisk. But as the mixture heated up--and with a fair amount of stirring and scraping--all the caramelized sugar dissolved.

It all worked out in the end.

I think I've separated more eggs this year than I have in my entire life. I'm planning on making meringues with those extra whites.

Egg yolks, sugar, and salt:

Whisked until pale and light:

And then whisked some more as the vanilla mixture is slowly added:

After skimming the froth from the mixture, I strained it through a sieve into a measuring cup:

At first I debated the point of straining (I'd already removed the vanilla bean by hand) but then I decided to be good and follow directions. The sieve did catch a few lumps and I think it made a difference to the final product.

Almost ready to go into the oven:

After adding some hot water to the pan I covered the while thing in tin foil. Anyone else have a sudden craving for Jiffy Pop?

Finally out of the oven (the recipe time was way off) and cooling on a rack:

Ready to go into the fridge. I was excited to use the lids that came with those ugly yellow bowls. Until I realized the lids didn't stay on too well. Plastic wrap it is!

The final product, accessorized with a nasturtium blossom from my garden:

Caramel Pots de Crème

Makes 6

[My notes/changes in brackets]
  • 3/4 cup [granulated] sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream [I ended up using table cream, 18% mf]
  • 1 cup [whole] milk
  • 1 vanilla bean, split
  • 5 large egg yolks
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Place six 4-ounce ovenproof ramekins or pots de creme in a 13-by-9-by-2-inch roasting pan; set aside.

Place 1/2 cup sugar in a medium saucepan set over medium heat. Cook, without stirring, until sugar has caramelized and is golden brown, about 3 minutes [or in my case, closer to 15 minutes]. Swirl pan, dissolving unmelted sugar; reduce heat to low.

Slowly and carefully whisk in the milk and 1 cup cream. [Caramel will seize up and harden at this point.] Scrape the vanilla seeds into the pan and add the pod. Increase heat to medium-high and bring to a boil [Stir and scrape bottom of pan to dissolve hardened caramel]; remove the pan from heat.

In a medium bowl, whisk together remaining 1/4 cup sugar, egg yolks, and salt; continue whisking until pale yellow in color. Slowly add the hot cream mixture to the egg mixture, whisking constantly. Pour this new mixture through a fine sieve set over a large liquid measuring cup; discard vanilla pod.

Using a tablespoon or a small ladle, skim the surface to remove any visible air bubbles. Pour approximately 1/2 cup liquid into each ramekin [I'd say it's actually closer to 1/3 cup]. Fill roasting pan with hot water to within 1 inch of ramekin tops. Cover roasting pan with foil, and poke small holes in two opposite corners for vents.

Carefully place pan on center oven rack; bake until just set, about 35 minutes [Again, it took a lot longer for me, about an hour. Not sure if it was the dishes I used or the recipe directions that were at fault]. Remove foil; transfer ramekins to a wire rack to cool completely. Cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate.

When ready to serve, place the remaining 1/2 cup cream in a chilled mixing bowl. Using an electric mixer, whip cream until soft peaks form. Add a dollop of whipped cream to each serving. [I skipped this part. These things are rich enough!]

Original recipe here.

My Verdict

The recipe was frustrating to use and the effort was a little fussy for what basically amounts to pudding. But it's a super smooth, rich and creamy pudding with a delicate flavour. If this sounds like the kind of dessert you like then these are for you! I'll definitely make pots de creme again, although probably not these particular ones. The idea of adding chocolate to the mix is definitely tempting. And with some nicer ramekins these would be a great special (make ahead) dessert for company.

Want to see what else I've made for my 2011 baking project?

January: Double-Chocolate Brownies
February: Angel Food Cake with Raspberry Sauce
March: Chewy Chocolate-Gingerbread Cookies
April: Raspberry-Swirl Cheesecake
June: Cake Doughnuts
June: Espresso Granita
July: Honey-Lavender Ice Cream

Photos by Domicile

29 August 2011

5 Reasons I Hate Dusting

1. Allergies

Within 2 minutes of starting to dust I can't breathe through my nose. A couple of minutes after that I start sneezing (and don't stop for a good half hour after I've finished dusting). After 20 minutes I've gone through half a box of tissues.

2. It's Gross

No matter how careful I am I always feel like I need a shower afterward.

3. There's No Such Thing as an Effective Dusting Product

Sorry, but they all suck to varying degrees.

4. I'm the Only One in the House Who Can Do It

Not that others are incapable. They just don't know where stuff belongs so after they're done dusting I have to go behind them and put everything back in order.

5. It's Pointless Anyway

About five minutes after I'm done I can see the next layer of dust forming (or maybe that's just what the crappy products I used have left behind).

Where are those dust-eating nanobots we've been promised?

17 August 2011

I Promised You a Rose Garden

A couple of posts ago (here) I lamented that I never got around to taking photos of the roses this year. Well it turns out my SO did! They're with his camera phone but I thought they were still pretty enough to share. This is my 'William Baffin' Canadian Explorer series rose:

You can see how the entire plant is bent over from the weight of the flowers (that's a bamboo support behind it, on the right-hand side of the photo. There's also a metal trellis that you can't see, which is being pulled forward). Next spring I'm cutting this guy way back (and getting sturdier supports).

Both photos were snapped at night, illuminated by the nearby security light.

Photos by AchillesRage

16 August 2011

Not Your Average House

I used to love watching a show called Weird Homes (you can guess what it was about). Unfortunately I don't think it airs anymore in Canada. But it was so much fun to see how creative people could get with their homes. Seeing this video today reminded me of it:

It also reminded me of how much I love unusual homes. I don't like weird for the sake of weird but I love fun locations, imaginative designs, unique features, creative materials, and--most of all--when spaces intended for one purpose are converted into homes (like the bank below). I'm particularly partial to the idea of converting an old church, but I've seen some fantastic renos of barns, schoolhouses, railroad cars, boats, lighthouses--even an old water tower. It really makes you look at buildings and their surroundings in a different way.

I find the idea of a home built into a hill cozy and appealing (and not just because they remind me of hobbits):

A little on the precarious side for me but they'll never have to worry about flooding!

On the other hand, if you're a fan of water...

Bank turned home. Apparently the vault is now a guest bedroom:

One way to recycle all those empty bottles:

This is actually an ancient cave house in Italy:

It looks like it simply grew out of the earth:

Bonus points for being creative and pretty:

Homes like this make sense in mountainous regions. They also seem like they'd be a lot of fun to live in!

Love the seashell design:

Okay this one is cool but I could never live there. What happens if there's a major earthquake?

Underground houses somehow seem extra safe and cozy. And they're environmentally friendly too!

This one is just lovely and elegant:

If you have the money and space why not build yourself a castle (although I think I'd rather live in a real one for the inherent history)?

Another seashell, this one with a colourful stained glass window:

Again, one I wouldn't feel comfortable inhabiting. But it does come with a rather large moat:

Right out of a nursery rhyme--how could you not love it?

Do not adjust your sets--this is really how this building looks:

Whoever came up with this is a mad genius:

And an interior shot to bring the post to a conclusion. I don't know how practical this is to live in but it definitely looks cozy: