Crème Caramel...and she turned eighteen

She is eighteen.  Eighteen.  I keep rolling the words around my tongue as I savor this profound change.  She has become my best friend and now my adult daughter.  

When I look at her I see the little roly-poly 3 year old with big soulful eyes that absorbed life's details so carefully and thoughtfully.

Or, I see the gangly 12 year old, waving goodbye with a soft smile as she trained for ballet for six weeks thousands of miles away from home.

And then there is the bookish teenager, deeply absorbed in novel after novel... so thankful to be homeschooling so she could geek out on chemistry at the same time as  Jane Austen everything.

As in all aspects of her life, simplicity is a cornerstone of her world.  I knew to give her my recipe book of simple desserts to choose for her birthday rather than think about or plan for a bevy of fancy frosted confections.

Crème Caramel.  Her choice. Simple but with depth and character...just like her.

This February birthday baby has had many birthdays filled with frigid icy temperatures in Michigan, New York, and then Kansas.  We've planned the 'garden' party and the 'tea' party trying to warm up a month known for being in a deep winter slumber.

Delightfully, this will be the second birthday here in the south where the sun is shining, cool breezes are flowing, and a variety of fresh flowers are possible to obtain.

But, a few towering confections made their way into the weekend celebrations.  She was gifted with these incredible cupcakes from a new cupcake shop here in town.  

They were enjoyed, in all honesty, but not quite as celebrated and savored as the crème caramel.  That flip of the caramel was anticipated with hushed suspense.  The slide of the custard onto the plate called for crossed fingers.  The beautiful amber sauce that pooled around the custard was indeed satisfying to ogle.  And the first soft velvety bite of that vanilla infused custardy goodness was so delectable.

We all enjoyed a slow and cherished weekend, punctuated by dinners out on the town with new shoes as well as scented roses nesting at the breakfast table.  M.'s beloved books are always nearby and new ones piled up to add to her bulging collection.

At the beginning of the year, the shock of college readiness, tests, forms, interviews, and college trips struck chords of fear as well as pushed acceptance that her high school years are coming to a close.

As I was busy with worries of this fear and that concern, she was delightedly basking in websites portraying dorm room options and potential club activities.

"Mom, this one has a 'manga' club!"  Or, this college has a french-speaking only dorm" she read off excitedly.

She is ready. 


We are ready.

That is the best gift that she can bestow upon us as parents.  I am no longer searching backwards with longing.  I am now side by side with her looking forward to her next turn of life's corner.

Polly Wolly peeking at what is absorbing my attention

And what would M.'s memories be without her beloved little cat, Polly.  Polly, indeed, is here cautiously and adorably peeking out at my intense interest in this delectable dessert.

Crème Caramel is a wonderful dessert for making ahead.  The little cups of the caramel can be made the day before a dinner and refrigerated.  Right before dessert, the cups are flipped over onto a plate and voila...a sweet and sophisticated presentation.

Planning birthdays will be a different affair next year.  I revel in the thought of bundling care package delights and pre-arranged surprises to be planned.

I look forward with amusement and great curiosity to her showing us her world, her people, her interests, her discoveries.

After planning, schooling, moving, organizing, and often worrying for so many years, I am tickled at the thought of sitting back and watching her master her surroundings.

For all of you who have written to me with seniors in high school, about to embark on this treasured and exciting time, and college age kids, thank you sincerely for your compassion, advice, and thoughtfulness.  

Most of all, thank you for just sharing your thoughts with me about this next leg of ours and your family journey.

**Pleased to learn that my blog has been nominated as one of the choices for "Best Food Photography"  for this year's The Kitchn Homies. If you would like,  you can vote here.

Crème Caramel
(makes 6 ramekins)

2/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup water
1 cup milk
1 cup heavy cream
5 egg yolks
1/2 cup caster or fine sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Special equipment: a pastry brush, 6 (4-ounce) ramekins

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Place the sugar and water in a heavy-bottomed saucepot over low heat. Let the sugar dissolve. Carefully brush the walls of the pot with a little water to prevent the sugar from crystallizing on the sides. Increase the heat to medium-high and boil until the syrup turns golden brown. (Snippet's Note:  do not walk away.  First time, I burned the sugar caramel because it can instantly turned brown.) Remove from the heat promptly and carefully divide the hot caramel among the 6 ramekins. Let cool for at least 2 minutes.

In a medium saucepan, bring the milk and cream to just below a boil over medium-high heat. (Snippet's Note:  you can also scrape the inside of a vanilla bean instead of using extract and put the seeds and bean in the simmering milk.  Just be sure to take the bean out afterwards)  Meanwhile, mix together the egg yolks, caster sugar, and vanilla if not using a real bean)  in a large mixing bowl.  Gently whisk 2 tablespoons of the hot milk mixture into the egg mixture. This is called 'tempering'. You do not want the eggs to cook so you keep whisking and adding the eggs slowly.  Slowly whisk in the remaining hot milk mixture 1/3 at a time, trying to prevent excess bubbles. 

Place your tray for the 'bain marie' in the oven.  The tray will be half filled with water for your 'bain marie'.   Fill each one of the caramel-coated ramekins. Place the 'bain marie' tray on the extended middle rack of the oven. Place the six ramekins in the tray.  Carefully pour hot water into the baking dish until 2/3 of the way up the sides of the ramekins. (Be careful not to get any water on the custard mixture.) Cover the baking dish with aluminum foil and very gently slide it towards the center of the rack. Bake for about 35-40 minutes, or until the custards are almost fully set. Remove from the oven. Use tongs to remove the ramekins from the hot water bath. Let stand at room temperature for 5 minutes, then refrigerate until well chilled.

To serve, dip the ramekin in very hot water for 15 to 20 seconds. Run a sharp knife around the sides of the ramekin. Put a serving plate on top of the ramekin and invert.  The custard will slide out and the caramel will pool around the custards onto the plate. Serve immediately.

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