Creme angliase. Photo by Donna Turner Ruhlman.

A perfect crème anglaise. Photo by Donna Turner Ruhlman.

The television personality and cookbook author Ted Allen stirred up a shit storm this week by calling me out on my hatred of the round wooden spoon, which he apparently has the hots for. He happened to mention our exchange at a City Harvest event to Eric Ripert, executive chef of Le Bernardin, one of the finest restaurants in the country, with whom I’ve worked closely, who added a little more caca to the pot by tweeting “Crème anglaise? Since the days of Escoffier, stir with a wood spoon, Ruhlman.”

He then phoned me to further faire caca into my cell phone until he conceded that it was the wood, not a round wood spoon, then was evasive, said a client had just arrived. But he handed the phone to his British-born, French-trained pastry chef, Laurie Moran, veteran of Per Se and Daniel in NYC and hired to fill the rather large shoes of chef Michael Laiskonis. Chef Moran’s response: everyone should use a rubber spatula. I did not disagree. He added that one needs a flat edge to fully sweep the bottom of the pot to lift the cooking egg yolk.

(Ted Allen, meanwhile, was tweeting that if I cooked my Anglaise properly, I shouldn’t need to worry about the bottom of the pan and therefore his round wooden spoon still wins.)

I asked Moran about a whisk. He said, as deferential as only Brits can be, that while one would certainly whisk the sugar and yolks thoroughly, you would never whisk the pot when all the ingredients were combined as he sensed—sensed meaning a cook’s intuition based on a lifetime of cooking—that a whisk would alter the texture of the sauce, something Eric also noted. He did stress the importance of the effectiveness of the spatula at sweeping clean the bottom of the pot as the custard sauce cooked (at which point I steek out my tongue at the venerable Monsieur Allen).

I hold firm that while even I feel a ’70s-ish nostalgia for the round wooden spoons that filled my childhood suburban kitchen, the round wooden spoon is an emblem of thoughtlessness of the American cook, an icon of kitchen ignorance and, in that ignorance, downright depravity, and therefore must take a militant stance on the stupid round wooden spoon, ask for a round wooden spoon intervention by Mr. Allen’s family and close friends, and suggest a burning of them in Cleveland’s public square.

Battle of the spoon, paddle, and spatula.

From top: heatproof rubber spatula, flat-edged wood spoon, American emblem of ignorance.

But then—and I say this with a heavy heart, something not mentioned either in my my Stupid Kitchen Tools video nor Mr. Allen’s—a world in which someone has spent money to invent, manufacture, and advertise the Rollie Eggmaster, arguably the stupidest cooking tool ever invented, hilariously demoed by Stephen Colbert on Tuesday, well, it makes one feel fairly certain that human beings are not long for this world. The Rollie Eggmaster is the beginning of the end of our species.

Until then, make a proper crème Anglaise. Here are Chef Moran’s proportions, halved, to make 500 grams rather than a kilo.

Crème Anglaise

  • 294 grams milk
  • 73.5 grams cream
  • 1 vanilla bean, halved lengthwise
  • 59 grams egg yolk
  • 73.5 grams sugar
  1. Bring the milk, cream, and vanilla bean to a simmer in a saucepan, then remove the pan from the heat and let the bean steep for 10 minutes or longer.
  2. Meanwhile, set a bowl in ice and put a strainer in the bowl.
  3. Remove the bean, scrape out the seeds, and return them to the pot. Put the empty bean pod in your sugar bowl.
  4. In a bowl, whisk together the yolks and sugar thoroughly.
  5. Bring the milk and cream back to a simmer. Pour about half of it into the yolks, whisking continuously, then pour it all back into the pan with the remaining milk and cook over medium heat, stirring continuously with a rubber spatula (or flat-edged wood spoon) until the sauce thickens to nappe consistency (when you lift the spatula out, you can draw a finger through the sauce).
  6. Pour it through the strainer into the bowl set in ice, and stir with the spatula until the sauce has cooled.

Yield: 500 grams crème anglaise, a little more than 2 cups

 

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© 2013 Michael Ruhlman. Photo © 2013 Donna Turner Ruhlman. All rights reserved.

 

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59 Wonderful responses to “Final Word on Battle of the Spoons
(with Crème Anglaise)”

  • Jessica @ Burlap and Butter Knives

    I can almost hear the word FUCK dying to escape your lips a gazillion times in this post. How you held your composure I have no idea. You my dear, are FUCKING amazing.

    Rounded wooden spoons are quite possibly the most unevolved kitchen tool ever. The world needs your edge, and we need it badly.

    It is my theory that they worked well back in the day when women cooked in cauldrons, things with a rounded bottom, much like myself. Yet as time went on, pots and pans changed shape, yet the utensil did not. Why this never caught on is beyond me. This person that wants to spew shit at you, it perhaps he needs a time out in the corner with the dunce cap on to ponder what it is that has his panties so in a bunch over this?! Is he just pissed he didn’t think of it first? Get over it Allen. The flat edge wooden spoon is by far the most superior tool to bring your creme to nappe!

  • Melanie

    And speaking of FUCK, who the fuck thought it was too hard to mix eggs with stuff and cook it all in a pan, even WITH a round-wooden spoon? A machine to cook eggs in a tube shape? Criminy…

  • TNF

    Did I misremember a tweet from you denigrating the silicone spatula? If not, congrats on rethinking this.

  • Vane

    I will definitely try the heatproof rubber spatula the next time I make ice cream. It seems logical that it’s more functional and adaptable to today’s pots and pans than the “American Emblem of Ignorance”. Also, since we are all being honest and direct with our opinions, it’s disappointing to see how many people buy any crappy and pointless kitchen gadget that is advertised (ie: rollie egg master), but I truly think that they don’t know any better, so I try to not hold it against them..or try not to..Knowledge is power.

  • Brett

    You know I have a (round) wooden spoon, and I use it ALL THE TIME. Not for sauces, because as you say it’s not great at getting everything moving off the bottom of the pan, but I bought 3 of them for 50 cents, and they do a fantastic job if all I want to do is keep some chicken moving around in a frying pan, or mix my pasta with my (store-bought) sauce.

    They also do a good job if you want to fence with your spouse or child (away from the stove).

  • Ed

    Man, thanks for turning me on the to Rollie! Didn’t know about it. Got to get one! I’ve got a space for it right next to my Slap Chop (R). :-)

  • jeff

    wouldn’t a round spoon be better for a saucier, or any pot with rounded bottom edges?

    • Michael Ruhlman

      still not enough surface area. spatula def best for saucier pan.

  • Kanani

    Thank you. After covering war stories, I needed some balance. However, me thinks an armistice agreement might not be easily drafted between the two warriors in this battle.

  • Andrea

    Hahaha! I’m with Michael– I use my Le Crueset silicone “spoonula” (a cross between a flattened spoon shape and a spatula) all the time. In fact, I have several. I inherited some history-laden wooden spoons from my grandmother, aunt and mother and they occupy sentimental space in the utensils caddy, but they NEVER get put to use. Nor should they. Done and done.

  • Teri

    my favorite is a 99 cent heat proof spatula from Wally World, I buy them in bulk they are not overly springy perfect for stirring.

  • Rachel

    In my house, the only use for a round wooden spoon is stirring kool-aid. Just because that’s what we used when I was a kid drinking kool-aid. Sometimes nostalgia wins over functionality.

  • Tom Jensen

    Finally, a real controversy. I hope this doesn’t come to blows but it is a serious issue. On a side note, I , like Michael, don’t like kitchen gadgets, But the cherry pitter? How can you not like the cherry pitter, you rat bastard. And don’t get me started on the pineapple corer. That is the gadget of the century. WOODEN SPOONS RULE!

  • Ted Allen

    Wow, that Rollie thing should get somebody arrested. I would link to it myself, but I’m afraid I might help them sell one. Please, nobody show this product to my mom.

    • Tom Jensen

      Ted, I think even Popiel turned that one down. The cooking the eggs in the frying pan looked like he was having some sort of seizure.

  • Mary Alice Kropp

    I LOVE my round wooden spoon! I use it to stir my vodka martini, and cook the boneless, skinless chicken breast for my Chicken Ceasar Salad. ;) ;) ;)

  • Tom Jensen

    The wooden spoon is the tool of the proletariat. The rubber spatula is nothing more than a result of everything that is wrong in a post industrial revolution world. The entire spatula making process is the highest evolution of capitalism, wherein the system produces commodities as opposed to practical goods and is determined privately instead of socially. That’s it Ruhlman, I’m burning your book Ratio with a 3 to 1 mixture of kerosene and gas.

  • Tom Jensen

    I’m not sure if this controversy will ever end. The only way to settle this is a good old fashioned “dance-off.” Otherwise, the FoodNetwork overnights are going to get awkward when group spooning.

  • Linda Civitello

    Michael, the answer lies in the history of utensils. In the late 19th century, the French invented a silver that was alloyed w/aluminum. It was harder than silver, and did not tarnish. You know how reactive aluminum is — stick it in a milk-egg mixture, and you’ve got a lovely shade of gray. Also, silver will tarnish in the presence of hydrogen sulfide, which is produced by cooked eggs. Before stainless steel, the only other option was wood. Scientific American. / New Series, Volume 20, Issue 11, Mar 13, 1869. See also, McGee, On Food and Cooking. Scribner, 2004; pp. 789-790. I am the author of Cuisine and Culture: a History of Food and People, 3rd ed., Wiley, 2011.

  • Dean

    Couldn’t you and Ted agree on a wooden dodecahedron spoon? It’d be nearly round while still having the flat edge you wish for? Maybe you could inspire our Congress to find ways to compromise. Wait.. never happen. Carry on with your feud.

    • ruhlman

      doing some serious procrastination and actually watched this. hilarious. which proves I’m still thirteen years old.

      • Tom Jensen

        Welcome to my world..Michael, I used to work for Mark Daverio until he kicked me out of the kitchen for cutting myself too much as well as everyone around me. The final straw came after cutting a hole in my cutting glove. After that he made me wait tables.

  • Susan

    Like Andrea, I cherish utensils inherited from my grandmothers, including a spoon with ridged handle like the third one in the second photo. But for stirring I use a flat-edged bamboo paddle from Chinatown, alternating with a slim-bladed seamless silicon spatula.

    Must say I’m enjoying this little spat.

  • Eric S.

    The Rollie Eggmaster just made me die a little on the inside. While admittedly the nuances of fast-paced egg cookery can be complicated (having just re-read your harrowing account of bibimbap assembly with Chef Pardus) that one even surpasses the “Set It, and Forget It” (aka, crock pot) or the slap chop (aka, knife). Just when I think my lecturing friends on the beauty of homemade mayonaisse is kicking in, I’m quickly reminded of the 10dozen other things that are dooming us completely…

  • Catherine

    Many years ago, when I was first learning to cook (self taught) I never thought twice when I saw the words, “stir with a wooden spoon” in a recipe. I always used something else, that to me, seemed more practical. Fact was, I didn’t own a single wooden spoon, preferring other tools like a spatula. But after years of seeing “stir with a wooden spoon” in countless recipes, I was beginning to wonder if I was missing something. Was there some magical thing that happened, some change of texture for example, that happened with the use of a wooden spoon? Finally, a few years ago, I bought a wooden spoon and gave it a try. It only took one try to realize that “stir with a wooden spoon” was just as I had always thought; it was a ridiculous instruction. The wooden spoon is still hanging out with other utensils in my kitchen, but it’s the one utensil that never gets used. Bravo, Michael!

  • Bobby Jay

    To complicate matters further, I have had cooking lessons in France where they have told me that a plastic or silicon spatula (maryse) works well, one cannot use the finger method to see if it is correctly nappé. So where that’s important I use wood (not a spoon, of course), but perhaps I should rethink this and go with the spatula, given the fancy chefs who use them.

  • Jennifer

    Weirdly, I use long wooden spoons to stir bread dough together before I let it sit and autolyse and then knead. But I use the wrong end. There is something about the diameter that is just perfect for bringing the dough together without so much surface area that I have to scrape half of it back off. That’s pretty much my use for my round wooden spoons. But I have 6 rubber spatulas. This is friggen hysterical.

  • Angelina

    I use rounded wooden spoons and they have worked great for all my stirring needs. I despise wooden spatulas and I never expose plastics to heat in my kitchen (yes, yes I know everyone says it’s safe but I don’t do it). I use metal spatulas for spatula work and round wooden spoons for stirring. I can see I’m in a minority here and I’m totally fine with that.

  • Witloof

    I am with you on the wooden spoon except for one thing. It is utterly indispensable for making Hasselback potatoes.

  • former butcher

    I remember having some pretty stout wooden spoons broken over my backside when I needed it.

  • Ed

    This traditional/nostalgia vibe about the wooden spoon reminds me of an old joke.

    A newly wed (newlywed?) couple decides to hold Easter dinner at their house to bond the separate families. The wife cooks a ham and slices a few inches off one end of the ham. The husband asks “Why?”. The wife says, “That’s what my mother always did. That is how you cook a ham”. The husband is curious, but doesn’t pursue it.

    The next year the wife’s mother hosts the Easter dinner and ham is served (of course it is served, this is a joke). Sure enough there are a few inches missing from the ham. The husband asks the wife’s mother “Why?”. She answers “That’s what MY mother always did. You HAVE to do that to cook a ham”. The husband is still curious and feels he is not getting closer to the answer.

    The following year the wife’s grandmother hosts Easter and ham is served. The ham is placed on the table and yes there are a few inches missing. The husband asks “Why?”. The grandmother promptly answers “It won’t fit in my pot otherwise”.

  • Jessica

    I’ve never liked wooden utensils (for anything). I’ve kept the one’s I’ve inherited over the years, but I don’t use them that much.
    Despite this, I’ve never had success with a traditional creme anglais. Custard using (corn) starch, fine. Creme anglais, not so much.

  • Rebecca

    While I’m enjoying the battle of the spoons, I’ve got to declare Donna the winner, because that photo is beyond beautiful and informative for gods sake. You will from this point on always remember how a creme anglais is supposed to pool when dripped for any ole kind of spoon.

  • ericn1300

    Over thirty five years ago I was passed down a rice cooker and and rice paddle from my mother when I moved out to go to school. i still have the wooden rice paddle, an elegant piece straight on all the edges with just a mild curve and spoon like indent to the blade. She bought it when we lived in Japan in the late 1960′s and I love it, nothing better for scrapping out a pan of sticky rice

  • Goober

    Anyone who buys a Rollie Eggmaster should be forcibly sterilized by the government.

    The best use of a wooden spoon is to punish a small child.

  • Wilma de Soto

    To Ted Allen: You’re cool and all that, but I have to say sorry that Ruhlman’s “S&M”, (Spank and Mix), Spoons rule!

  • Creed Tucker

    A heatproof rubber spatula is neither stiff enough for deglazing, nor heat proof enough for stirring roux. The wooden spoon (deglazing) and wooden flat-edge (roux) are perfect for those functions. Spoons are for soup.

  • Darcy

    Last Summer I had a Local Wood worker Create me a flat edged “Spoon”. It was a hybrid of 2 tools he was already producing, a Large Wooden Spoon and a smaller tool that he coined a “Stir Fry Tool”, he specialized in a handle with a ergonomic Shape for righties or lefties. The Tool he came up with for me is amazing and does a great job on pretty much anything I apply it too. The woodworker also continues to Produce these new creations as what he calls a Jam Tool. Thanks for the Idea Micheal. You are Right and Mr. Allen is wrong.

    DW

  • Helena

    I’m a little late to the party but really enjoyed reading your post and everyone’s comments. Is there a right and wrong? I think it’s whatever works for you. I love my heatproof rubber spatulas, but hey… I’m Italian, and my sauce must always be stirred with a wooden spoon! ;)

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