Plusieurs choses plus délicieux que de crême caramel

by jemma margaret

Once upon a time almost 8 years ago to the day, I was in a town called Pau in the south of France.

Feeling very grown up and used to the extraordinary expense that is the British pound, I decided to take myself out for a three course prix fix lunch of 12 euros. This was shortly after having what I henceforth dubbed the best meal of my life in Paris, so the majority of the meal passed unremarkably. I imagine it is recorded in full detail in someone’s diary somewhere.

Well, three courses means dessert and upon a first glance at the menu I knew I would like a crême caramel. Why, it sounded just like crême brulée–one of the world’s more perfect foods–with the addition of caramel. Gilding the lily? Mais oui!

Many of you can sense the end of this story. The dessert arrived, but hèlas, it was nought but flan.

Now. I imagine some of you like flan, and there may be one of you out there who loves it. I have nothing against flan, and enjoyed it when served at a dinner party. However, given a range of French desserts to choose from flan would fall somewhere very near the bottom (probably not the very last, since unfortunately I do not like hazelnuts, I wish I did.) I am well aware that the difference between crême brulée and crême caramel is one very thin layer of burnt sugar. Yet it is the best anecdote to a sea of toothless sameness. The cracking of a crême brulée shell is a wondrous experience comparable to laughing out loud and finding a dollar in the street. Crême caramel can be eaten absolutely silently without even chewing.

Okay, okay, you cry in exasperation. We get it, you like crême brulée! But what are these several other delicious things you mentioned in the title?

Let me tell you. That combination of milk, egg yolks, and sugar can go down several different delicious paths. Let me recommend you to a pastel de nata, a Portuguese pastry which is little more than flan in puffed pastry. Two bite-sized and lovely. I also recently sampled a Bordeaux canelé, flan with a bit of flour and rum mixed in and then baked in a very hot (traditionally copper) mold so it gets nice and crisp on the outside while remaining custardy on the inside. There is the texturally similar but much more exciting chocolate mousse. Though one typically does not make chocolate mousse by melting chocolate into a flan recipe, one surely could (and maybe I should…). Finally, remove the sugar, add some cheese, and you could have a mighty fine dish of scrambled eggs.

Now what’s for dessert?