[This week The Celluloid Pantry goes on location to Paris. Next week: Rome.]
Raspberries worn on the fingers like thimbles; a hand plunged deep into a cool sack of grain; the crack of a spoon against the brittle, caramelized top of an ice-cold crème brûlée, these are some of the small, ordinary pleasures cultivated by a quietly extraordinary young waitress in le Fabuleux destin d'Amélie Poulain (France, 2001).
If you are looking for the world of Amélie in Paris, Monmartre is the obvious place to start. Somewhere below the sun-bleached domes of Sacre-Coeur, and above the peep-shows of Pigalle, sits a small café called les Deux Moulins. Although it has none of the luminous reds and greens of its cinematic alter ego, from the exterior, this café is instantly recognizable as Amélie's workplace. And so, it comes as no surprise that one of the self-aware specialties of the house is crème brûlée.
Although it wasn't the best we'd ever tasted, it hardly mattered: crème brûlée is a continuum - all good. The center wasn't cold, but the caramelized top was nicely browned and gave way to the back of the spoon with a satisfying crack. The custard was smooth and tasted of cinnamon. But before we could finish, other Amélie-seekers entered the café, snapping photos in front of the large framed picture of her, set up in the back alcove like a shrine.
And so, if we didn't quite find Amélie's world here, we found it elsewhere and everywhere. In the raspberries at the marché Mouffetard still warm from the sun; in nested piles of fresh sardines shimmering in their otherworldly silver skins; and in a sparrow flying through the open doors of a bakery, touching down lightly on the cracked tiled floor to pick up a choice morsel before flitting away.
This is an old crème brûlée recipe that dates back to 1909. It was taken from The Ocklye Cookery Book by Eleanor L. Jenkinson. [via GourmetSleuth]
2 1/2 cups heavy cream or 1 1/4 cups heavy cream and 1 1/4 cups light cream
4 large egg yolks, well beaten
1/4 to 1/3 cup superfine sugar
Bring cream to a boil for about 30 seconds. Pour it immediately into the egg yolks, and whisk them together. Return the mixture to the pan and continue cooking without allowing it to boil. Stir the mixture until it thickens and coats the spoon. Pour into a shallow baking dish. Refrigerate overnight.
Two hours before the meal, sprinkle the chilled cream with the sugar in an even layer and place it under a broiler preheated to the maximum temperature (you may also use a torch just before serving). The sugar will caramelize to a sheet of brown smoothness. You may need to turn the dish in the grill to achieve an even effect. It is important that this step be done very quickly in order to keep the custard cold and firm and the top crisp and brown.
- Nora Maynard