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January 26, 2006

The only recipe you'll ever need for vanilla mucus

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Well, that went poorly.  Twice.

It started out as a good idea.  Make a delicious tart using leftover ingredients: eggs yolks from macaroons, and frozen pastry dough from a Meyer lemon tart.  I was going to make it irresistible by using my all-time, can't-live-without-it flavour, vanilla, and then burnishing the tart with a gorgeous bruléed sugar crust.  I thought of it as a creme brulée tart.

Sounds good, doesn't it?

So how did I end up with globs of black-specked, demon mucus?

It all started with the idea that I could adapt Thomas Keller's lemon sabayon tart filling to my needs simply by removing the lemon juice and replacing it with the contents of a scraped vanilla bean.  I'd made that sabayon filling so many times that I thought it was fairly foolproof.

So, I whisked together two egg yolks, two eggs, and 100 grams of vanilla sugar in my stand mixer.  I then continued whisking this mixture over a double boiler until it had thickened.  Then I added butter and poured the mixture into my pre-baked shell.  It was at this point -- while the beautiful vanilla-specked, cream-coloured ambrosia I'd literally whipped up was tumbling into the shell -- that I began to suspect my mixture was a little too thin and wouldn't set.  Since I was already running late, I had no choice but to put the tart in the fridge and hope for the best.

The best was not good enough, so I came home after midnight to a custard that was very, very thick and very delicious but still slid slowly when I tilted the tart.  To adapt a bit of profound Britney Spears wisdom, what I had was "not a curd, not yet a pus-coloured culinary disaster."

This is where the best chefs apply the perfect technique to save their tart, and where mere home cooks like me begin the surprisingly quick journey from "cream-coloured ambrosia" to "demon mucus."

Join me, won't you?

It all starts with heat.  After all, an egg custard that hasn't set hasn't been heated to a high enough temperature, right?  Ideally, I would have put my tart in the oven until I could get the custard to set, but I couldn't do that because I already had a perfectly cooked tart shell.  That left one option: scrape the custard back into a double boiler and start whisking.  So I did.

I'm sure at one point in this process, I had the custard I was looking for, but I apparently kept on whisking right through it.  And whisking.  And whisking.  The enormity of the mistake I'd made hit me (slimed me?) as I poured my new concoction into the tart shell.  My custard had become very, very dark, and, when cooled, had a consistency vaguely reminiscent of really soft, runny taffy.  Shit.

Back to the drawing board, except by this point it was nearing 2:00 am.  I decided to consult Harold McGee's, On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen, to see if it could offer any help.  It did, I guess, insofar as it gave me a precise temperature to which to heat my eggs (between 79-83C), as well as an indication that I should add liquid to my mixture.

These tips in mind, I set to work again, this time adding 125ml of milk to my egg, sugar, and vanilla mixture.  I also weaved a digital thermometer through my whisk to constantly measure the temperature of the custard.  Then I whisked.  And whisked.  And whisked.  By the time the thermometer hit the target temperature I had once again created primordial ooze.  Shit.

The thing that really irks is that, despite having stayed up until 3:00 am to whip up a concoction that will cast shame upon my family for generations, I still felt some compunction to make sure I got a presentable photo of it.  Do you know I actually chose the photo in this post because I like the way the light passes through that strand of oozing vanilla slime?  That's not right.

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Comments

Rachel

I love how you find beauty in the most unlikely places.
PS. We will never speak of this again. Oh wait, we still have some tart in our fridge, don't we? *#%@$!*?!

Michelle

I feel bad laughing at your...um, troubles, in this situation. Especially since I have never made a custard myself. But, dear Rob, your poor custard, and the name you so affectionately gave it ("demon slime") reminds me of something from Ghostbusters! I'm very impressed that you stayed up until 3 AM trying to fix it...that's some stamina. I think I might have just tossed it away at midnight, as I turn into a bit of a demon myself when I'm tired and things aren't working out like I want them to!

Great story, though - I might just be giggling at your misfortune the rest of the day (sorry. really. i'm sorry.) :)

TBTAM

Lovin' your blog!

Tania

What an adventure! And I love the choice of photo. The fact that you can see fingers grasping hold of and stretching the mucus gives you a terrifying idea of it's consistency. Eewww, yes ... but also so funny!!

rob

Thank you all for your comments.

Rachel, as my wife, I think you have a duty to try the vanilla mucus tart -- and tell me you like it.

Michelle, don't feel sorry about laughing. Believe me, that's why I wrote the post. If no one laughed, then I'd really feel like all that effort was wasted.

TBTAM, thank you. I mean that quite sincerely. It's really great to know someone I've never met gets a kick out of what I'm doing and writing. Now if I could just amuse you AND make a decent vanilla custard tart....

Tania, if you like that photo, I've got some shots of a vanilla mucus tart you might be interested in.

Rob

Raspberry Sour

Rob, that was hilarious! I had similar tart-like adventures this week, only mine were on the savoury side, and it was the mushrooms that did me in (I didn't cook them beforehand). So I'm feeling particularly appreciative of reminders that others have problems too :)

rob

Hey, raspberrysour. Sorry to take so long to respond, and sorry to hear about your savoury tart woes. I guess failure is what makes cooking fun, really. In my opinion at least, there's nothing quite as rewarding as the first taste of a dish you've made successfully for the first time -- it's not just a taste of something new, it's thzt relief that you didn't screw it up. In other words, overcoming a certain level of fear and apprehension allows for a certain emotional release that wouldn't exist if we always knew our food would turn out well. Of course, I could just be full of shit.

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