Progress Is… The Inspiration With Chef Alex

Food Network star Alex Guarnaschelli approaches making delicious desserts the same way she does making everything else: progressively. Instead of coming up with a specific dish and then collecting the ingredients to make it, she starts by seeking out inspiration.

As a New York-based chef, Alex gets a lot of her inspiration from Manhattan’s Union Square Greenmarket. It’s there that she is exposed to a host of vibrant, locally sourced produce. While shopping, Alex is drawn to fresh, seasonal ingredients that will help her make the most flavorful and fragrant meals possible.

Afterward, Alex drives her stylish 2018 Audi SQ5 back to Butter Midtown, where she serves as the executive chef. She then begins laying out a menu that will resonate with her guests. That means crafting unique plates that will both remind her patrons of meals they loved in the past as well as inspire them to try and replicate them at home. For her, making food isn’t about being trendy, it’s about being timeless.

Like a Zen koan, Alex’s approach to cooking is deceptively simple. Her processing is holistic, the first step being prepping all the fresh seasonable ingredients she purchased. Next, comes figuring out how to elevate those flavors to the next level. Usually, that means taking a progressive approach to traditional recipes. For a dessert, that can mean adding some dry sherry into the mix to give it a savory undertone. It’s all about bringing ingredients together that will reinforce each other’s flavor. Ultimately, all of those layers will result in a beautiful and unique dish.

 

Crème Caramel
This dessert has some drama when you unmold it and the caramel spills all over the custard. The sugar has an almost tangy quality that makes it rich in flavor but light enough to finish the meal in the right way. The dish is served at Butter with fresh strawberries (or other seasonal fruit). You can make them the night before and allow them to chill overnight or the day of.
Serves 8

 

For the caramel:

1 cup sugar
1/3 cup water

 

For the custard:

5 large eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3 cups whole milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

 

Equipment: Eight ramekins (6 ounce size)

  1. Preheat the oven to 325 F.
  2. Arrange the ramekins in a roasting pan or baking sheet.
  3. Make the caramel: Using a stainless steel pan, combine the 1 cup of sugar with the water, swirl to blend and heat until it forms a clear syrup. When the sugar and the water have “melted” together completely, raise the heat and watch as the caramel darkens slightly. Remove from the heat and immediately divide the caramel evenly between the 8 ramekins.
  4. Make the custard: In a bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar and salt. In a medium pot, bring the milk to a gentle simmer, add the vanilla and pour it over the egg mixture. Whisk to blend. Distribute the liquid evenly between the 8 ramekins. Put at least 11/2 inches of water in the bottom of the baking sheet so it makes a “water bath” for the custards as they cook. Put the tray in the center of the oven and bake until they are firm in the center, 45-55 minutes. Allow to cool for 30 minutes and then refrigerate a little before serving.
  5. Allow the custards to cool completely before running a knife around the top edge of each ramekin and unmolding the custard onto a plate.

 

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