“It’s because I do not have a sweet tooth!” is what I repeat to myself self-complacently and self-righteously every time I am called upon to admit that, when it comes to desserts, puddings and the baking of cakes, I just do not have ‘the touch’.
So when people come over to dinner and ask if they can help in any way, I almost always ask them to bring along the pudding: that way, I am let off the hook and the bonus for them is that they get to choose what they lust after. Another option is for me to resort to the ice-creams of a fabulous Gelateria that is within walking distance of our home. With all sweet-course contingencies thus guarded against, I do not fret and worry over this part of the meal.
Even so, one has to grant at least a passing acknowledgement to the importance of sweetness. Sweetness is, after all, the very first taste we get to experience: mother’s milk! We simply cannot live without ‘sweet’ … and fruits, all fruits, exist to prove to us just how satisfying sweetness is. Newly weds go on a ‘honeymoon’ they don’t go on a ‘salty moon’. And when you love someone, it is perfectly and embarrassingly normal to succumb to terms of endearment that stem entirely from this sensation on the tongue: “honey-pie”, “sweetie”, “sugar”, etc. And, curiously enough, I found out a few years ago, that wine and alcohol in general are all about wanting something sweet too … so all this “I don’t have a sweet tooth” is self-deluded nonsense: even though it’s the dry-white-wine I like to drink, it would appear that, in Ayurvedic terms, alcohol may be viewed as a super-sweet substance metabolized in a manner similar to sugar. This means that when we reach for our glass of wine, it is still, after all, an element of ‘sweetness’ we are after, however dry the wine.
The fact remains that I’d rather drink a glass of wine than prepare something for dessert. And not unnaturally, after one has had a glass of wine the whole idea becomes even less appealing. What to do? The answer is baker’s custard. It’s not a pudding per se but it can act as one and give the impression that you have gone to a lot of trouble over your guests. It acts as an ambassador, speaking on your behalf, showing the dinner guests that you ‘care’.
Make some baker’s custard and serve with fresh fruit. A delight. Dip some cantucci biscuits in it. Mmmmm. Melt some chocolate squares in it. Yummmmm. Break up some amaretti biscuits and add a dollop of baker’s custard and a splodge of your favourite liqueur, and you have understated culinary chic. Add a layer of baker’s custard to a slice of sponge cake and you have a winner. Add some whipping cream to it and you have something seriously moreish. It’s even nice served cold!
I like to make ‘crema pasticcera’ (baker’s custard) because it is just so easy to make and doesn’t take forever!
3 egg yolks (4 if the eggs are very small), the lemon zest of half 1 lemon, 50g sifted flour, 100g brown sugar, 50g icing sugar (it depends on how sweet you want your crema pasticcera to be), a pinch of salt, 500ml milk.
You can use a vanilla pod instead of lemon zest when making crema pasticcera.
Put the lemon zest or the vanilla pod in a pan and add the milk. Add a pinch of salt, bring to the boil, then switch off heat and allow to cool to a little. You can get rid of the lemon zest or the vanilla pod at this point.
Put the egg yolks in a mixing bowl, add the sugar and the sifted flour and beat well until you get a smooth cream. Add a little bit of the lemon-scented milk, and whisk, then add some more of the milk, and whisk again, and then add the rest of the milk, mixing well.
Pour the mixture into a saucepan and turn on the heat. Keep whisking until the mixture thickens into a cream!
Done! …. Enjoy … and feel justly proud of yourself.