This week is Banned Books Week, and in the spirit of controversial words and rallying against censorship, I accepted an invitation from the Haphazard Gourmet Girls to pair a banned book and a recipe that would (hopefully) reflect a theme of said book.
One of my all-time favorite books, and one commonly banned or challenged, is Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451. For those out there who were born without the gift of sight or maybe never learned to read, Fahrenheit 451 is a story of a not-so-distant future when electronic media entertains the brain-washed masses and books of all kinds have been made illegal. (Starting to sound eerily familiar?) In this dystopian existence, firemen are tasked not with the duty of saving lives and property by extinguishing fires, but instead searching out the owners of illicit literature, confiscating it, and setting it ablaze, "for the good of humanity".
The novel's lead character, Montag, is a fireman who's world is flipped on it's head when on a routine book-burning mission his curiosity awakens and he decides to save one of the books for himself. This curiosity, and Montag's realization that people have been turned into zombies by not being able to think for themselves and enjoy literature, causes his whole world to quickly unravel. He soon finds himself on the run, fighting to save what he once used to destroy.
I won't ruin the whole story for both people out there that have yet to read this classic. The irony of banning a book about censorship should not be lost on anyone out there, especially when information is being thrown at us from all directions via electronic media, and books (in their traditional form, at least) are being carried out with the tide. If anything, this book should serve as a warning that our voracious appetite for instant-gratification entertainment and byte-size information could quickly take the place of education and intellect; a warning even more relevant now than in 1953 when the book was published.
So in honor of our need for curiosity, imagination, and the comfort of a good book, I decided to set fire to my kitchen. Ok, not really, but I did prepare a dish that made use of one major element of the novel: Fire. I don't know if my handy brulee torch burns at 451 degrees, but it certainly did the trick. So without further ado, I give you my Burnt Books Brulee, inspired by Fahrenheit 451 and the great Ray Bradbury. Better stand back, there's a crazy man with a hand torch in the kitchen.
Burnt Books Brulee
1 Cup whipping cream
2 egg yolks
1/3 Cup sugar
1/2 Teaspoon vanilla
6 to 8 Teaspoons fine granulated sugar
Preheat oven to 300 deg. F. Put cream in a saucepan and stir over medium heat, just to the point of boiling. Set aside.
In a small bowl, whisk the egg yolks, sugar, and vanilla until blended. Into this, add the hot cream a little bit at a time, stirring constantly to temper the eggs so they don't scramble. Place 4 ramekins in a hot water bath and fill them evenly with the mixture. Bake for about 35 minutes. The custards should be mostly set, but the centers should still jiggle slightly. Remove the hot water bath from the oven and let cool until the ramekins are cool enough to handle. Remove ramekins, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 1/2 hours or up to 2 days.
Before serving, sprinkle 1 to 2 teaspoons of the fine granulated sugar on the surface of each custard and torch until caramelized.
Note: No books were harmed during the preparation of this dish. I promise.
"...the books say nothing! Nothing you can teach or believe. They're about nonexistent people, figments of imagination, if they're fiction. And if they're nonfiction, it's worse..." -Beatty to Montag, Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury.