If Pythagoras had been a chef…

The Joy of Cooking is hiding things–ancient secrets that it does not deign to share with the general public. But I’m on to them.

For instance, the other day I noticed something in their flan recipes. The JoC recipe calls for a caramel made with 3 parts sugar and 1 part water and then a custard with 5 eggs, 3 cups of milk, and a few other things. It served 8.

Then I decided to make coffee flan and checked the recipe for that. Replacing 3/4 c. of the milk with strong coffee was the only change, with the 5 eggs, 3 cups liquid, etc. all the same. This recipe, JoC says, serves only 4 to 5.

I wondered: had I discovered an error that I should report? But then I realized I may have stumbled upon something deeper–a secret mathematical theorem, overlooked by the likes of Pythagoras, who probably was not much of a cook. Perhaps the amount by which the servings had been reduced (between 2 and e – pi/6), was a method of quantifying the deliciousness of a given dish! If something tastes better, people will eat more of it, resulting in the same quantity serving fewer people. I’ve always sensed that coffee flan was on a level of deliciousness above regular flan, but never suspected there was a mathematical rule to back it up.

What I’m trying to say it that I don’t think this was a coincidence in the JoC; it is trying to tell us something. It could very well be that extensive government research has been conducted to calculate the relative yumminess of foods, but someone out there doesn’t want us to know about it. Just think about it, people.

Theories aside, here’s a recipe for coffee flan, aka crème caramel au café, with my own flare of raspberry sauce added at the end (a special study may have to be done to determine how many this serves… extrapolating from the formula used above and factoring in the yumminess-adding sauce, I say it serves approximately 3.62).

Coffee Flan with Raspberry Sauce

1 cup water

1/2 cup ground coffee

2 1/4 cups milk or heavy cream or soy milk or any combination thereof

3/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup water

5 large eggs

1 cup sugar

1/8 tsp. salt

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1/4 cup raspberry jam

1/4 cup water

1/4 cup sugar

Preheat oven to 325 F.

Boil the water with the coffee. Let sit for 10 minutes, then measure out 3/4 cup of the coffee. Combine with the other 2 1/4 cups liquid and set aside in the refrigerator.

Have 6 6-oz. ramekins or 2 soup bowls ready.

In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine the sugar and water and slowly bring to a simmer, swishing the mixture as it heats. Bring to a gentle boil and swish and watch it carefully until it become caramel turns an amber color. When it simmers and then boils, you should avoid sugar crystals forming on the sides of the pan. To do this, have a pastry brush and a cup of water nearby. Periodically run the wet brush around the sides of the pan to wash the sugar off the sides and get it back into the caramel.

Here’s what your set-up might look like:

As soon as that’s a light amber, remove the caramel from the heat and pour it into your ramekins or bowls. Swish it around while it’s still hot to cover the bottom and some of the sides. Set this aside.

It will look like this:

Now beat the eggs, the 3/4 cup sugar, and salt together and have it ready. Heat the milk/cream and coffee until wisps of steam appear on the surface. Whisk the hot liquid into the egg-sugar mixture, combining well and making sure the sugar melts but the egg doesn’t cook. Add the vanilla.

Now pour the whole mess into your prepared vessels.

Now set up a water bath: Take a baking pan and line the bottom with a cooling rack or dish towel. Place your ramekins or bowls on the towel so they don’t touch each other or the sides. Carefully place the whole thing in the oven. Pull the oven rack out part way and carefully add water to the baking pan until the water is 1/2 to 3/4 of the way up the sides of the flan vessels.

Now bake for 40 minutes to 2 hours or until the flan is set (when only the middle is a little jiggly or a knife stuck in the middle comes out clean). Add more water if necessary as it evaporates.

To prepare the raspberry sauce, combine the 1/4 cup each of the raspberry jam, water, and sugar. Heat and mix until smooth. If it’s not thick enough to your liking, add more sugar or a little corn starch.

When the flan is ready, remove it from the water bath and chill for at least 6 hours. When you’re ready to serve it, prepare a shallow bath of hot water and let the flans sit in them for a minute or so. This will melt the caramel at the bottom. Loosen the edges with a knife and invert each ramekin or bowl onto your serving plate. Remember to use a serving plate with sides because the caramel will pool around the flan (yum!). For your finishing touch, drizzle the raspberry sauce on the flan. Serve with small spoons, and entertain your guests with the theory that this is approximately twice as delicious as regular flan.

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2 thoughts on “If Pythagoras had been a chef…

  1. Pingback: You are Delicious » Blog Archive » The cowboy’s dessert

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