Coeur à la crème
“For this was on seynt Volantynys day
Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese his make.”
I blame Geoffrey Chaucer. It was he that first plucked a perfectly normal saint’s day out of the darkness and sent it into the glare of the popularist light. Before you knew it, Shakespeare, Donne and Spenser had followed suit, and by the 18th century all was lost with a sickly sweet nursery rhyme immortalising the words seen in millions of greeting cards the world over on Saint Valentine’s Day.
Now it’s a day that is seen as a massive revenue raiser for the cut flower, greeting card and trinket sectors and a really tricky night for most restaurateurs. A room full of tables of two can sometimes be a little light on the ambience. And then there is the question of what to cook for a Valentine’s Day menu. Do you go the aphrodisiac? Oysters. Or the sultry? Spiced quail in a rose petal sauce. Or maybe even a classic that is too big for one and therefore has to be shared. A classic chateaubriand complete with chateau potatoes and a shallot and wine sauce.
But there’s one thing to be sure – there really needs to be something heart-shaped that appears somewhere on the menu. And my default dish for this? It’s the very lovely coeur à la crème: literally, a heart of cream. Traditionally heralding from Anjou in France and a very close relation to crémet d’Anjou, it’s a set cream to be eaten with a fruit purée and fresh fruit. More often than not, that fruit is berries.
There is something about the process of making coeur à la crème that I find unashamedly romantic. I faff about making my own fromage blanc, a process that takes milk and culture and, with a bit of heating and waiting and straining and hanging, you end up with a cultured set cream/cheese. This is then sweetened and lightened and set in little heart-shaped moulds lined with damp muslin.
The joy of the processes becomes a sort of food alchemy to get lost in. The ultra-fine pattern the muslin leaves on the set cream. The little one-purpose-only ceramic heart moulds with their perforated bottoms. They are all redolent of the love I have for the processes that create a finished product.
This recipe is a little less fuss – more like a bachelor’s quick fix for a romantic dessert. And don’t just pull it out in February. It is a delight to eat any time at all.
Coeur à la crème
– 250g crème fraîche
– 300ml pure cream
– 80g icing sugar
– juice and finely grated zest of 1 lemon
– ½ vanilla bean split and seeds scraped
– 6 x coeur à la crème moulds
– 6 x 20cm squares of muslin
– 60g castor sugar
– 30ml water
– 500g raspberries
To make the coeur à la crème:
Place the crème fraîche, cream, icing sugar, lemon zest and vanilla seeds in a bowl. Whisk until thick.
Line each mould with a damp square of muslin and spoon in the cream mixture.
Bring the sides of the muslin up and fold over the top and place on a tray. Refrigerate overnight.
To make the raspberry sauce:
Dissolve the castor sugar in the water with one tablespoon of lemon juice.
Put mixture in a pan and add half the raspberries to warm through and then pour into a blender or food processor. Purée and then strain through a fine sieve to remove the seeds.
When serving, carefully unmould the little white hearts, pour the coulis about and decorate with the remaining raspberries.
If you don’t have or don’t want to buy the heart-shaped moulds, the process can be done in ramekins lined with muslin. I have even seen some made in tiny (new) terracotta pots.
Billecart-Salmon demi-sec Champagne, France ($100) – Peter Watt, sommelier, du Fermier
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Feb 10, 2018 as "In the mould for love". Subscribe here.