To me, Creme Brûlée is a grown-up dessert. Something that French and lovely on my tongue simply screams grown-up. At least to my way of hearing. Of course, there are times when the situation calls for warm chocolate chip cookies or a pint of ice cream, but since my introduction to brûlée, my palette changed.
Do you remember the first time you ate brûlée? Most likely, you are like me — raised in a world with parmesan cheese most familiarly shaken from a green can and the fancy dishes are stamped with “Corelle”. These are bits and pieces of a solid, wholesome family but they influence the palette. Comfort food includes things like macaroni and cheese and mashed potatoes. A broken romance requires ice cream scooped upon brownies, drizzled with more chocolate from a brown can. The holidays all include special and traditional dishes, perhaps including marshmallows. But there is no brûlée.
My first brûlée came to me in a fancy restaurant. My love of dining out and trying new foods began early in my marriage. One time I found a $100 bill blowing across a Minnesota parking lot. It was a fancy dinner out that seemed the best use of that found money. But even as money became more accessible and dinners out more normal (this was in our pre-children, two income lifestyle many years ago), my dessert choices still paid homage to my culinary roots.
But one night, there was no chocolate on the menu. No apple crumble with vanilla bean ice cream. Actually, I don’t remember what was on the menu only that I craved something sweet and nothing sounded good. So I did the ole “what the hell!” move and ordered the creme brûlée. The presentation was classic and the taste was perfect. And suddenly there was a new player on my dessert palette. Something creamy and comforting in its vanilla-ed glory waiting under that crisp sugar shell.
For my birthday last week I picked up a copy of Sunset magazine. I made a new cup of coffee and poured over its pages. And found a pumpkin brûlée tart recipe that looked so festive and tasty and perfect that I decided I would take it to my family’s gathering over the weekend. I had big plans for gastric delight. I was imagining all that yummy comfort of pumpkin pie under a crisp sugary topping that would be perfect. I wanted something fancy for our celebration, something big and special and brûlée-like.
Nothing turned out that way. My sugar wouldn’t melt. Instead of turning into a glorious brûlée topping for that yummy pumpkin goodness, I got this weirdly crystalized crunchiness.
Any you know what? It was great. And everyone who ate it thought it was tasty, especially under a swirl of whipped cream.
Sometimes when the brûlée doesn’t brûlée, you get something just as tasty, comforting, and perfectly wonderful to experience. If you’re lucky, you get reminded that it isn’t so much the desserts in life that make living sweet. It’s the folks you share them with.