AFTER 10 months of not being able to leave… not a country, not even a state/province, but a particular CITY due to personal circumstances, at a certain point, the “think tank” starts to resemble more like a warm puddle in the middle of a barren desert. Nowadays I seek recipe-inspirations like a stinking camel seeks for water, only minus the ability to regurgitate. Don’t get me wrong. All paranoid recipe-bloggers, me included, respects a well-stocked recipe-reservoir like doomsday-preppers hold high regards for canned beans. It’s almost a co-dependant relationship and my list is about a mile long.
I guess… a closet full of recipes and nothing to cook, best puts it.
But ironically, as the painstakingly studied and tested recipes often end in heartbreaks, some of the best things I’ve cooked here are incidental occurrences on a whim. Which brings us to today’s: So random I don’t even know what to call it. Yah. I don’t know what to call it because it came from a peripheral glance over the last 30 seconds of a TV-show that I don’t even know the name of, which (I think) pulled some golden-browned butter/sugar toast out of a skillet and served with soft cheese. The idea stayed with me not because it was as hazy as a hallucinated mirage, but because instead of the more popular way of making “creme brûlée” toasts as under the broiler, this does it more efficiently and successfully, inside a skillet.
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CARAMEL STRAWBERRIES WILL BURST… THROUGH THIS BUTTERY, SUGARY, SALTY AND CHEESY GLORY
If you have ever tried making creme brûlée toasts under a broiler, you’d know that it’s an extremely volatile and unpredictable task. Every single factor – the type of bread, the amount of sugar, the type of oven, blah blah blah – can contribute to its blackened, smokey, inedible demise. But by doing it in a skillet – letting the toasts absorb a mixture of butter and sugar until they brown, caramelize and adhere to the golden browned toasts – the outcome is a much more controllable, crunchy, and delicious surprise.
Since we are already in the zone of talking caramel, why stop here? Drawing inspiration from a traditional Chinese roadside snack, where they skewer various types of fruits, coat them with a whiffy thin layer of hot malt sugar then let hardened, I thought there’s no reason why caramel-coated strawberries would be unwelcomed between creme brûlée toasts and warm, melty brie. And once in a very long while, everything just sort of goes according to plan. The creme brûlée toasts are buttery and crunchy, with just enough heat to soften a good smear of French brie. Then the caramel strawberries will burst through their crackly, lacey jackets as pressure applies and run their juices through this buttery, sugary, salty and cheesy feast of unnamed glory.
I guess there’s still some milage left in this tank.
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Makes: 2 sandwiches or 4 open-face
I don’t know why I’m fixated on making these more of a “sandwich” when in fact, it will probably be prettier and easier to eat as an “open face” (you know, like bruschetta). So I’m leaving that option to you. For an open-face toast, you’ll maybe need to double the amount of caramel/candy strawberries depending on the size of your bread, and also the size of strawberries. I needed 6 small strawberries to fill 1 toast.
The freshly grated nutmeg is very important as it gives an “ooomph” to the flavour. Don’t be shy. You’ll want to see flakes of it through out the toasts.
Updates 2014/08/05: Thanks to a reader we now know the show that inspired this! It’s called Heartland Table with Amy Thielen. In the show she uses maple syrup instead of sugar, which I think is a even better idea! If you want to try maple syrup, substitute 3 tbsp of granulated sugar with 1/4 cup of maple syrup.
- Caramel and strawberries:
- 1/3 cup (70 grams) of granulated sugar
- 2 tsp of water
- 12 ~ 14 small~medium size strawberries
- Small cup of ice water on the side
- 4 slices of rustic country bread
- 4 tbsp of unsalted butter
- 3 tbsp of granulated sugar
- 1 large chunk of good quality brie
- Fresh nutmeg for grating
To make the caramel/candy strawberries: Wash and remove the stems from the strawberries, then set aside. Have a small cup of iced water ready. Heat the sugar and water in a small pot over medium heat. Cook until the sugar has melted and turned from clear to a pale yellow then to a rich, amber color (careful not to let it turn dark brown or it’ll taste bitter). This will take approx 5 min.
Remove from the heat, then pick up a strawberry with a fork and dip it inside the caramel to coat thinly (there will be a bit of sizzle). Let excess caramel drip off, then dip the strawberry in the iced water for 5 sec for the caramel to harden. Remove the strawberry from the fork and set aside. Repeat with the rest (If the caramel starts to cool down and is too thick to work with, return it to medium heat until it has loosen up again).
To make the toasts: Melt the unsalted butter and sugar in a large flat-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat (if your skillet isn’t large enough to fit all 4 slices perfectly flat, then do it in two batches). Once the butter and sugar look evenly blended (even though you may still see sugar-granules in the mixture), place the sliced bread inside the skillet with a tongs. Swirl the bread inside the mixture for a few seconds to coat evenly, then flip and coat the other side as well. Both sides of the bread should have evenly absorbed all the butter and sugar. Cook the breads until golden browned, with caramel crust on each sides.
Remove from the skillet, and while hot, apply a generous layer of brie on top. Pile the candy strawberries on top and grate a good amount of fresh nutmeg on top. Serve immediately.
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