Happy Monday! I hope everyone had a great weekend! I am off to Palm Springs tomorrow for a girls trip, so no better way to get ready for bathing suit weather than by making (and eating) dessert, am I right?
Jan van der Heyden was a Dutch Baroque-era artist and inventor whose artistic legacy can be seen in museums all over the world as well as streets and firehouses throughout Europe. In addition to his artistic career, van der Heyden was fascinated by fire, and together with his brother, a hydraulic engineer, he designed and implemented a complex lighting system used in Amsterdam from 1669-1840, and came up with a pump mechanism for putting out fires. After witnessing a fire in an old town hall as a child, van der Heyden’s interest in fire became an obsession, and he often sketched city fires taking place in neighborhoods all over Amsterdam.
Thankfully he also made some non-fire related art, and Room Corner with Curiosities is one of his most well-known interior scenes. In the right corner of the foreground, closest to the viewer is an open bible, which happens to lay open to a famous line by Ecclesiastes that translates to “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity,” meaning that all earthly knowledge and beauty are futile. Van der Heyden completed this work the same year that he died, and this vanitas theme probably hinted that he had the sense that his end was near. Vanitas still lifes such as this are very common in art, and this one, with the open book literally forces the message upon us. Arranged all around the bible are other objects that represent the entire worldly culture at the time. A couple atlases in the background symbolize world travel in general, but also the birth and independence of the Netherlands. The globe closest to us is turned to Bergen (Holland), the site of the first victory of the war of independence from Spain, and this detail reminds the viewer of the importance of Holland within the larger world. The Turkish carpet, Chinese silk, porcelain, Japanese weapons and stuffed armadillo all represent current trade routes at the time, and show the opulent and beautiful objects that could be brought back. Van der Heyden neatly ties everything together with a classical motif, a nod to the true origin of modern civilization. A painting depicting the “Tragedy of Dido” hangs above the fireplace, and a German cabinet in the right corner is decorated with an image of Minerva, the Roman goddess of wisdom and sponsor of the arts, trade and strategy.
This was my first foray into making crème brulee, and using a kitchen blowtorch, so I was sure to keep a fire extinguisher handy just in case. It was probably not the same model designed by van der Heyden, but thankfully I didn’t have to use it. I have a feeling that van der Heyden was watching over me as I topped these beauties with a nice caramelized topping, ready to step in with his fire-extinguishing skills if needed!
1 egg, room temperature
4 egg yolks, room temperature
½ cup sugar plus 1 tablespoon for each serving
3 cups heavy cream
1 vanilla bean, scraped
1 tablespoon Grand Marnier liqueur
Preheat the oven to 300°F, and set a water kettle to boil.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat together the egg, egg yolks and ½ cup sugar on low speed until combined. While the beater is going, carefully heat the cream in a small saucepan over medium heat. Stir constantly to prevent scalding, and heat just until the cream is hot to the touch, but not yet boiling. Keep the mixer on low speed and slowly pour the hot cream into the bowl. Add in the vanilla and Grand Marnier and beat until fully combined.
Evenly distribute the batter into 6 8-ounce ramekins and arrange on a heavy, rimmed baking sheet. Pour boiling water into the baking sheet, filling it so that the water comes halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake the crème brulee for 35-40 minutes, until the custard is set and gently wiggles when you shake the ramekin. Remove from the water bath and let cool to room temperature, then refrigerate for at least an hour.
Now the fun part! Remove the ramekins from the fridge and evenly spread 1 tablespoon of sugar over each custard. Carefully heat the sugar with a blowtorch until the sugar caramelizes. This part takes some practice – as you can see, mine aren’t totally evenly caramelized, but life is imperfect, right?
Let cool for a few minutes (so that the sugar hardens) and serve right away!
Recipe adapted from Ina Garten
Featured art: Room Corner with Curiosities, 1712, oil on canvas