Anglaise

Have wanted to write about this basic and wonderful all-purpose, workhorse dessert sauce, also describe its ratio, and importantly, show off some of Donna's work (which, frankly, doesn't come off as purdy in the book as is does here).  I love two things about these photos: first, they are all about texture and lighting, difficult qualities to capture but the essence of black and white.  A juicy steak with vivid chillis and a poached egg, yolk oozing over it all is easy to get right.  A plain sauce in black and white, that's tricky.  But more, what these photographs show is that this amazing sauce, vanilla sauce, creme Anglaise in French, is fantastic in many different ways depending on how you manipulate the texture.  If you just cook it and cool it, it's the sauce above.  If you freeze it, it's ice cream (the best vanilla ice cream there is, in fact).  If you thicken it with starch, it becomes pastry cream, creme patissiere, and if you bake it in a water bath, it becomes silky creme brulee.  Truly one preparation that's all about the texture you want to bring it to.  Texture these black and whites describe.

Patissiere

Pastry Cream (Creme patissiere)

Ice cream 

Ice Cream!

Brulee 

Creme Brulee

One recipe, four preparations.  And yes I do have a ratio for it, 4:1:1:

Vanilla Sauce: 4 parts milk/cream : 1 part yolk : 1 part sugar

or:

8 ounces milk

8 ounces cream

1 vanilla bean split down the middle

4 ounces sugar (about half a cup)

4 ounces yolk (about 7 large yolks)

Combine milk, cream, and vanilla bean in a sauce pan and bring up the heat till just before it simmers; remove from heat and allow the bean to steep while you prepare an ice bath (a large bowl of ice, with a small bowl set in the ice, with a strainer set in the bowl—you'll be straining the hot sauce into the cold bowl to halt its cooking).

Combine the eggs and sugar and whisk to combine (some people add the sugar to the cream which is fine, too).

Scrape the vanilla beans out of the pod and into the cream (put the pod in some sugar for vanilla sugar).

Bring the cream just  to a simmer, whisk some of it into the yolks to temper them, then add the remaining cream while whisking.  Pour it all back into the pot, strirring with a heatproof rubber spatula over medium heat until it's thick, a minute or 2 or more depending on your heat.  Don't boil it our you'll harden the egg.  Immediately strain the coats-the-back-of-a-spoon-thick sauce into the ice cold bowl and stir with the spatula till it's chilled. 

The sauce can be used as is (over berries, a tart, a slice of chocolate cake), or it can be be frozen in your ice cream machine.  Same ingredients, but a little different preps, will give you creme patissiere and creme brulee.

Does it sound complicated?  It's not.  If you're, organized the whole process takes about 12 minutes.  And it's sooo good, you'll want to stand at your kitchen counter with a spoon in your hand, sauce dripping down your chin, your fingers sticky and sweet.

UPDATE POST MIDNIGHT, 4/17: It is the irony of fate that i was to join a conversation at NYU this afternoon hosted by a group called Experimental Cuisine Collective, in itself a lucky sitution, and so had requested an early copy of a new book by French chemist and gastronomer Hervé This, because I thought it might be interesting fodder.  The book is Building a Meal: From Molecular Gastronomy to Culinary Conservatism.   I found it on the bed of my hotel room in a padded yellow envelope.  The next day, yesterday, I found myself, one hand on an overhead bar, rattling back and forth on the F train from 57th to W 4th, reading this, exactly while the below comments were being written.  Coincidence?  Yes.  But still:

The curious thing is that in the realm of cooking the question of preservation should be posed by scientists and not by cooks themselves, who have blithely gone about changing it in various ways, following their own aesthetic tastes.  No one today any longer makes custard, for example, the way people did a hundred years ago.  The number of egg yolks per quart (as many as 16) seemed excessive, and it was reduced without anyone wondering whether there was a law against changing the proportion.  Cooks fixed up this or that room of the ancestral home without trying to form an overall idea of it, without imagining the long-term consequences of what they were doing.
    The time has come to ask what we can renovate and what we ought to preserve. …

    —Hervé This

I am grateful for this conversation and all of the following passionate and articulate comments. More please!