Art of the Pie...and Life by Anne Livingston


If you would like to know how to make the best pie on the planet, the kind that makes chefs cry out with joy, there is a pie class for you. It’s called Art of the Pie, and it’s taught by the warm and delightful Kate McDermott.

Yesterday I went to Kate’s Pie Cottage in Port Angeles and took this class. She keeps her groups tiny so that each of us students can have her full attention when we need it. The intimate nature of the class also helps us feel relaxed, which is important, because her Pastry Tip #1 states, “Keep everything chilled…especially yourself.”

When I was a kid, I first made a pie using a recipe from a cookbook. I had no pastry cutter and used two knives to cut the flour into the butter to make those pea-sized nuggets. Even that first step filled me with angst, worrying I wasn’t doing it right. I was the antithesis of “chilled.” So was my butter, by the time I was through with it.

Remembering my first pie-making moments and then watching Kate in action was a truly freeing experience. She tossed ingredients in, measuring with her hands, laughing and chatting with us. “Every pie is different,” she told us. She showed us how to measure ingredients by eyeballing it.

My inner kid, anxiously trying to get everything right, just relaxed and went along for the ride in her presence. We made pie, and we were chilled. I was actually a little overheated with excitement, but at least I wasn’t filled with angst.

In case you haven’t figured this out yet (I didn’t, at first), her pastry tips are also life tips. Her other two tips are just as vital to an awesome pie--and life.

Kate's Pastry Tip #2: Keep your boundaries.

Kate's Pastry Tip #3: Vent!

Kate showed us how to make these three Pastry Tips a reality. I think my "boundaries" were a little iffy (my pie dripped a bit in the oven), and this class helped me understand how to work on that, at least with my pies. I wonder if working on pie boundaries will help me with boundaries in life. I could see how making pie is a great activity for life meditation. 

This particular class was actually a gluten-free pie class. She teaches the gluten-free ones every once in a while. Making pie without gluten requires a different set of approaches and techniques. For example, using plastic wrap between yourself and your dough is key to working with it.


It also helps to use two different rolling pins: a roller with handles works best for rolling out, and the more slender French rod makes it easiest to transport the dough to the pie plate.

Since I’ve only made pies with wheat flour before, it was especially fun to learn gluten-free pie strategies. Gluten-free baking is a relatively new field, and I felt like a baking pioneer working with these techniques. One of the women in my class experimented with different flours. I was impressed with her baking bravery! Just realizing yesterday how many flours and starches are available to us gives me a sense of many possible adventures with piemaking.

My husband, not a pie-lover, tasted some of this pie and, surprisingly, loved it. Remember, this is gluten-free pie, too. As for myself, many times I have enjoyed a slice of pie, only to leave the crust on the plate. I figured I was not a big fan of pie crust. However, this pie? While eating a slice, I would cut a forkful from the tip, then take a bite of that flavorful crust from the edge. At that rate, the crust was gone before the filling. What magic was happening, here?

If you want to know, I recommend learning with Kate. In addition to her classes at Pie Cottage, she also teaches pie camp! There’s one coming up on Whidbey Island this November in case you want to become a complete pie ninja and, you know, have a transformative life experience. Thank you, Kate!

Winter Jeweled Meringues by Anne Livingston


These crisp and bright cookies are simple to make.  My friend’s grandma calls these “forgotten cookies,” because in dry climates, you can throw them into a pre-warmed oven, turn the oven off, and forget about them overnight.  This is Seattle, however, so a wee bit of remembering is necessary after a couple of hours in a low oven in order to dry them to a perfect crunch.   Decorating the cookies with toasted nuts and zesty dried fruits makes a wintertime treat that tastes fantastic with tea.  They taste best on the day they are made, but they keep fairly well for about a week.


  • 3 eggs
  • ¾ cup superfine sugar (you can make this by whizzing sugar in a food processor for 1 minute)
  • ½ tsp cream of tartar
  • Dash of salt
  • ½ tsp vanilla
  • 1/4 tsp ground cardamom
  •  2 T each of assorted nuts and dried fruits, (such as hazelnuts, pumpkin seeds, dried sour cherries, dried cranberries, candied ginger, and candied citrus peel)


  1. Separate refrigerator-cold eggs, setting aside the egg yolks in the fridge for another use, and letting the egg whites sit at room temperature while working on the rest of the preparations. 
  2. Line two cookie sheets with parchment. Preheat oven to 200°.
  3. Chop the dried fruits into about 1/4 inch pieces, keeping them separate if you want to arrange the "jewels," or mixing them together in a bowl if you plan on sprinkling them randomly. 
  4. If using hazelnuts, toast them in a skillet over medium heat for 3-5 minutes, moving the nuts constantly in the pan, until the toasted aroma wafts from the pan.  Watch carefully to avoid burning the hazelnuts.  Pour the nuts onto an unfolded dishtowel, then gather them together in the towel into a bundle, twisting at the top.  Then squeeze and twist the towel's contents  to rub and coax the hazelnut skins off.   Open the towel, and dust off the nuts.  Chop them until they are about the same size as the fruits. 
  5. If using pumpkin seeds, leave them whole.
  6. To make meringue:
  7. Using a hand mixer or a stand mixer, whip egg whites with cream of tartar and salt on medium-high speed, until they reach the soft peak stage, about 3 minutes. 
  8. Still whipping at medium-high, begin adding the sugar, a slow spoonful at a time, until all the sugar is incorporated into the whites. 
  9. Continue to whip egg whites until they reach the stiff peak stage.  You can determine this if you lift the beater whisk out of the bowl and turn it upside-down, and the egg whites stand straight up. 
  10. Add the cardamom and briefly whip it into the egg whites.
  11. Drop the meringue by the teaspoonful onto the cookie sheets, briefly swirling them smooth and into round cookie shapes.  Placement can be close together, because the cookies will not spread.  
  12. Either carefully arrange or randomly scatter the fruits and nuts all over the cookies to your liking.
  13. Put the cookie sheets into the oven, and bake for 2 hours, moving the cookie sheets to trade positions on the oven shelves after an hour.  At this point, after cooling a cookie and testing for crispness, you can turn the oven off and leave them on their cookie sheets for hours (or days!).  They can also be stored in an airtight container. If they become less crisp, they can be re-dried a bit in a 200° oven for 10 minutes, or until crispness is restored.

Double Chocolate Indulgence by Anne

IMG_6575 Would I call this a chocolate cookie?  It’s airy and crisp on the tender surface, deeply cake-soft inside, and it's dotted with wicked, molten chocolate hotspots throughout.   Having only one is not an option.  Cookie?  It’s more of a dark seduction. This is the kind of recipe to splurge on the finest chocolate, because you might be making excuses and cancelling plans to get alone with these devils.  Don’t say you weren’t warned:  Double Chocolate Indulgence is trouble.

I thank Kristen Schumacher for this mess I’m in now.  She’s the one who modified this recipe from one given to her while she was at Seattle Culinary Academy.   If she weren’t such a gifted flavormaker,  I wouldn’t be here, slapping myself on the hand to keep from eating them all before the bake sale they’re intended for.   Fortunately, it’s a dough that you make ahead, freeze into log shapes, then slice-and-bake when you want them.  But they’re singing their siren song from inside the freezer and it’s a terrible temptation to resist.   

If you don’t want to be stuck alone with a whole batch of these, or if you want to sample treats from a whole lot of great cooks, come to the Seattle Food Blogger Bake Sale this Saturday.  All money goes to Share our Strength, a national organization committed to ending childhood hunger.    The sale is at the Metropolitan Market at the Uptown location – 100 Mercer Street.  It runs from 10 a.m. ‘til noon this Saturday, April 17. 

If you can’t wait until Saturday and would like to have your illicit chocolate experience immediately, here’s Kristen’s recipe.  Have fun!  Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.

Double Chocolate Indulgence

Printed with Permission from Kristen Schumacher of Heirloom Chef

  • 6oz bittersweet chocolate
  • 1 lb semi-sweet chocolate
  • 3 oz unsalted butter
  • 5 eggs
  • 14 oz granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 3 oz cake flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 lb chocolate chips
  • Powdered sugar, for rolling


  1. Place bittersweet and semi-sweet in bowl with butter, and melt in double boiler (or metal bowl inside a similar-sized pot). Scrape sides as it melts- you do not want any chocolate to burn. Cool slightly.
  2. Whip eggs and granulated sugar until fluffy. Add vanilla. Temper the egg mixture into the chocolate by slowly pouring the chocolate into the egg as you stir vigorously. 
  3. Combine flour, baking powder, salt, chocolate chips. Add to the chocolate and egg mixture and stir until combined. Cool the dough until it is firm enough to be handled.
  4. Divide dough into 4-6 portions. Pour dough onto long pieces of parchment. Using the parchment for assistance, roll dough into ropes. Enclose the ropes and refrigerate or freeze until firm (I freeze them).
  5. Once ready to bake, roll ropes in powdered sugar to get the shape you want.  Cut each cookie about ½ inch thick. Bake cookies, double panned at 350˚ for 11-15 minutes. These cook fast. They should be soft in the center and set on the edges, and they will firm up as they cool. Do not overbake!

Makes about 5 dozen cookies

Pink Ladies and Other Candidates by Anne

reclining pink ladies

I've been experimenting this week to maximize the deliciousness in a menu I'm cooking for somone's 40th birthday party on Friday.  I love this menu so much!  It's meant to be munchies, but for people who like interesting flavors.  Fun, fun, fun!

Apple slices with salted caramel dip will be one of the sweets.  I chose this item because I've been fixated on caramelizing sugar lately, ever since that flan.  More on flan some other time--that's a whole separate post.  Meanwhile, about these apples & caramel.

You might have heard that caramel pairs nicely with sour apples, to offset the sweetness of the caramel.  Well, does this really apply to salted caramel, the kind that is made from scratch with grey sea salt?  The kind that is full of depth, mystery, and even the remotest hint of bitterness?  After trying it with the lovely Pink Lady, I'm feeling doubt about the combo.  I tried this with a Jazz apple, which is one of my favorite apples, but it didn't quite do it for me.  I actually paired the Jazz apples with flan, and it tasted lovely, but I think it's because the caramel in the flan is mellowed by the custard. 

Right about now I'm wishing I worked for America's Test Kitchen.  I am a collaborator by nature and thinking into a vacuum like this feels a bit...slow.  I'll bet the people who work for Cook's Illustrated drive to work thinking, "Well, I sure love my job."  They get to do all of this experimenting and they have a bunch of co-workers to talk with about it! How cool would that be? 

My mom just arrived five minutes ago--she's visiting fora couple of days--and she asked if I have tried Fuji with this yet.  Well, no.  So I'll give that a whirl next.  What do you think?  What would you pair with a dark and rich salted caramel?

Gorgeous Glut of Cupcakes by Anne


My friend Ammi loves baking so much that she has often celebrated her own birthday by baking herself a cake.  The whole experience makes her happy, from finding a recipe to try, to taking the first bite with friends.  It's inspired me for several years and has caused me to want to bake cakes, too. 

Since Ammi had a baby, though, baking cakes has taken the back burner--or bottom shelf-- for now.  Instead she chose to celebrate by inviting us to indulge with her in obscenely delicious cupcakes from Trophy Cupcakes.  I could be wrong about this, but only a few years ago it wouldn't have been possible to find an individual cupcake this good.  Nowadays, however, it seems like Seattle cupcake spots are as ubiquitous as coffee shops.  No, that's crazy talk.  But seriously, where did all of these places come from?  How are they staying open?  

I remember hearing around town that gourmet cupcakes were The Thing, and feeling charmed by it.  How long ago was that?  Five years?   I think the trend started with a Sex and the City episode, but wow.  Obviously people were ready for it.  Between those and fine donuts, it's as if our poor little rich country was starving for sweetness and comfort, in small, hand-held servings.  Soon after this Atkins-backlashing phenomenon, there even seemed to be an influx of gourmet carb coma products that weren't even edible, such as buttercream lipgloss. 

I loved the notion of cupcakes.  They are adorable, sweet, like your cute little buddy.  A tiny island of luxury.  So when I first went to pick up a gourmet cupcake at a shop dedicated to these confections several years ago, I was surprised to taste a dry, crumbly cake with a too-sweet frosting that was also a bit dry and crumbly.  I returned to that spot some time later and ordered another cupcake, selecting one that was recently frosted.  Then, at least, there was a chance that the frosting would be soft and creamy.  That worked.  Those two experiences cured my curiosity for awhile, but when I would sit at that shop for the free wi-fi, sometimes I was tired of coffee and obliged to pick up another cupcake to buy my time at the table.  Obligatory cupcake-eating. It was fine, but far from transcendant.  For several years, my feeling was, "Yeah, yeah, cupcakes." I'd try a new, seasonal flavor, but I'd never write home about it.

Fast forwarding to the last year or so, it seems that a new, robust competition has arisen among cupcakeries in the Seattle area.  Nobody has said this, but I sort of get the sense that the place I first tasted a "gourmet" cupcake has become more of a ghetto cupcake place compared to some recent specimens I've sampled. 

Trophy Cupcakes and Wink Cupcakes in particular are both phenomenally dreamy.  These companies seem to make a concerted effort to ensure that their cakes are delicate, moist, and loaded with intense flavor.  The frostings are also not overlooked.  When I first saw the tall layers of frostings on these cupcakes, my stomach turned as I imagined a sickly sweet, yet flavorless goop that was colored with dye to match the cake. However, the frosting is just as thoughtfully prepared-- created to enhance and complement the cake. 

For example, tonight, my lucky husband's "Chocolate Graham Cracker" cupcake was topped with a ridiculously smooth and velvety marshmallow cream, piped on in a textured tower and then toasted with a torch to accentuate this texture in swirling, golden-brown stripes.  That is correct: Michael was eating the most elegant yet playful S'more you ever saw (it's partially pictured on the far right in the pic above).  Also, I was relieved that Rosalie was not interested in the cupcake that I ordered for her, because that lemon cupcake tasted so vibrant next to its coconut frosting, topped with a toasted puff of shredded coconut.

Only now am I starting to respect the cupcake phenomenon.  I mean, if these are supposed to be gourmet cupcakes, I am glad that there are places worthy of the cupcake connoisseurs out there.  And I'm glad that my friend had a chance to enjoy the cake experience that she loves so much, even with her cute little cupcake of a daughter hindering her own birthday baking this year. 


Apple Inspiration by Anne

honeycrisp apples The other day I offered an apple slice to my friend, Heather.  She doesn't care for apples, but I had forgotten this fact.  She politely took it from me, then exclaimed in a surprised voice, "This is delicious!  What kind of apple is this?!"  It was a Honeycrisp. 

This apple is indeed crisp--in an incredibly light and sweet way.  It's an ethereal, angelic apple.  Heather was converted.  That week, she started doing research on Honeycrisp apple trees, to see if she could grow one in her yard.  Her husband kidded her about it, but she said, "Look.  There's a fruit I have hated my entire life.  The other day I ate one that completely converted me.  That is pretty significant."  Wow, when she put it that way, I was pretty moved.  I love foods that change your mind like that.

One thing I don't adore is pie.  I wonder if I can have a conversion experience, too.  The other day I was in a cookie bakeware shop called "Cookies" in Ballard, and the owner and I were chatting about various baking challenges.  She mentioned that Kathy Casey makes apple pie by placing a thin layer of marzipan on top of the crust before filling it with apples.  The marzipan acts as a barrier between the liquidy filling and the crust, which gives the crust a chance to have its own independent, crust-y texture.  This is very intriguing to me, even though I also am not a huge marzipan person, either.  It keeps coming back to me, though.  I'm feeling a pie experiment coming on.  Have you ever done this (with marzipan)?  

I could even use Honeycrisps, which supposedly keep their shape well in baking.  However, for this upcoming pie experience, I want to use the trick I read in Cook's Illustrated:  Use a variety of apples in the same pie to create a complex apple flavor.  Wowza.  Bring on the conversion.

Procrastination, Port, and Pears by Anne

port braised pears

Ways to Procrastinate in the Kitchen:

  • Clean it
  • Sort beans for photo shoot
  • Forget what you were just doing
  • Start several projects simultaneously -- this can slow you down considerably if you try hard enough
  • Tend to your crying toddler
  • Talk on the phone while trying to read a recipe
  • Try to find something in the back of the fridge
  • Ignore the fact that you're about to feed 65 people in two days and instead read your new chocolate tempering machine manual (!!!). Again.

Ways to Augment Existing Joy in Kitchen While Actually Cooking

  • Listen to music that makes you happy
  • Think about how beautiful the food is while you cook it
  • Get your toddler involved in a "cooking" project (squeeze bottle filled with water, plus pastry brush, plus measuring cups, then ignore mess) while you also cook
  • Make something that smells amazing, like port-braised pears

This pear recipe is lovely.  It's so simple that you can memorize it, and yet it's the epitome of elegance.  Five ingredients.  You can make it ahead of time.  It's also versatile--goes well with ice cream, cheesecake, pound cake, cookies, chocolate--and it's not too heavy.  It's hard to mess it up.  If I had a star rating for recipes, this one would be a whole mess of stars. 

Port-Braised Pears

Modified from The Art & Soul of Baking.  I used less sugar than the recipe called for.  You could add even less and still have a sweet dessert.  This recipe will keep well for several days in the refrigerator.  The longer it sits, the more it takes on the color of the port.  Beautiful!


  • 1 cup ruby port
  • 3 T sugar
  • 2 T honey
  • 1 3-inch long strip of lemon zest
  • 4 Bosc pears, crisp-ripe


In a large saute pan, stir together the port, sugar, honey, and lemon zest over medium-low heat.   Check it every few minutes, giving it a good stir to ensure the sugar dissolves.

As the port mixture is warming up, peel, core and slice the pears.  It is very fun--and attractive!--to use a melon baller on pear halves to remove the seeds.  Slice each pear into eight slices.

With the pan still on medium-low heat, pour the pears in and gently spoon sauce over the pears.  Cover the pan and simmer for about 15 minutes.  Depending on the ripeness of your fruit, this time could vary from 10 to 20 minutes.  When the pears are tender and easily pierced with a fork, remove them to a bowl with a slotted spoon.  Remove lemon zest and discard.

Increase the temperature to high and reduce the sauce until it is very syrupy.  Pour sauce over the pears and let them cool to room temperature to serve, or store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to three days. 

Makes about 8 servings, more or less, depending on your dessert choice.

port bubbles


The Shiny Science of Chocolate by Anne

chocolate.trufflesIt’s shiny, it’s snappy, and it’s taken for granted.  How many times in my life have I sunk my teeth into a glossy bar of chocolate without appreciating the science and care involved in keeping this chocolate from melting in my hand?   (To answer my own rhetorical question with basic math, it had to be at least once a month, since puberty, until about a year ago, making it 300 times, bare minimum.)  A bowl full of shiny chocolate bars that have been melted down and then left to cool naturally will result in chocolate that crumbles when broken and has a dull, matte finish.  It melts more easily than its original form, too.   Why does this change happen?   Well, I'm warning you, the answer involves molecules. When I was learning about how to dip chocolate truffles in tempered chocolate last year, I wanted to know more about the mysterious and specific instructions about tempering.  Why do you need to go out and buy a chocolate thermometer?  Why do you heat and cool the chocolate more than once?  Why shouldn't I just heat 'er up and start dipping?  The beautiful science behind tempering helped me to understand and appreciate the method to the melting.   

If you are short on time, just skip down to an exquisite chocolate truffle recipe with fresh mint (mint optional).  The truffles are dipped in shiny tempered chocolate and cause a show-stopping hubbub in the room.  If you have a few moments, though, read on to celebrate yet another reason why chocolate is so amazing.

You might already know that sweet chocolate is made of cocoa solids and sugar suspended in the lovely, melty cocoa butter.  However, in spite of this melty quality, cocoa butter, like diamonds or graphite, is a crystalline substance.  In fact, cocoa butter can have more than one form of crystal in its structure.  In cocoa butter there are actually six different kinds of crystals, labeled Types I through VI, each with increasing stability and melting points. 

One of the six types—Type V—is considered optimal for making candy bars or couverture.  Besides having a higher melting point (second only to type VI), Type V has a more stable structure than the first four, resulting in the glossy sheen and a pleasing snap when you break it.  Type VI, while also possessing the desired attributes in even higher amounts, is not desirable.  Its high melting point causes a less pleasant mouthfeel—plus, it’s difficult and timely to form. Meanwhile, the four less stable crystals melt too easily, have a matte finish, and crumble when broken.  

Left to its own devices when cooling, chocolate will start to form a hodgepodge of all these crystal forms.  In other words, left to its own devices when cooling, chocolate will make a much less fun Easter Bunny.   The good news? Even if you have untempered chocolate to deal with, you can still bring it back to temper.

There are several ways to temper chocolate, and I've been using what is called the seed method.  You melt it until it reaches a temperature that is high enough to break all crystal bonds (but not too high, which will separate the cocoa butter from the solids).  Then you cool it slowly, further bringing the temperature down by stirring in some some chunks of still-tempered chocolate (such as pieces of a candy bar, but I’ve been using bulk chocolate).  The chocolate starts to generate crystals of varying types, but with the tempered chocolate nearby, many disordered molecules fall in line and start to form more type V crystals.  However, other crystals have had a chance to form in the meantime, even with an abundance of type V.  This is why you heat it back up again very slowly to melt the less stable, easily melt-able crystals, so that all you have left are (mostly) type V.  The newly free molecules naturally start to form into the adjacent type V crystals as long as it remains at this optimal temperature that keeps type V stable and melts the other ones. 

If the chocolate starts to harden on the sides as I'm dipping chocolate, I'm supposed to slightly heat it up again, but I've discovered that messing with it too much will allow too many lower types of crystals to form when it cools again, and this disorder will cause streaks and less stability in the chocolate. 

Here is an example of pretzels dipped in tempered chocolate compared to pretzels dipped in the same chocolate after I messed around with it.  Only a few minutes' (and degrees') difference makes a dramatic visual impact.


Besides the beautiful fact that chocolate is a crystalline substance, it’s also interesting to note that chocolate is an extremely dry medium.  A single drop of water in smooth, “wet”-seeming melted chocolate will result in a stiff, grainy, gritty mess.  The intense dryness immediately absorbs the moisture and the chocolate has the inclination to clump up around the water molecules.   So, when tempering the chocolate you not only have to keep your eye closely on the temperature of the chocolate—you also need to make sure that no water comes into contact with your chocolate, including condensed steam from a double boiler, if you use one.  If the chocolate does seize, you can still use the chocolate for other baking purposes, just not for dipping. 

So many details and so much attention for a little snap and shine.  Is it worth it?  Absolutely.  Once you take a bite of a truffle that you have dipped into tempered chocolate, you’ll see what I mean.   You pick up this beautiful treasure that you yourself crafted.  It glows in your hand (rather than melting in it).  When you test it with your teeth, you feel the pleasing snap, followed by a rich, softer center full of smooth and creamy chocolate ganache.  The two textures and flavors swirl together, one creamier and one more intense.  Creating this flavor experience for yourself—and those you love, if you love them enough to share—is priceless.  Or at least it’s worth the price of a chocolate thermometer.

Chocolate Truffles with Fresh Mint

Adapted from Pure Chocolate by Fran Bigelow.  You can make truffles the traditional French way and sidestep the tempered chocolate completely for an easy yet elegant indulgence.  The mint is also optional; without it, the chocolate truffles are pure, deep and will showcase the flavor of whatever chocolate you use.  With the mint, you taste clear notes of a fresh garden in contrast to the dark chocoloate.


  1. 12 ounces semisweet chocolate--best quality available
  2. 1 ½ cups heavy cream (you only need 1 cup if making recipe without mint)
  3. 3 T unsalted butter
  4. A very large handful of fresh spearmint leaves
  5. 1 recipe of tempered semisweet chocolate (optional)


  1. Using a sharp knife (many people find it easiest to use a serrated knife for this), chop the chocolate into small and relatively uniform pieces. It’s easiest to make a cut every few millimeters, chopping from the corners, rotating every few cuts.   Transfer the chopped chocolate into a heat-resistant bowl.
  2. Bring the cream just to a boil in a small saucepan.  Add the mint leaves—enough to fully inundate the cream—and stir the leaves so that they are fully covered by the cream.  Cover the pan and let steep for a half an hour.  (To intensify the mint flavor, you can put the mint and cream in the refrigerator overnight after steeping.)  Remove the mint leaves, and return the cream just to a boil.
  3. Pour ONE CUP of the hot cream over the chopped chocolate and let it sit for one minute.  With a rubber spatula or wooden spoon, stir the cream from the center, gradually working your way outward until all the chocolate is melted and incorporated into the cream.  You don’t want to whisk or whip the mixture; the goal is to make the smoothest emulsion possible. 
  4. Cover the ganache with plastic wrap so that the wrap is touching the surface of the ganache.  Let it stand overnight (or for at least 8 hours) at room temperature to allow the flavors to meld.  This step also improves the ganache’s consistency for rolling into shapes.
  5. In preparation to make the truffles, set out your butter early so that the butter will be at room temperature when mixing it into the ganache.  They should be approximately the same temperature as each other.  In a separate bowl, beat the butter until it is soft.
  6. Carefully fold the butter into the chocolate, fully incorporating the butter until you have a glossy, smooth ganache.
  7. When making truffles, smaller is better.  You should be able to eat the truffle in no more than 2 or 3 small bites.  To make the truffles, you have a couple of choices.  You can put the ganache into a pastry bag fitted with a ½ -inch round and pipe the ganache into 1–inch spheres onto a parchment lined sheet pan, and place the truffles in the refrigerator to set.  Later, slice off the “tails” left by the tip.  Instead of using a pastry bag, you can also cover the ganache, refrigerate it for 20 minutes, and scoop the ganache out by teaspoonfuls, or with a small melon baller, then finish shaping the ganache into rough 1-inch spheres with your palms, placing them on the paper-lined pan.
  8. At this point, you can opt to use the traditional French method for truffles and roll the balls in cocoa powder.  If you choose to make this type of truffle, it’s best to eat the truffles within a few days.  Store them in an airtight container in the refrigerator. 
  9. If you wish to enrobe the chocolates in a crisp coat, follow the directions below for tempering chocolate and dipping truffles.

Makes about 60 truffles

Tempering Chocolate 

Ingredients and Equipment

  • 2 pounds good quality semi-sweet chocolate (Fran recommends 56% cacao.  I use Callebaut semi-sweet in large blocks, found in the bulk section of one of those more expensive grocery stores. It contains slightly less cacao than she recommends, but it still works beautifully)
  • A chocolate tempering thermometer (not a candy thermometer; it will not register low enough temperatures)
  • A double boiler (or stainless bowl that fits into a saucepan without touching the bottom)


  1. Set aside about half a pound to use later.  Chop this reserved chocolate into chunks. 
  2. If you are dipping chocolate truffles and have been storing them in a cooler spot, make sure they are sitting out at room temperature while you are tempering the chocolate so that they don’t lower the tempered chocolate’s temperature too much.
  3. Chop the remaining chocolate into small pieces, and place the pieces in the top of a double boiler, with the water level in the bottom pot NOT touching the top pot.  Rather than using a double boiler, I use a stainless bowl over a small pot filled with about an inch of water (not touching the bowl).  It is essential that no water touches the chocolate or even the base of the bowl (which will make the chocolate heat too fast). 
  4. On low heat, slowly heat and stir the chocolate with a dry spoon or paddle until it reaches 115˚, which is high enough to break the crystal structures.  Do not exceed 120˚.  When chocolate gets too hot, the cocoa butter separates from the solids.
  5. Remove the chocolate from the heat.  Add the reserved chunks of “seed” chocolate and stir them into the melted chocolate so that the chunks melt into the chocolate.  Cool chocolate until it reaches 82˚ - 84˚.  Remove chunks from the melted chocolate, if any remain.
  6. Return the bowl or pot back to the simmering water for a brief period until the chocolate reaches 88˚ - 90˚.  This takes only a few seconds.  Do not let the temperature exceed 90˚ or it will likely lose its temper. If this does happen, you can repeat the process from step 4.  
  7. You can test to see if the chocolate is tempered by spreading a small amount of chocolate onto parchment.  If it sets up to a glossy finish in a couple of minutes, then it is in temper.   You are now ready to dip.

Provides coating for about 100 truffles or other small centers

Dipping into Tempered Chocolate

  1. There is more than one way to dip truffles so that they are evenly coated.   One method, as detailed in Fran Bigelow’s book, is to drop the truffle into the tempered chocolate with one clean hand so that it is completely submerged, then remove it from the melted chocolate with your other hand, gently shaking off the excess.  Fran also mentions that you can use a dipping or dinner fork to lift out the chocolate centers.  Another method that my chocolatier friend showed me involves having some of the chocolate in one of your immaculately clean palms.  Pick up a truffle and place it into your chocolaty palm, then roll it around in your palm to make a thin coat all around the truffle.  Whichever method you choose, work rapidly to avoid affecting the temperature, and place coated truffles on a parchment-lined pan or plate. 
  2. After you dip all of your chocolate truffles, you will have leftover chocolate to dip into, so you can use the opportunity to experiment with dipping other foods into the chocolate before the chocolate is no longer in temper.  You could also pour the leftover tempered chocolate into molds. If you are dipping something that doesn’t require complete enrobing, such as candied orange peel or pretzels, you can just dip the item directly into the chocolate, gently shake off the excess, and place it on a parchment-lined pan.
  3. Save any leftover chocolate by pouring it onto a piece of wax paper or parchment, let the chocolate cool completely, then peel off and break up the chocolate.  Store in an airtight container in a cool place.  Use this chocolate for baking. 
  4. Store truffles in an airtight container.  The truffles will taste best within a week, but they can stand airtight storage in a cool, dry place for quite a bit longer than that.

Main information sources:

Pure Chocolate by Fran Bigelow

Lazy by Anne

blueberry.plum.I  There are sweet, cat-stretching-in-sunshine lazy weekends, and there are grumpy, immobilized-by-too-much-to-do lazy weekends. Unfortunately, mine was the latter this time. My laziness today was deep and eternal. That’s right, I changed the course of my life this weekend and have now become a surly knob of a human that still answers to my old name.

Ever tried to cook grumpy? It’s not pretty, or tasty. Ever tried to cook in the hot summertime with nothing in your pantry but cans of pumpkin puree, stewed tomatoes, and coconut milk? You must be recovering from a kitchen remodel, too.

I was so clever, weeks ago. Strategically I used up all of the extra items in our pantry so that we’d have less to heft around back and forth during the remodel. Now my useful lazy day fallback—standing in front of the cupboard looking for a sign—has been reduced to trying to figure out how to utilize this one can of coconut milk with the stuff growing in my garden outside.

I tried to imagine my most prolific crop right now—the cucumbers—with the coconut milk, and the allure of Thai food wafted into my imagination. However, no basil, no cilantro, no peanut sauce, no fun.  Thinking and complaining about my limited options used so much more brain power than my legs would have used driving to the store to get some actual food.

So, last night my cucumber inspiration led to ordering takeout Thai food. Tonight, it led to a frozen pizza.

After consuming that pizza I started thinking about this simple sauce from the book Vegetarian Nights--essentially coconut milk and honey--that I used to eat with fruit salad. Luckily, today I had been forced out into the world because of an appointment, so I did go to the farmer’s market and had bought blueberries and plums. Neither of these go with those cucumbers lurking in my front yard, but they could certainly agree to sharing the same bowl with a little coconut sauce. Last time I ate the sauce, though, it tasted boring to me. So tonight I spiced it up—literally—with cinnamon and allspice. I read recently that cinnamon really brings out the blueberry-ness in blueberries. Allspice kept the thing zapped up a bit. Also, I brightened the flavor with lemon juice to meet the acidity of the fruit.  Lime could have been great, too.  In the end, I thought the sauce was good enough to drink, though I’m proud to report that I didn’t.

Its sweet simplicity is nice; it has possibilities, too.  This coconut sauce would be spectacular with blueberries and plums along with a nice pound cake. The ingredients are surely around here somewhere. I’ll get to it later.

Coconut Sauce for Fruit Salad or Pound Cake


  • 1 ¼ cups coconut milk
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • Pinch of salt
  • ¼ tsp cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp allspice
  • 1 or 2 tsp lemon juice (add to taste, or not at all)


  1. In a small pot in slightly warmer than medium heat, pour in the coconut milk and honey. Stir together and bring to a low boil.
  2. Begin to stir constantly, and whisk in the salt and spices. Cook and stir sauce for 10 minutes at the low boil until it is reduced and a slightly golden color.
  3.  Remove from heat, cool slightly, and whisk in the lemon juice. Chill thoroughly.
  4. To serve: pour a small amount onto a plate or shallow bowl, and arrange fruit over the sauce. Garnish with mint or lemon balm.

Crêpes Are for Everyone by Anne

crepe.opener.picCrêpes satisfy the part in my heart that is obsessed with paper.   So soft, thin, and light, you could almost send a crêpe as a wedding invitation, layered with vellum and scrolled up with a silk ribbon.  Their forgiving, slightly stretchy quality makes them easy to fill and roll up, too.  They even open back up for do-overs if you aren’t pleased with the shape you folded, unlike wrapping paper, once its creased.  Flipping crêpes also feels amazing.  Each time I lift a delicate round from the pan, I feel grateful and amazed that it neatly responds to my spatula, being stronger than it looks.   The only thing more wonderful than making them—and of course, eating them—is that they are incredibly versatile.  A crêpe can be a snack wrapped in a napkin, a flambéed finale for a dinner party, or a morning cure for too much weekend.   So it might seem odd, now that I think about it, how long it took me to start making them.  Here’s the deal. 

About 10 years ago on a Saturday morning at 7 a.m., the phone rang.  Was it an emergency?  Yes.  Sort of.  It was a crêpe emergency.  Actually, a crêpe party emergency.  The party-thrower, our usually unflappable friend Adam, had a couple of flaps in his voice.  “I need some help.   Can you come over?”   We were on our way. 

The crêpe party was to start in a few hours, and it was going to be a doozy that would later go down in friend history reminisced about for years to come.  Adam had undertaken this crêpe extravaganza singlehandedly, and he took weeks to prepare for it.  He would come home after work and start flipping crêpes, then packing, labeling, and freezing them in airtight containers, ready to be filled with innumerable sweets and savories.  But here it was, the day of the party, and many people would be coming, ready for a feast. It was down to the wire. 

We walked in without knocking, to find Adam at his usual spot, flipping crêpes.  Like I said, Adam is generally cool as a cucumber, but he looked relieved to see us.  He didn’t need help with the crêpes themselves; it was the rest of the house that needed attention. So for several hours we made his home party-ready while he continued to flip and flip, fill and fill. There must have been a dozen different types of fillings. I can’t even remember them all, but I remember once the party started, we had the pleasant problem of not knowing where to begin, because there were so many flavors spread out before us.  

It was a fabulous party, an extravagance fit for the turn of the century, which it was.  I can’t believe this was almost 10 years ago.  The memory of this morning burned so strongly in my mind that I avoided even trying to make crêpes.   What, did I think it would be difficult? Drudgery? I’m not even sure.  Apparently, though, it left a powerful subliminal impression that Making Crêpes Would Make You Lose Your Cool. If Adam was a little ruffled, where would that leave me, a more ruffle-y person?  Did I want to make myself that stressed out on purpose? 

Now I realize.  Now that I’ve bitten the bullet and tried my hand at crêpes, I see that the problem with crêpes is neither drudgery nor difficulty.  The problem is that crêpes could possibly drive you to real obsession.  They are so pleasant and satisfying to make.  Next thing you know, you're trying to come up with more reasons and ways to make them, possibly even resulting in making hundreds and hundreds of them for hordes of friends, like Adam did.  In the course of a week I brought crêpes to a barbeque, a brunch, and a baby shower.  Today I made some crêpe batter, “just because.” Just because what?  Why in the world did I do that?  Well, that’s the cool part.  As soon as they are made, they will be welcome in just about any situation, on any doorstep, and in any hand.  Might as well make ‘em.


Basic Crêpes

If this is your first or second time making crêpes, I recommend making a double batch so you’ll have enough to practice.  You can easily freeze the extras you make, or you can distribute them to friends and neighbors. They won’t mind. A first-time double recipe relieves the pressure to make perfect ones every time, and you can learn from any problems that arise.  I’ve made a troubleshooting guide below this recipe for your reference. 


  • 4 eggs
  • ¼ t salt
  • 1 T plus 1 tsp sugar
  • 2 ½ cups milk
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • ¼ cup melted butter

 Directions: Making the Batter

  1. In a medium-large bowl, beat eggs with salt and sugar with a whisk*. 
  2. Add milk and flour alternately, starting with some of the milk (the flour seems to make less lumps this way), and blending well after each addition.  You will need to whisk somewhat briskly to get rid of flour-lumps.  When the batter is well-blended, beat in the melted butter.   
  3. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the batter chill and rest in the refrigerator for at least an hour, preferably several hours.  Even better would be overnight, but don’t store it for more than 24 hours. 
  4. Right before cooking crêpes, remove the bowl from the refrigerator and stir to reincorporate the ingredients into a smooth batter.  Batter should be thin--considerably thinner than pancake batter, for example.

*When making the batter you can also use an electric mixer, but use it judiciously.  If you beat at too high a speed for too long, your batter will have too many bubbles and might come out “lacy” when it cooks—which will cause a problem if you fill the crêpe later.  If, when beating, you wind up making quite a few bubbles in order to get rid of flour lumps, just make sure you give the batter more time to rest in the fridge.

Directions: Cooking Crêpes

These directions are for crêpe pans over a stove. If you have a crêpe maker, follow the instruction manual for your model.   

A note before you begin: Because the pouring/swirling process is so quick, I like to use a ¼ measuring cup with a handle for ease of pouring in the proper amount.  I don’t quite fill it, and I only pour/use the amount needed to evenly coat the bottom, but then there’s a tiny bit left in the cup if I need to finish off a small gap where the pan didn’t get covered in time while swirling.

  1. Prepare your station.  Next to the stovetop, place a plate or platter lined with a piece of wax paper —for the finished crêpes.   Position the batter bowl on the other side of the pan, and put a small plate next to the bowl for the pouring cup to rest on when not in use (this helps cut down on drips and cup-sized circles all over your counter and stove).  Crêpe making is a quick process, so it’s nice to have everything set up how you want it before you start.
  2.  Pre-heat pan over medium-high.  No butter is necessary if the pan is non-stick.  If you use butter, you won’t need to use very much.   Too much will make the crêpe greasy, and it also might interfere with the proper cooking of the crêpe (see Troubleshooting Guide below).
  3. Once pan is hot, lift up the back edge at an angle.  Pour about 3 T of batter all at once onto the back/highest end of the pan, letting the batter flow down and around one side.*  Immediately tilt pan in different directions to thinly coat the entire bottom of the pan in a smooth circle.  The batter should be so thin that the crêpe already starts cooking all the way through as you finish swirling.  Set pan back down on burner.  
  4. When the top seems nearly completely cooked—in only one or two minutes—and the bottom is golden brown (you can peek by lifting up an edge with the spatula), slide the spatula under the crêpe and move it around underneath the crêpe to make sure that it is not sticking.  Flip and cook for one or two seconds longer. 
  5. Slide crêpe out onto the plate.

*Most recipes say to pour batter in the middle of the pan in an outward spiral pattern, then start swirling.  I also found that the method described above works well for me.  It seems to give me a better idea of how little batter I can get away with.


Note: This is not a traditional crêpe pan.  It's possible, though not always as easy, to use a regular skillet, such as this one.

Storing Crêpes

Right after making your stack of crêpes, cover the plate with a larger bowl or a large pan lid to retain moisture until you are ready to wrap with or serve them.  They can also be stored in a large ziplock bag in the refrigerator for about 4 days.  They will last even longer in the freezer; just make sure you separate each crêpe with wax paper.

In the next post, I will share some ideas and techniques for filling and folding crêpes.

Crêpe Troubleshooting Guide 

Crêpe batter can be very forgiving if you know some basic tricks and principles about the batter.   I’ve seen some troubleshooting guides out on the Internet and in books, and I’ve also made crêpes “wrong” on purpose (I swear!) and can confirm that the following troubleshooting tips all seem to be true; the fixes worked for me.



Possible Cause


Crêpe is lacy Too many bubbles in the batter Let batter rest longer
  Batter is too thin Add 1 or 2 T of flour
Edges of crêpe crack easily because they are dry and thin Batter is too thin Add 1 or 2 T of flour
  Heat is too high Bring heat down slightly and wait a moment before starting next crêpe
Crêpe does not swirl properly Not enough batter added to pan Finish this crêpe and add more batter next time
  Batter is too thick Add 1 or 2 T milk, testing to see if problem is solved
Batter sticks to pan Heat is too low Wash and dry pan thoroughly; re-season with a bit of butter and bring heat up a bit, making sure pan is fully heated before adding batter
Batter does not stick to pan when swirling, or begins to bubble or curdle Too much butter in the pan Finish this crêpe and wipe out pan with paper towel before starting next crêpe

The Glamorous Slice by Anne

orange.peel.cherry.IICandied orange peels are suitable for the sophisticated soul.  Having been rolled in sugar, they are obviously sweet, but they possess a mild kick as well, likely from the lingering oils that have mostly been blanched and soaked out.  These confections aren’t bitter, though.  Just pleasantly bracing, like a 1940's slap after a presumptuous kiss. These confections are as versatile as they are glamorous.  You can serve one alongside a cup of espresso, or in a cocktail, or even with fresh, juicy fruit.  They make a sparkling surprise perched on dainty baked goods, dipped in melted chocolate, or waiting in the freezer for a little after-dinner palate cleanser.  The possibilities thrill me as I sit here at my desk and eat them, one by one, biting through a thin sugar crust into sweet, almost nostalgic soft centers .

I’m not actually feeling very sophisticated tonight, though.  It’s hard to feel that way when you’re sitting in your sweats surrounded by mountains of boxes that you’ve been packing for a week. Our whole kitchen lies here in boxes, actually.  This is the eve of remodeling the kitchen, so I’m sharing my desk with a tower of plates, a  big box of kosher salt, and my overflowing basket of mail from the living room (we had to make space in the living room for a temporary “kitchen.”) I’m thrilled, though. We will be removing some claustrophobic walls and creating a more user-friendly layout.  Who knows what kind of trouble we can get into with a sink that faces out into the world (and that faucet has a sprayer, just screaming for a water fight.  Don’t tell Rosalie; she’ll figure it out eventually). 

At any rate, this last week I have had a last hurrah in the old kitchen.  There are several recipes I can’t wait to share with you—candied orange peel is one of them.  Sophistication was especially welcome around here when the preparation was easy and quick. Please note, however, that the drying time takes a couple of days.

Candied Orange Peel

  • 2 oranges
  • 3 cups water
  • 3 ½  cups sugar


  1. With a knife, cut the two ends off the oranges.  Score the skins into fourths and peel the skins off, pith and all. 
  2. Remove extra stringy parts from the pith, but do not remove the pith itself from the peel.
  3. Slice the peels into thin slices – ¼ inch or less.  You can slice them long and lean or short and curvy, depending on your needs and the direction you cut.
  4. Blanch orange peel strips in a medium to large pot of boiling water for about 15-20 minutes, then drain.  Rinse thoroughly, then drain again.  Fill the pot with cold water, and either repeat the blanching process or let the orange peel sit for a few hours in the water while you do other things in the kitchen, changing the water once or twice.   Your goal is to remove the bitterness from the peel. Taste one to test for a pleasing reduction in bitterness.
  5. When orange strips are properly blanched and soaked, bring three cups each of sugar and water to boil for a few minutes, stirring to dissolve the sugar.  Add the orange strips, return sugar-water to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer the peels for 45 minutes, or until nice and soft.  Drain to remove excess liquid.
  6. Pour remaining half-cup of sugar into a shallow bowl or a plate.  Roll orange peels in the sugar, and arrange in a single layer on a foil- or parchment-lined baking sheet.
  7. Allow peels to dry for one to two days.  Best to store peels in a well-ventilated place for quick drying.  Best also to store in a place where they won’t be in danger of enthusiastic tasting and testing—to the point of disappearing.  

Easy Mango Cubes by Anne

mangocubespleaseI was going to share with you the mango-cubing method I’ve been using for years.   I learned my trick watching a cooking show when I was a kid.  However, I noticed that Jaden at Steamy Kitchen has a method that I like more (along with a cool kiwi peeling technique--check it out!).  You have more control over the shapes and sizes you can create.  It’s also a bit tidier.  However, my old method is great for feeding mango to toddlers, because it’s fun to pluck the cubes from the skin.  I’ll share both methods with you.

Step 1, removing the seed, is the same for both methods: 

The seed inside a mango is large and flat, so the best way to get the most flesh from it is to slice along the flat side of the seed.  You can tell by looking from the top or bottom of the mango, because the shape is oval, revealing the orientation of the seed.  Hold the mango vertically on the cutting board, with the stem side at the top. Using the top as your guide, line your knife up parallel to the seed/oval,  and slide your knife  ½ of an inch away from the stem top, which will help you avoid the large seed.  Slice down.*  If you feel resistance from the seed, just cut at a gentle curve away from it until you are cutting into smooth flesh again.  You should have a nice, large piece of mango “half” from this process.  Repeat on the other side.   

In the end you have two large pieces of mango for slicing, cubing, or dicing, and a central seed with some extra fruit still attached.  With your knife you can carefully remove some of that extra fruit from the seed, or you can be the kind of person who licks the spoon and take care of the extras in a more immediate manner.

*If you accidentally slice in a way that is not along the flat side of the seed and need to start with a new slice, I recommend method A for your next steps. 

Mango Cubing Method A - á la Steamy Kitchen


  1. Slice mango from seed as described above.
  2. Place the tip of a large serving-type spoon at the top of the mango half, finding the edge between the mango and the skin.  Scoop in, cutting the fruit away from the skin. What you have left is a smooth, neat hemisphere of mango. 
  3. For most control, place your fruit flat-side down.
  4. Chop or slice in whatever shape you desire.


Method B - Fun for Kids


  1. Slice mango from seed as described above.
  2. Holding the mango half in your palm, gently slice parallel lines into the mango, taking care not to pierce the skin as you do so.
  3. Rotate the mango a quarter-turn in your palm and repeat step 2, forming a grid pattern.
  4. Invert the mango half so that the skin is concave and the cubes pop out. Depending on the ripeness of your fruit, the cubes might fall easily right off the skin, or you can gently slice them off with your knife. Small hands might also like to pluck them off.     



Happy Brûlée by Anne

creme-iiitouched-up1Have you ever tasted a perfect crème brûlée?  That one where you tap your spoon on a crispy-crackle sugarcrust to reveal pale velvet beneath? The contrasts of warm crisp and smooth cool swirl and mingle in a sweet bite, leaving a breath of rich vanilla behind.  Crème brûlée, which is French for “burnt cream,” is one of my favorite custard desserts, with its shiny sugar top.


Yesterday was my birthday, and oh, how I wanted to make a crème brûlée. This is a fine and festive idea, but maybe I should mention that this thought hit me right before bedtime.  Also, I didn’t have any cream.  So I settled for making ice cream brûlée (yes, I put sugar on vanilla ice cream and torched it), which was almost as fun, but not really.  At least I got to fire up my chef’s torch, set the sugar to bubbling, and observe the melting ice cream swell up like white-cold magma.  


Are you surprised to hear that the result was a bowl of soft, brown sugar islands floating in ice cream soup?  Well, there was one crispy part, and for that, I celebrated.  My one bite of dessert at least reminded me of happy crème brûlées, past and future.


I started anew today, happy to be a year older and armed with fresh cream. 


Short on time, I used this easy, classic crème brûlée recipe.  Soon I will also share a recipe for the vanilla bean-infused version, which requires a slightly different set of steps, including steeping the bean in hot milk and cream. Stay tuned for round two!  It might even come around in time for your birthday.


Crème Brûlée

Resources: Crème Brûlée by Randolph W. Mann and Joy of Cooking.


It helps to have a mixture of dried brown sugar mixed with white sugar to get a nice, caramelized finish.  You can make this mixture today while you wait for the opportunity to get some cream from the store.


For sugar topping:

1 cup brown sugar

1 cup white sugar


  1. Preheat oven to 200 degrees.
  2. On a cookie sheet spread out the brown sugar and warm it in the oven for about 35 minutes. 
  3. Brown sugar will be ready when it is dry and crumbly when you pick up a handful.  Cool to room temperature. 
  4. Run the brown sugar through a fine sieve, using a spoon or a pestle to stir and coax the sugar through.  You may not be able to sieve the entire amount if there are some stubborn lumps.    Discard lumps.
  5. Mix the brown sugar with the white sugar, and store in an airtight container. It will store indefinitely as long as it is kept dry. 
  6. This makes more than enough sugar topping for this recipe, and you’ll be able to use it again next time you want to make crème brûlée (tomorrow?). You will use about 8 teaspoons of this sugar per recipe.


For the crème:

1 c heavy cream

2 egg yolks

1/3 c sugar

1 pinch salt

½ t vanilla


  1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees.  Make sure the rack is one level below the middle level. 
  2. Fill a kettle with water and heat it on the stovetop.  You will need hot water for step #8.
  3. In a small saucepan, stir cream over medium heat, bringing it to a boiling point.
  4. In a small bowl combine the egg yolks, sugar, salt, and vanilla. Place the bowl on a dishtowel or another surface that stabilizes it—to prepare for next step.
  5. Pour a very small amount of the hot cream into the egg mixture while quickly stirring the mixture with a whisk.  Stir, don’t whisk.  You want to avoid making bubbles. Little by little, add more of the hot cream, all the while quickly stirring the mixture.  Combine entire amount completely.
  6. Strain this custard liquid by pouring it through a fine sieve into a liquid measuring cup or something else with a pouring spout.
  7. Place four ramekins into the shallow baking dish, and carefully pour the liquid evenly into the ramekins.
  8. Pour the hot water from the kettle into the baking dish until the water reaches halfway up the walls of the ramekins. Take care not to splash water into the liquid in the ramekins. Also, be careful when transferring the dish to the oven.  Bake for 35 minutes.
  9. Carefully remove pan, avoiding sloshing water, and let the ramekins cool until you can touch them and remove them.  Cover with foil or wrap and refrigerate for at least two hours, but at least eight hours is ideal.  They should remain in good condition for two days.
  10. When ready to serve, remove ramekins from refrigerator and unwrap. 
  11. Using a sieve, sprinkle about 2 t sugar on each crème so that you have a smooth and even coating of sugar overall. 
  12. Light a chef’s butane torch* and move it in small circular motions over the crème with the flame barely touching the sugar.  Melt and brown the sugar layer until it is evenly dark.
  13. Serve immediately.

*You can create the browned top with a broiler, but to have a truly crisp, delicate top, I have had the best luck with a butane torch.  These torches are inexpensive and can be found online or at cooking stores.