Tuesday, August 5, 2014




An extraordinary grandfather is a wonderful thing to have, and fortunately, I am one of the lucky grandchildren in this world to have one. A Grandfather N to be exact, whom my brother and I call J. He is, and will always be my hero; a role model, a mentor, maybe even a superstar that I will always look up to no matter how old I become. He is that wonderful.
On May 19th, J passed away. He had been ill for some time, and the last 7 months of his life were spent in a hospital room, close enough from his home but still away from it (which is a shame because he loved his home). He went peacefully in the sole company of my grandmother, his beloved wife to whom he had been married for 62 years. As you can probably imagine, the event left me devastated.
But today, I am not going to write about my heartbreaking sorrow. Nor am I going to write about all the wonderful memories I have of him. I am going to tell you about my beloved grandfather's beloved dessert.


J was a dessert lover. He had a sweet tooth, and dessert, along with 'ocha' (tea time) which is around 4 o'clock at my grandparents's house, was something he looked forward to immensely. I remember particular treats he was fond of; the most light and delicate cheesecake, a swiss roll filled with fluffy cream, (both from the 'depa-chika' of department stores he frequented), classic choux à la crème from a neighborhood pâtisserie, ice cream from the grocery store (he loved häagen-dazs), slices of fruit (cantaloupe was his favorite), and his go-to treat: crème caramel.
During J's 7 month stay at the hospital, everyone in our family took turns visiting him, with the exception of my grandmother who was there practically every single day. (Ah, true love, no?) We would talk to him, hold his hand, rub his feet, play his favorite music on the iPad and . . . deliver his crème caramel of the day. Being diagnosed with diabetes at the time, J was on a strict diet, but because he ate so little while he was in the hospital, he was given permission to have treats. Crème caramel was one of the few things he would eat even when he didn't have much of an appetite, and the pudding texture was ideal for his swallowing (he had aspiration pneumonia); hence began the daily delivery. It was the highlight of his day, the moment he had his first spoonful, giving me or whoever else was present a huge boyish grin.
I think about all the times in the past we had crème caramel together at the kitchen table back at his house. I don't think it was ever his "favorite" dessert. But you see, J is the kind of person to fall madly in love with a certain dessert requesting it over and over again, only to fall madly in love with a different dessert after a few months, sometimes a few weeks. His sweet tooth "affairs" come and go most of the time, but I could remember various times in between various affairs we had crème caramel together. Crème caramel is, and I am suspecting always has been, his female companion; the friend he goes back to and has nice conversations with when the affairs tire him out, the friend he is loyal to and never ditches no matter how long it takes for him to visit again. She is gentle and sweet and wholesome (well in a chic way — after all, creme caramel is French), and suits any occasion including the occasion you are sick in the hospital.

Less than a week before J passed away, I made this dessert with him in mind. He hadn't eaten in a while . . . maybe he wouldn't be able to ever again. I wish I had thought of making this earlier while he could still eat, but I was afraid of making him sicker — 'what if I give him food poisoning?' was a thought I couldn't shake. They turned out perfectly, an all too rare result for first time recipes, and I couldn't help but think that J must be sending good vibes to the little oven in my kitchen. He passed away the following Monday.


It has been two and a half months since that day and I have made crème caramel exactly three times since then. Each attempt has turned out perfectly. Of course I am thinking it is because of J, that he is still sending good vibes . . . good vibes from heaven. Which makes me think I will never fail at making crème caramel. The thought is enough to make me feel invincible — even if it is only for those few moments I am making this dessert — and it is a lovely feeling. It feels very much like love.

Thank you J, for being the extraordinary grandfather you are, for showing me to do the things you love to love the life you live, for loving me unconditionally, and for all the good vibes from heaven to my oven. You are indeed my hero.

* { crème caramel adapted from : Masahiko Hayashi via kyounoryouri (みんなのきょうの料理)custard pudding (カスタードプリン) }
— click on the images above, or continue reading for the recipe

{ ingredients } makes enough for 8 small ramekin molds
< for the caramel >
150g granulated sugar
2 tablespoons hot water

< for the crème >
400ml milk
1/2 vanilla bean
3 egg yolks
2 eggs
80g granulated sugar

{ instructions }
< preparations >
Preheat the oven to 140℃.

1. Place the sugar in a small saucepan over low heat, swirling the pan occasionally to melt completely. Once the sugar starts to release bubbles and turns into an amber color, remove from heat and add the hot water. Be careful not to burn yourself as the sugar will bubble up furiously. Quickly divide the caramel among the molds. Swirl each mold in a circular motion so the bottom is covered evenly with caramel.
2. Pour the milk in a saucepan with about one-quarter (20g) of the sugar. Split the vanilla bean and scrape the seeds out using the back of a knife. Add the pod and seeds to the milk and heat over medium heat and bring to a simmer.
3. While heating the milk, whisk together the egg yolks and eggs in a large bowl. Add the remaining sugar and whisk together with the eggs until well combined, being careful not to make the mixture frothy.
4. Remove the milk mixture from heat and add to the egg mixture in a slow stream. Make sure to whisk continuously so as not to cook the eggs. Pour the mixture gently through a fine-mesh sieve into a clean bowl. Try to prevent bubbles forming. Divide the mixture evenly among the molds prepared with caramel.
5. Place the molds in a roasting tin and pour some hot water into the tin. The water should reach up to about one-fourth of the molds' height. Cover all the molds together loosely, with a large piece of aluminum foil. Carefully position the roasting tin into the oven and bake for 30-40 minutes or until the center alone of each crème still jiggles ever-so-slightly when you tip the molds. Remove from oven and cool completely. Once cool, transfer to the refrigerator and cool for 2-3 hours.
6. To serve, loosen each crème caramel from its mold by inserting a knife around the sides. Place a serving plate on top and turn upside down. Shake the mold gently, from side to side, if necessary — the crème caramel should come out clean.

{ tips }
- When making the caramel, keep a close eye on it and stop heating at the color of your liking. The deeper the color the bitterer the taste. Once poured into the molds, the caramel will harden almost immediately, so work quickly to swirl and cover the bottoms evenly.
- To create a crème caramel with a smooth texture and no air bubbles, try to prevent creating the bubbles beforehand. Mix without using whipping motions, and pour gently in steady streams. Use a toothpick or the back of a spoon to pop the little bubbles that appear on the surface, before baking in the oven. Baking slowly at a low temperature is also an important factor for avoiding air bubbles.
- Avoid overcooking the creme caramels. I use a convection microwave oven and usually cook the crème caramels for 40 minutes after checking on them after the first 30 minutes. I would recommend checking on them after the first 25 minutes if you are using a larger oven, and adjusting the time accordingly. They are done when the center of each crème caramel is still slightly jiggly.

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