Charged with making a dessert for a friend's dinner party this past weekend, and unable to decide between a simple flan or its more elaborate cousin, the crème brûlée, I compromised and slapped together a melange of both. I unwisely called this new, compound pudding a flème brûlée.
I wrote the name down on a menu card, obviously, since saying "I've brought individual flème brûlées!" out loud doesn't sound particularly appetizing. In my experience, diners will always decline what they think is mucus after a meal, even if it is covered with burnt sugar, in favor of more conventional sweetmeats.
Nevertheless, despite the menu cards, much of my cocktail hour small talk was spent explaining to bemused fellow guests the crucial difference between flème and phlegm; a task somewhat complicated by the fact that these two vastly different substances can, admittedly, be quite the same color.
You should have just told people it was a crème caramel, my host said. Better yet, you shouldn't have called it anything at all. This flème business really complicates everything. I thought you were just supposed to be bringing a blueberry pie, anyway.
That would have been nice, his wife added. Most of us are lactose intolerant.
Avoiding their reproving eyes, I stared shamefully at my desserts. Somehow all the individual flème brûlées had splodged themselves together into one big pile of wobbly custard and brown stuff during the journey over. The ugly, mostly yellow mess looked as though a giant troll with pneumonia had sneezed into a cake tin.
Hide it in the fridge for now, my host said. We're not sitting down for another half hour or so, so there's plenty of time to run around the corner and get a non-dairy, fruit-laden sponge something from Whole Foods to appease Stacy. You and I can ladle out the flème later when everybody's gone. How much booze is in there?
None, I replied.
None? His face fell. What's the point of custard if you're not going to drown it in brandy? It's kind of gross, like swallowing oysters without first slathering them in horseradish or mignonette sauces.
It never occurred to me, I conceded. I had the two recipes for the flan and the crème brûlée. I combined them to create the flème brûlée and left it at that. Had I included the brandy it would have to be called a flème brandûlée, which is probably a dessert too far, don't you think?
While I was watching his eyes roll, Stacy returned with two martini glasses. This is my version of the classic Negroni cocktail, she said. Gin and vermouth mixed with bourbon instead of Campari.
Not bad, I said. What do you call it?
I just call it my version of a Negroni, she replied. It's easier for everyone that way.
Dinner was nice: a simple, nameless chicken dish. But as I ate I thought of Chicken Cordon Bleu; of Chicken Piccata and General Gau's chicken; of Chicken Kiev, Chicken Versuvio, Chicken Chettinad, Chicken Tikka Masala and of all the chicken recipes with names that came to mind; and I decided to call the one that I was eating The Unknown Chicken.