Pssssst…sugar is a *flavor*…

I like my sugar with coffee and cream. – The Beastie Boys, Intergalactic

OK, OK, there certainly are exceptions to this, but the basic idea here is that you can up and down sugar to your liking in almost anything you are cooking.

No, really. You can.

Sugar is rarely the thing that is going to make or break a recipe. Even when it is, like caramel, which is only sugar, you can raise and lower the amount you are working with to create different amounts, or even change the type of sugar you are using to change the end product (white sugar = caramel, brown sugar = butterscotch).

To illustrate my point, I’m about to give you the second ratio Kiss My Grits HQ uses on a regular basis (the first one is for mirepoix – c’mon, you haven’t forgotten already, have you?!?). This ratio is going to open whole new worlds for you. Everything from the perfect bread pudding to a Quiche Lorraine that delights, and doesn’t taste like an omelet in a pie crust.

It’s custard, people.

And you won’t believe what it can do.

Custard is all things good. It’s a warm blanket/good book/cup of tea on a cold and blustery afternoon. It’s a (too) cold glass of white on a sunny patio in Italy with the dappled light of late September falling through the pergola. It’s your mom’s cool hand on your feverish forehead, that piece of Halloween candy you nabbed from your niece’s plastic pumpkin. It’s that thing you know you just shouldn’t be doing, like that adorable boy with an accent that is *just* dirty enough to be exactly right.

And here it is in all it’s complexity:

3 eggs. 1 cup of milk (3:1).

That’s it. Just three little eggs, whisked with a pinch of salt (which helps the albumen – egg white – break up smoothly), and then added to a cup of milk and whisked a little more.

But as with all things ratio, it’s not the base that makes it, it’s what you do with it that matters because left to it’s own devices, this ratio isn’t going to do a lot of amazing things. The point is to understand that if you add three eggs to a cup of milk, you will get a custard that will “stand up” after you apply some heat. If that heat is in a saucepan, you’ll get pudding. If you add a little cornstarch to your pudding, you get pastry cream (that wondrous substance that is in every bit of French pastry that makes you stop and go “Holy hell, what is this?”). If it’s in a waterbath, you’ll get pot de creme. Trade the dairy for fruit juice and you have curd. Freeze it and you have ice cream. If you pour it over bread and bake it, you get bread pudding. You can make it savory. You can make it sweet. It’s up to you.

You can also change the ratio to change the texture to your liking. If you lower the egg by one (2 eggs to every cup of milk) you get a softer, silkier texture, perfect for soaking bread in. If you add an egg (4 eggs to every cup of milk), you’ll get something more solid, like a Spanish tortilla, or Italian fritatta that can stand on it’s own without a pastry shell. Do you see? It really is up to you and what you want (unlike the aforementioned boy, who you would crawl through fire for, because you just can’t help yourself).

And coming full circle back to sugar: have you had savory bread pudding? It’s a revelation. A few sauteed mushrooms, some carmelized onion, crusty bread, and then soaked in a custard and baked? Yeah. That. By stepping away from traditional sweet bread pudding recipes, understanding that you don’t *have* to add sugar to make it work, and having an idea of why the ratio works (again, 3 eggs and a cup of milk makes custard, sweet or savory), you can create something of your very own.

To get you started, I’ve got two (!) formulas for you today (but don’t let either one hem you in). The first is for Quiche Lorraine.  Don’t want to use bacon? Fine. Use mushrooms. Or roasted potato. Or whatever. The other is for a very French, very plain, very delicious bread pudding based on the one from my favorite bakery in the whole world, Tartine. But, want to add almonds? Go right ahead. Like dried pears? Toss them into the mix, it’s not a problem. The point is to have fun. To make what you are hungry for.

Quiche Lorraine

You will need:

  • 1 medium sized bowl
  •  Kitchen scale
  •  Liquid measuring cup
  •  A whisk
  •  A skillet
  • 1 tart (or pie) pan

Ingredients:

  • 1 pie crust (we’ll talk about this later, for now, store bought is fine)
  • 1 egg, beaten for egg wash
  • 6 oz. grated Gruyere cheese
  • 6 oz. bacon
  • 4 eggs
  • 2/3 cup milk
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream
  • Salt and Pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Line a 9 or 10 inch pie pan with the pie crust. Pop it into the freezer for 10 minutes or so, then blind bake it (put a piece of aluminum or parchment into the center of the shell and then a pound of dried beans or rice to weight it down – bake it for 15-20 minutes, then remove beans or rice, patch any serious cracks with raw dough, brush with beaten egg, and bake another 10-15 minutes or until shell is golden). Cool in pan.

Turn oven down to 325 degrees.

Chop bacon and fry until crispy in pan. Reserve on side plate. In medium bowl, whisk eggs, milk, cream, and season with salt and pepper. Scatter bacon into cooled tart shell. Then add the cheese over the bacon. Pour custard mixture over the bacon and cheese, and place tart pan on sheet tray. Bake approx. 40 minutes, or until custard is set (outside edges will be firm, the center will jiggle like jello in the middle – dont’ worry, it sets up as it cools). Remove from oven, and cool on rack until ready to serve. Goes great with a crisp white and salad. Mine rarely makes it much further than the kitchen counter, where my fork and the tart pan become very good friends. So there.

Not Quite Tartine’s Bread Pudding

Adapted from Tartine, by Elisabeth Prueitt & Chad Robertson (which is a book well worth owning, btw)

You will need:

  • 1 large bowl
  • Liquid measuring cup
  • Kitchen scale
  • Serrated knife
  • 9×13 Pyrex pan (or other suitable baking dish – anything you would make lasagna in will work here)
  • 1 Whisk

Ingredients:

  • 6 slices of soft bread (brioche, challah, croissants, etc.), cut into cubes and toasted and cooled.
  • 8 eggs
  • 6 oz. sugar
  • 4 cups whole milk (but nonfat, lowfat, heavy cream all work here, it’s fine you can mix it up if needed)
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • Butter, for baking dish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Butter your baking vessel of choice and put in bread cubes (it doesn’t have to be a perfect layer, just evenly distributed).

Whisk eggs with salt in large bowl. Add milk (or other dairy of choice), and vanilla and whisk until smooth. Pour 1/3 of the custard over the bread and let it sit for 10 minutes to absorb. Then add another 1/3 of the custard and sit another 10 minutes. Just before baking, top off dish with custard (it should be a little floaty). Cover dish with foil, and bake for 45 minutes. Remove foil, and bake for an additional 15. After an hour, test for doneness (if custard is really liquidy, bake another 10 minutes or so, but if it’s only a little liquidy, pull from oven). Cool for 10 minutes before serving (with fresh fruit, caramel sauce, a nice port, chocolate ganache, or whatever else suits your fancy).

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