Obviously, I wrote this recipe with Valentine’s Day in mind, but – lucky for her – this week was also exam week for Alexis. So, what could I make that says “mi amor, Querida, light of my life, I love you” and at the same time, “I know you’re so stressed out that you might murder me if I open my mouth one more time while you’re studying, but look, something tasty!” The answer is, of course, ice cream. Decadent, creamy, hand-whipped to fluffy perfection, iced-cream. The kind of comfort food that takes a lot of love to make and makes whoever eats it chill, breathe, and then go back for a second (or fifth) scoop. Rather than just give you plain ol’ vanilla, I rolled up two particularly tasty scoops to try, but this recipe will work for just about any flavor you want to make.
In truth, I am not particularly skilled when it comes to cookies. To the disappointment and regret of both my and Alexis’ stomachs, I have previously made notoriously bad biscuits (a.k.a cookies if you aren’t British or haven’t, like us, been consuming unhealthy servings of the Great British Baking show). The butter always seeps out and leave a wafer thin biscuit that approaches a caramel crisp. In an attempt to be delectably creative, I have in the past made “salted chocolate” cookies that were, in a word, inedible. However, with Christmas approaching and the urge to churn out adorable, uniform, and decorate-able cookies at an all time high (to tide over Saint Nick on his trip) I went to the kitchen and whipped, shaped, and baked until these came out. They are deliciously buttery, just sweet enough, with an extremely satisfying snap and crumble that the name shortbread demands.
I’m not especially inclined to write dessert recipes, especially ones with caramel. For one, caramel is about the worst thing in the world to work with. It took me three tries to not burn the caramel the first time I made this dish, and I’m still learning how to handle molten sugar without burning myself. Also, desserts are finicky when it comes to finding what’s individually palatable. Everyone has their own tastes and preferences; some people could find this dish unbearably sweet, others might call for a bottle of syrup as they munch on sugar cubes. Growing up overseas, one thing you learn at a dinner table is that desserts do no translate well; there are too many textures and flavors to play with and they are all magnified in the name of something saccharine after dinner. That being said, this flan is delicious. It’s fun and fancy (as long as you don’t tell anyone how easy it is to make) and the perfect custard to try if you want to dip a toe in the sea of creamy desserts.
The first time I tasted tiramisu, we were in Venice for Christmas. We had gone to Murano for the day to watching glassblowing, and my family crowded into a tiny cafe for lunch. The heat of the kiln had made us sweat damp puddles inside our coats, the icy breeze whipping off the sea and squeezing itself had chilled every inch of semi-exposed skin, and the bridges (the endless, rolling maze of canal bridges) had beaten our feet into pudding in our shoes. We collapsed around a table, aching for food and rest. I remember that Mom got a Pasta al Nero di Seppia (pasta made with cuttlefish ink) only because she still talks about it to this day. I forget what I – or any of the rest of my family got – not because it wasn’t really good food, but because of our dessert. Tiramisu. The kind of thick, silky, regal tiramisu that eclipses all other memories of food – for that meal and everything else I ate or tasted for the next month. It started slowly, my sister pointing to the squares of tiramisu, suggesting we split a piece or two between the lot of us, “just for a treat.” And it ended with us going back for thirds. When we left that cafe, we were each of us a few pounds heavier; stuffed with chocolate, cream, and sponge – the perfect insulation for a cold, winter day.