Mastering the Art of French Cooking ***


(Kind of) becoming the master

When I saw the ineffable Meryl Streep in Julie & Julia, I  was going through a cooking phase (and frankly, I didn’t have too much to do otherwise). So after seeing the movie, the only logical thing to do was to go out and buy Julia’s famed cookbook. I did so with all the excitement of a francophile and all the best intentions.

But then I didn’t cook much of anything from it.

Even Julia’s famed boeuf bourgignon went untouched. I read pages, leaved through each one voraciously in search of French words and that e’er so rare crossover of real French cuisine into American terms.

So this weekend, I finally decided to go ahead and actually make something ambitious. I chose crème brulée, in part because I know my father likes it and will therefore eat it, in part because it sounded difficult.

The final verdict? It turned out ok … could have been better. My main problem lay in the fact that crème brulée is not one of Julia’s main desserts but rather an offshoot of crème anglaise (which just sounded so much less appetizing, besides the fact that it sounded more like a sauce garnish than an actual dessert).

The crème part went well. It was thick, pale yellow and faintly sweet (not too). This was also due in part to the fact that I had a friendly helper (who refuses to be named) helping me stir the egg mixture into the boiling water and so on.

The crackly, deep-bronze top was where my trouble came. Julia suggests using a mix of caramel and toasted almonds (pralin) instead of brown sugar — but she neglects to tell you whether you should pulverize the mixture as is said in the pralin recipe, or whether you pour it over the crème hot and then break the top.

The second sounded more delicious, but it also carried the possibility of burning the crème with the hot caramel mixture, so without much guidance from Julia, I chose to pulverize the mixture. The result was similar to a sweet yogurt with bits of Butterfinger dabbled in. Not bad, to be sure, but not quite the essence of crème brulée that I’d been going for.

Ah, well. Next time perhaps I’ll try one of her master recipes or be daring enough to pour that hot caramel. It seems I’m not a good enough cook to make it on my own, though. I need a little more of a guiding hand.

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