Food waste is the worst, and leftover egg whites stripped of their happy yolks are perhaps some of the most dejected forms of food waste one might unwittingly find in a kitchen. It feels so, so wrong to pour them down the drain, and let’s drop the pretense – the very concept of an egg white omelet is itself wrong.
So while recipes that call for 7 egg yolks and one egg white might sound like a bright idea with its lures of yielding a dense, silky, custard in an infantile buttercup tint, the aftermath is quite literally its complement.
Lucky for us, with a bit of reverse engineering, we can get a custard just as rich, if not richer. You can do the precise math if you want – not that difficult, but to save myself from complicating a dessert that’s meant to be the sweet parallel to French-girl makeup (that is, unfussy and charmingly imperfect), might I turn your attention to heavy cream.
You may have learned this in grade 9 home ec, or you may have learned through osmosis that egg whites consist of protein and a huge amount of water. Milk consists of protein, butterfat, sugar, and also a huge amount of water. Cream is just milk, duped with butterfat to until it is around 35-40% fat, while by default lowering the proportion of protein, sugar, and water. Egg yolks consist of protein, fat, and water. (Yes, I know I know this is all very dumbed down and ignores nutrients like iron, B vitamins, magnesium, blah blah blah but last time I checked nobody’s eating pot de crèmes for their micros anyway.)
Comparing egg yolks and whites, the difference is fat. Then if you look at a few pot de crème recipes on the weird and wonderful world wide web, you’ll find that most recipes either call for a mixture of milk and heavy cream, or light cream. Putting two and two together, one can basically come to the conclusion that if one were to significantly reduce the amount of fat and increase the proportion of water in the “eggs” part of the equation, one would need to significantly increase the amount of fat and decrease the proportion of water in the “milk” part to maintain the overall equilibrium.
Conclusion? Use heavy cream. Not thinned out with milk, no, just pure heavy cream.
Now this does have some ramifications, the resulting custard will be quite white, for lack of a better word. It will also be less eggy. What that means is it will really need some boosting in flavour so that it will match the textural richness. That means use vanilla paste (I’m too cheap for vanilla beans, but don’t you dare use vanilla extract for this). That also means it’s the perfect vessel for other high intensity components, such as burnt caramel, which is usually quite challenging to incorporate into anything at all (don’t come to me calling anything golden brown burnt – by burnt caramel, I mean it is two seconds from setting off your smoke alarm).
Whole Egg Pot de Crèmes
- 4 large organic whole eggs (I’m usually not that anal about using organic in baking, but there’s really no hiding in this recipe)
- 2 c heavy cream
- 1/3 c sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla bean paste
- 1/2 tsp sea salt
- In a saucepan, scald the cream (bring it up almost to a simmer, but do not boil). You can also do this in the microwave – do about 2 minutes on high, stir, then another 30 seconds or so until it’s steaming.
- In a large bowl, whisk the eggs, sugar, vanilla, and salt vigorously until the sugar is dissolved and no streaks remain.
- While whisking, stream in the hot cream until fully incorporated.
- Strain the mixture into a beaker through a sieve to get rid of any chalazae (tough bits of egg white). DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP. Chalazae ruin everything in a custard – they’re like the sinews on a steak, a flour pocket in a pancake.
- Pour the custard mixture evenly into 8 small jars/ramekins, whatever you have that won’t melt in an oven.
- If there are many air bubbles on your custard’s surface, blast them with a blowtorch – they’ll disappear instantly.
- Place them in a large baking dish and add about an inch of hot water to the dish.
- Bake at 300 degrees F for about 40 minutes, or until the sides are set but the middle still juggles when the dish is tapped.
- Cool completely, cover in clingfilm, and chill for 4 hours or preferably overnight.
- 2/3 c sugar
- 1/3 c water
- Remove the custards from the fridge, unwrap them, and have them ready nearby.
- Add the water to a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan and sprinkle the sugar in so that it sinks in an even layer.
- Bring the mixture to a boil over medium-heat, swirling the pan gently a few times throughout if you feel that some parts are dissolving slower.
- Cook the mixture to a dark amber and just beginning to smoke.
- Pour about 1.5 teaspoon of caramel onto each custard, swirling to coat the top evenly in a thin layer. Do this quickly, or the caramel will harden.
- Chill again for 30 minutes until the caramel is set.
- Serve chilled.
Alternatively, pour the caramel over the custards, and wait until the caramel hardens and melts (overnight in the fridge) into a thick syrup, which is my preferred way of eating it.