Crème anglaise (& Heart of Darkness)
When Sébastien first came here, he used to go around woefully asking for English cream. He was very surprised to learn that in this English-speaking country, we called crème anglaise…crème anglaise.
He was absolutely bereft to learn that you couldn’t buy it in pints in the dairy section, the same way you buy half and half, as you can in France. It is a classic to serve rich, dense chocolate cakes or tortes–especially ones that tend to be a little dry or in other ways need a balance–in a shallow pool of crème anglaise. Say about a millimeter of depth in the plate, with the chocolate set down on top of it.
I, being in love with words, love the whole country-jumping game that seems to me implied in the French naming this light sauce crème anglaise (English cream) and Americans adapting it and continuing to call it crème anglaise.
The first time I tried to make crème anglaise, I became convinced that it involved far too much stirring. (After half an hour, the cream still had not thickened.) But the other day, as Sébastien was trying to sweet-talk a waitress into giving him a LOT of crème anglaise on his dessert instead of a drizzle, I decided to try again with another recipe, this one from Joy of Cooking.
And so here is another French classic that, it turns out, is very, very easy, and so Sébastien is now very, very happy.
[Sébastien represented by Kiki–furry animal to far left–in this photo. Note the utter impossibility in my house of finding a photo background that does not include French stuffed animals and one bunny who is questing for more pots de crème.]
2 cups light cream
1 vanilla bean split lengthwise or 2 tsp vanilla
5 large egg yolks
1/3 cup sugar
Add the split vanilla bean to the cream and heat cream to just below boiling (don’t boil). While heating, whisk together egg yolks and sugar. Pour a bit of hot cream into the egg yolk/sugar mixture, whisking together, and continue gradually adding cream & whisking all the while until all cream and eggs are combined. Return mixture to pan and return to stove, heat again, stirring frequently until JUST BELOW boiling. This is important or the cream will curdle. Remove from heat. If you use vanilla extract, add it now; if not, scrape the seeds off the vanilla bean and stir them in. Leave the vanilla pod in until you serve the cream.
I strongly recommend the vanilla bean, even though when I pay 5 dollars for a vanilla bean and think of my time in Tahiti, I get vanilla-homesick and also grind my teeth against Whole Foods prices. But anyway…
Joy of Cooking recommends straining the cream after it comes off the stove. I did not, because it looked smooth, but tiny lumps showed up later, so I would strain it next time.
Crème anglaise goes well with many chocolate things, even a cakey brownie, but I decided to try it with this:
Heart of Darkness Chocolate Torte
(adapted with ingredients to hand from On the Menu.)
I chose this recipe because it has a fantastic name, and it’s an even better name with a heart mold, which I didn’t have.
12 oz Ghirardelli Double Dark Chocolate Chips
1 & 1/3 c sugar
1/3 cup water
8 oz butter, cubed
5 extra large eggs
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease & line bottom of 9″ cake pan with parchment paper. Grease parchment paper also.
Combine sugar & water and bring to boil in a sauce pan, stirring occasionally. Combine chocolate & butter in big bowl. Microwave 40 seconds & stir, 40 seconds again & stir. Pour boiling sugar-water (syrup) over, let stand a minute, and mix together with a mixer (or food processor if you prefer). Add eggs one at a time until incorporated. Pour into prepared pan and bake about 40 minutes until toothpick comes out clean.
Let chill completely.
Pour crème anglaise onto cake plate, a little pool of it. Set slice of cake down in middle of it. Drizzle a bit more cream over if you like. I feel it needs some other decoration, but I will leave that inspiration up to you.