CrèmE of the Crop
By: Saehee Cho
Photography by: Lauren Pisano
My first job in a commercial kitchen was as the pastry chef at a mid-level restaurant in Pasadena. The interview consisted of a reality-show-esque challenge where I was asked to make a dessert out of a mystery assortment of ingredients.
Without prior professional experience and mostly by luck, I got the job. Unlike most of the other chefs I hadn’t gone to culinary school and was encountering the terminology and more technical aspects of kitchen work for the first time. Maybe it was because I was a woman in a mostly male work environment or maybe it was because I have a competitive streak or some kind of misguided pride but it felt important to me that I’d never be seen as less competent than my peers in the kitchen, despite not having attended culinary school.
My first day on the job the chef asked me to make Crème Anglaise for that night’s dessert – a molten chocolate cake. Despite never having heard of the sauce, I agreed. It didn’t even feel like an option to admit ignorance. These were not chefs that would gently walk me through the step of sauce-making. Panicked, I took an early lunch break and googled “Crème Anglaise” feverishly on my phone, scanning through dozens of recipes and trying to memorize proportions and ratios in my head.
If you’ve ever made a custard or egg-yolk based sauce, you know how temperamental the process can be. The sauce turns to scrambled egg without constant stirring and low, low heat. The first 2 batches were disasters, resembling something closer to an omelette than sauce. Finally on my third try I started to get a sense of how to control the heat and understood that I needed to get the egg mixture to the same temperature as the cream mixture. More than anything, through trial and error, I learned I needed to be patient with the sauce---there is no rushing custard. Now, almost 7 years later, I can still recall the enormous satisfaction I felt when serving the sauce to my first customers.
I’ve been making this sauce ever since and now love how finicky it is, how it requires and demands so much attention. It’s a bratty sauce, it doesn’t want to listen and each time I make it, I take pleasure in winning it over.
Saehee's Coconut Crème Anglaise
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup coconut milk
1 vanilla bean (scraped)
3/4 cup sugar
5 egg yolks
1. In a large mixing bowl whisk together the egg yolks and sugar until the mixture reaches ribbon consistency. The yolks should become foamy and turn pale yellow. This requires a certain amount of arm strength. Use a mixer if you have one available. Set aside.
2. In a medium pot heat up the heavy cream, coconut milk, and vanilla bean and bring to a light simmer.
3. Spoon about 2-3 tablespoons of the heated cream mixture into the egg mixture and whisk to combine. Do this 3-4 more times until the egg mixture slowly reaches up to approximately the same temperature as the cream mixture. This ensures that the egg yolks don't turn into scramble eggs.
4. Add the egg mixture into the pot and slowly heat your sauce on low, stirring consistently every couple minutes to make sure the sauce doesn't thicken too quickly. Slow and low heat will make the sauce silkier. This should take about 15-30 minutes.
5. The sauce is done when it can coat the back of a metal spoon without slipping off.
6. Strain in a fine mesh strainer and let cool to room temperature before refrigerating.