If you live in Paris for a while, you stop noticing the curlicued metro signs. The dusky grey rooftops pass you by. Horror of horrors, you stop being a bohemian and start acting like an estate agent, or your mum.
Newly glamourous things become: only two flights of stairs instead of six! Now you can afford to forget things.
You have an actual balcony. Big enough for one person and a martini, what luxury!
The kitchen boasts the space for kettle and a toaster!
You get to live in your flatmate’s wardrobe for 400 euros a month. You might have to walk through her room to get to the bathroom. Or the front door. But privacy is expensive here.
Space is at a premium. Other people sigh over our real human-sized bath, a luxury I only now appreciate. Bubbles and steam and scalding heat. But I lust for a proper oven, not our table top microwave-oven. It whirs and beeps enthusiastically, but can only cook a sad six cupcakes at a time.
On the other hand, it’s Paris. Land of profiteroles, where strawberries line the streets. You buy your pastries, you don’t make them.
Still, I made a deal. My bath for her crème brûlée torch. A roaring flame thrower to toughen up these girlishly pretty pink custards, baked in the shape of boats. Just raspberries and cream, really. A little stirring, baking at a low heat even a baby oven can handle, then a sprinkle of sugar and a fiery blast from the torch.
For elegance – and ease – you can make nougatine as well, lace-thin chocolate crackle that you snap into an approximation of sails for the little pink boats. Raspberries and chocolate, smooth cream and crunchy almonds. All in a little Paris kitchen for the price of a bubble bath.
And note, I don’t even like crème brûlée normally: too sticky-rich, sluggish cold cream. These are different, they have a subtle flavour without being gimicky. And I used silicon boat-shaped moulds that make them irresistable.
Raspberry crème brûlée with chocolate nougatine
serves an elegant 6
200g raspberry puree (start with 400g frozen raspberries)
180g egg yolk, about 8 yolks
50g sugar + more for serving
Heat oven to 100C.
In a small saucepan, bring to the boil the milk, cream and raspberry puree. (If you can’t find puree, whiz some frozen raspberries in the blender then push through a sieve.)
Whisk egg yolk and sugar to a thick glossy texture. Pour half of the hot raspberry liquid into it, keep whisking (you don’t want to scramble the eggs). Add it all and mix well.
Pour into ramekins, small oven proof dishes or silicon moulds on a oven tray. Bake for 30 minutes: the surface will darken and the custard will just set. Springy to the touch but no longer liquid.
Let them cool at room temperature. For silicon moulds, freeze them, then pop them out. Freeze again in a plastic bag or let them defrost on the serving plates. Sprinkle with an even layer of sugar and burn them with a torch or under the grill.
Chocolate nougatine sails
35g glucose (or golden syrup would do)
30g dark chocolate
110g almonds, chopped very finely
Preheat oven to 165C. Place chocolate in a small bowl on top of the oven to melt.
In a small saucepan, heat butter, sugar, milk and glucose (or golden syrup). When the butter has melted and the sugar dissolved, add the melted chocolate and almonds, stir well.
Tip the mix out onto a large baking tray lined with paper. Spread it out a little, then place another sheet of baking paper on top and roll out the chocolate mix as thin as you can. It should be at least 20x30cm, until the nougatine is almost transparent. Bake for 12-15 minutes to a crisp crackly texture.
Break off into long triangles and serve with crème brûlée. Store the rest between baking paper in a tin, keep for weeks.