Butterscotch Pots de Crème

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I like to call them, "Deconstructed Margot Tenenbaums. " 

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What other flavor could be as complex and well-matched to the enduring internal battles of the adopted daughter of Royal and Etheline Tenenbaum? Real butterscotch, unlike that from a JELL-O box, has an acute duskiness from the almost burnt sugar, which matches Margot's sullen, but fiercely independent and deliberate persona.

Luckily, I was dead set on making these little pots of custard because sorting out the recipe was a bit of a headache. Several seemingly contradictory methods persist online, and even when I finally narrowed it down to a recipe from Gjelina's Travis Lett, multiple variations appeared all over the Internet.

Finally deciding to pull the trigger, however, was freeing—not unlike Margot finally owning up to her 22-year-long smoking habit and her romantic love for her adoptive brother, Richie. After all, what could possibly go wrong when mixing brown sugar with cream, eggs, and vanilla bean and topping it all with whipped crème fraîche, caramel, and sea salt? Not that much, it turns out. In fact, the result is a deliberate, complex, moody pudding that will have you pondering butterscotch in a whole new light.

You may also feel as though you should "receive a Braverman Grant of $50,000 in the ninth grade" for having created such a confection. Deservedly so, I'd say.

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The recipe printed below is the solution I arrived at after carefully examining the versions of the Gjelina recipe printed in Food & Wine and The Los Angeles Times, and I think it's a worthy compromise. Perhaps it's meant to be a loose custard, but I had to increase the baking time to achieve the consistency I was after. This may also be due to the fact that I crowded my ramekins in the bain-marie. So check yours after an hour—if they're not set, feel free to continue baking them for another half hour. I did, and I have no regrets.


Butterscotch Pots de Crème
Adapted from Travis Lett of Gjelina
Makes 4 individual servings

Ingredients
6 tbsp unsalted butter
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
2 1/2 cups heavy cream
3/4 tsp fine sea salt
1/2 vanilla bean, seeds scraped
3 large egg yolks
Boiling water

Caramel Sauce
1/2 cup sugar
2 tbsp water
3 tbsp butter
1/4 cup cream
Whipped crème fraîche, for serving
Maldon sea salt, for serving

Method
Preheat the oven to 325°. In a large saucepan, melt the butter. Add the brown sugar and cook over moderately high heat, whisking constantly, until smooth and bubbling, about 5 minutes. Gradually whisk in the cream. Return the mixture to a boil, whisking constantly. Add the salt and vanilla seeds.

In a large heatproof bowl, whisk the egg yolks. Gradually whisk in the hot cream mixture. Strain the custard into four 6-ounce ramekins. Set the ramekins in a small roasting pan and place it in the middle of the oven. Fill the roasting pan with enough boiling water to reach halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Cover with foil and bake for 90 minutes, until the custards are set but still jiggle slightly when tapped. Transfer the ramekins to a baking sheet and refrigerate until chilled, 4 hours.

While the custards are baking, make the caramel: In a large, heavy-bottom saucepan, combine sugar with the water. Heat over medium heat until the sugar turns a deep amber (dark, reddish brown) color and is fragrantly nutty, about 5 minutes. Add the butter and stir until it melts and is thoroughly incorporated. Gradually stir in the cream until incorporated; remove from heat and set aside.

Top the pots de crème with the caramel sauce and whipped crème fraîche, sprinkle with Maldon sea salt and serve.