Saturday, 14 June 2014

a note to baba on father's day + crème caramel

crème caramel for baba
my paternal grandfather died before i was born, so my memories of him are derived from family recollections. my favourite is of him taking my baba for hand churned ice-cream when he was little. over the years baba and i have come to share rituals similar to those that he shared with his father.

these have included banana splits at yummy 36 in pindi. the ice-cream parlour was a sleek space with booths and large scale pictures of sundaes and milkshakes illuminated in light-boxes. in summer, the air conditioning would make the marble table-tops colder than the ice-cream itself. when i think back, i realise that this was my first brush with americana. baba and i would share a banana split served in a stainless steel boat-shaped dish. the lengthwise split banana sandwiched a trio of vanilla, strawberry and chocolate ice-cream; their bright colours boldly proclaiming their artificial colouring. it was decorated with a crown of whipped cream, sprinkled with nut debris and a drizzle of chocolate sauce.

there were paper bags of sweet and savoury treats. the latter were bought from a street vendor outside ciros cinema in pindi and are called seviyan. the brittle orange strands are made of a chickpea flour based dough flavoured with red chili, turmeric and salt, fried till crisp, which often came mixed with equally crunchy channa daal. the sweet treats are called boondi chur. the little pearls are made by deep frying chickpea flour batter stained with pink, yellow or green food colour, immersed in sugar syrup when hot. these were bought from the halvai (a shop that sells sweet meats and fresh dairy like yoghurt and ghee) in the bazaar near our house. 

these food memories are punctuated with life lessons and conversations. baba’s interactions with people – family, friends and business alike became a way to navigate my own. through them i learned the importance of respect, of listening and responding with kindness. i discovered that i had absorbed principles and values through osmosis, only realising their presence when i left for university. aside from a brief spell after graduation, i have lived away from my parents for most of the last decade. yet despite the changes and the distance, baba and i still share rituals. on my visits back home he still brings me treats and makes my favourite tomato chutney with hard boiled eggs, and dry beef with chillies. he still calls on me to help him with official correspondence and documentation, a practice that he established in my very early teens when he started his own business. he continues to provide advice on hair styling to both my brother and i, believing that he knows better. and despite being in my thirties i still respond to his discipline like i did when i was younger. 

missing baba is a constant but it is in the month of june that i really wish we could be together. for june is the month of his birthday, and of father’s day. baba is the kind of person who is difficult to shop for and it is perhaps for this reason that our mutual love of food is a boon. it has allowed me to present him with endless edible gifts; jars of my homemade jams and pickles, cold pressed oils, handmade truffles and nuts. but what i would really love to do is make him crème caramel as i used to. 

the intention to do so is there on every visit but there is never enough time. so this father’s day i decided that he would have virtual crème caramel. it has been years since i have made it and i figured a little practice before a future trip can only be a good thing. i traded my old recipe from fannie farmer with a combination of nigel slater and dan lepard. vanilla essence was swapped with vanilla bean and the custard itself was baked in crème caramel moulds rather than the savarin mould that mama and i used to use. there was jersey milk rather than whole milk with added cream and saffron coloured yolks for a custard glow. an evenly heated oven allowed for a consistent bake leading to a smooth texture.

crème caramel
this crème caramel was far removed from the ones that i had made in pakistan. the yolks of pakistani eggs are often anaemic which meant that the custard would have less warmth in its colour. the oven i grew up baking in was fuelled by gas and its only consistency was the inconsistency of temperature. this would mean that sometimes the custard would be pockmarked at the edges.

i do not know how baba would feel about the flecks of real vanilla. i know that oftentimes the love of a particular food, object or item of clothing is about familiarity. good quality vanilla beans are hard to come by in pakistan and so vanilla essence is the gold standard. that said, i know that he would more than approve of the smooth texture along with the ample ring of deep liquid caramel.

so baba, here is to you on father’s day and to crème caramel in the near future.

o eating crème caramel
{crème caramel} 
a mixture of nigel slater's and dan lepard's recipes 

five hundred ml whole or jersey milk 
a vanilla bean 
one hundred grams caster sugar 
a splash of water 
four egg yolks 
two whole eggs 
eighty grams caster sugar 

you will need six crème caramel moulds, a large roasting dish that will accommodate them comfortably and a sieve to strain the custard. i would recommend filling your kettle before you make the crème caramel. you will need boiling water for the roasting tray when it is time to bake. pre-heat the oven to one hundred and fifty celsius. 

slit the vanilla bean through its centre and place it in a pan with the milk. bring the milk to a boil and then set it aside for the vanilla to infuse. now make the caramel. 

use a light coloured pan to do this as it will allow you to witness the caramelisation process. this is helpful in indicating when the caramel is ready. you do not want to burn the sugar. place a hundred grams of sugar in a light coloured saucepan and add a splash of water. bring the mixture to a boil. it will be furious and make its anger known. boil hard until you get a deep almost reddish amber coloured caramel. pour a little into the base of each mould, swirling straightaway so that it coats the bottom. set aside. 

separate the yolks of four eggs into a bowl (save the whites using them to make meringues). add the remaining two whole eggs and sugar to the yolks and whisk to a uniform mixture. retrieve the vanilla bean from the milk. run the tip of a knife along the split to gather its seeds. add these to the milk. introduce the milk in a steady flow to the egg mixture, whisking consistently. 

boil the kettle before straining equal amounts of the custard into each mould. place the roasting tray on the centre rack of the oven. pour the boiling water into the roasting tray until at least halfway and preferably two-thirds up the side of the moulds. bake for forty minutes or until fully set. you can work this out by gently shaking the custard. it should barely wobble. 

when done, lift out and allow it to cool fully before chilling. i find that crème caramel improves when you allow it to sit over night and chill. when you are ready to serve, unmould it by running a knife around the edges and invert it swiftly. it should plop onto the plate easily. i recommend using a shallow bowl to capture all of the liquid caramel.


  1. This looks amazing!!

    1. thank you! creme caramel is such a sublime dessert.

  2. You write so beautifully M.

    That creme caramel too- beautiful.

    1. wouldn't it be lovely to make one infused with pandan leaves?