Sunday, June 05, 2005

Verily Nutmeggy

Can you smell the fumes? Posted by Hello

I am quite the hoarder of kitchen miscellany. But my kitchen being the size of a galley, it's really a habit I can't afford. Every available surface is cluttered with gear - it's gotten so out-of-hand it's spilled out into the living room, haphazardly piled onto some shelves. So for the longest time, I resisted acquiring a nutmeg mill as a show of self-discipline, figuring that hey, every little bit counts, no? And today, I remain a proudly nutmeg mill-less cook. You see, I've since discovered through sheer chance that my Microplane grater can do it all, and if you ask me, do it better. The gratings fall from the razor sharp edges fine yet fluffy. This texture, as opposed to a powdery one, makes nutmeg taste, well, more like nutmeg.

If you pay heed to the Nigella-ism that nothing channels your latent domestic goddess like "trailing nutmeggy fumes of baking pie", then the custard tart literally (and conveniently) puts two and two together for you. I use pate brisee instead of pate sucree for my tart case, finding its crisp structure a better foil for the velvety filling, its slight saltiness a pleasing contrast to the sweetly eggy depths. For the filling, I stir together eggs, sugar, hot milk, and pure vanilla extract (you could infuse the milk with a split vanilla bean instead), omitting the cream many recipes call for as I find that with cream added, as much as I enjoy my first forkful, it gets too cloying to eat beyond the third. And having learnt from Cook's Illustrated's wonderful baking companion, Baking Illustrated, that the addition of cornstarch eradicates the dreaded rubbery filling perimeter issue, I now add a soupcon of the thickener. You don't detect it in the finished tart - the good team player that it is, it remains strictly backstage so the other ingredients can shine.

Custard tarts may seem plain, but there is goodness in their plainness. All that remains to be done is a fine showering of freshly grated nutmeg once you pull the tart out of the oven, as the heat immediately releases the spice's volatile oils, the very essence of nutmeggy-ness. Nutmeg's warm yet delicate perfume is the perfect added fillip to the soothing custardy blandness. How much, of course, is up to you - from a suspicion of nutmeg, as the French say, to imbueing the whole by infusing the milk right in the beginning. While good cold from the fridge, custard tart is at its baveuse, voluptuous best when it has nearly but not quite cooled, with just a whisper of lingering warmth.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello J

would you happen to know if the Microplane grater that does the job for nutmeg, will also be suitable for grating lemon zest? We have been thinking about this but.. Microplane makes a few different graters and since you possibly have used their products, would you be able to comment?

5:51 pm, June 05, 2005  
Blogger J said...

the microplane model i have comes with two grating attachments - one fine, the other coarse. the fine one i use for garlic, ginger, citrus zest, and nutmeg among other things. the coarse i tend to use for grating hard cheeses. its perfect for lemon zest; i don't know of any other grater on the market (with the exception of accutec graters made by cuisipro)that so effortlessly and efficiently zests without getting any of the pith.

9:02 pm, June 05, 2005  
Blogger the baker said...

hey there,

just happened to come across your blog and i must say, you have a very unique style of writing. your description is almost lyrical. lovely lovely. being a writer myself, i can tell when someone simply has that flair and you're definitely one of them. i have to agree with you on the beauty of custard tarts despite their plain glory. i just tried making some egg tarts and it's amazing. anyway kudos to you for having made puff pastry (read that in your previous post). that's something i have yet to try, but hope to achieve someday. anyway keep up the brill writing and cooking! cheers...

5:52 pm, June 06, 2005  
Blogger J said...

hi The Baker

thank you very much for your lovely feedback - i'm thrilled! i very recently left my publishing job to freelance - hence the time for this blog...

btw, your blog is awesome - very vogue entertaining/donna hay in feel. love your style!

6:37 pm, June 06, 2005  
Anonymous R. said...

Might I add that yours is Very Nigella... love the blog!

10:27 am, July 03, 2005  
Blogger Missy said...

I just found your blog and I think it is fabulous! I so enjoy it that I started reading from your first blog until I am current. Your style of writing is indeed lyrical I feel like I am reading a novel. Love the cookie ideas and all of the desserts.

6:26 am, November 19, 2010  

Post a Comment

<< Home