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.
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.
- 294 grams milk
- 73.5 grams cream
- 1 vanilla bean, halved lengthwise
- 59 grams egg yolk
- 73.5 grams sugar
- 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.
- Meanwhile, set a bowl in ice and put a strainer in the bowl.
- Remove the bean, scrape out the seeds, and return them to the pot. Put the empty bean pod in your sugar bowl.
- In a bowl, whisk together the yolks and sugar thoroughly.
- 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).
- 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
If you liked this post, take a look at these links:
- My post on making your own salted caramel sauce.
- If you are British, nothing goes better then crème anglaise and a steamed pudding.
- Modernist Cuisine has a few interesting takes on desserts for the home chef.
- Whip up a batch of banana fritters and dunk them in the crème anglaise.
© 2013 Michael Ruhlman. Photo © 2013 Donna Turner Ruhlman. All rights reserved.