It must have been the 80s, or even the 70s, when she bought the six little heart ramekins with drainage holes in the base. I remember being quite small when I asked her what these intriguing dishes were for.
“They’re for making coeur à la crème”, she answered matter-of-factly and pulled a French cookbook from the shelf, flicking to the photo.
Pretty white hearts of cream floated in a puddle of bright red fruit sauce and looked wonderful. I couldn’t wait to taste them.
But she never made them.
Years went by and, despite moving houses many times, she never made the dessert nor threw away or sold the ramekins. They sat at the back of cupboard, a quiet reminder of all the things you never get around to doing.
When my mother passed away, I inherited the ramekins. They have sat in my cupboard for ten years and I haven’t made coeur à la crème either. Jonas has begged me to get rid of them, but for some reason these little dishes hold a special place in my heart and I put them on my 2011 Food Challenge list.
So today, on the tenth anniversary of her death, I decided to finally cook and eat coeur à la crème.
Today is also my birthday, which makes it even sadder when I realise that I’ve lived one third of my life without her now. She never knew me as an adult, which I know was something she was so sad she would miss out on.
The raw pain of losing her is as intense now as it was ten years ago.
A friend of mine, Nicki, who lost her own mother before me, told me “It never stops hurting, you just get better at coping with the sadness.”
That’s the truth.
I thought today would be spent sobbing, but then something spooky and quite wonderful happened this morning to take away some of the loneliness.
Before my mother died she swore that if there was life after death, and if she was able to get word out, she’d try to make contact with me. We giggled about it, two atheists making plans like POWs escaping from a prison camp.
This morning Jonas and I woke to find a cold, grey winter day and no electricity for our heater, oven or fridge. There was a power outage.
I told Jonas that at 9:20am, the time I was born, the power would come back on, as a little 'happy birthday' from my mother. I turned on the powerless bedside lamp, and at 9:20am I thought of my mother and said aloud with sheer confidence, “Ok, it’s my birthday now. Turn on the lights Mummy.”
And with that, they flickered on.
As an atheist, I’m sure it’s coincidental but, as a daughter, I’d like to think it was my mother telling me she loved me.
~ ~ ~
This French dessert is usually made from fromage frais (fresh cheese) which is a creamy, soft curd cheese. I couldn’t find any fromage frais, or even quark, so I decided to use a combination of cream cheese and mascarpone.
It was a wonderful way to celebrate my birthday, and my mother’s memory.
Coeur à la Crème
Based on a recipe by Australian Gourmet Traveller. Serves 6
250g cream cheese
110g (½ cup) pure icing sugar
1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped
200ml double cream
300g (2 punnets) raspberries
75g (⅓ cup) pure icing sugar
60ml (¼ cup) Cointreau
1. Start the day before by combining cream cheese, mascarpone, icing sugar and vanilla bean seeds in a food processor until smooth, scraping down sides.
2. Add cream and pulse until just combined. Cut six 20cm squares of muslin, rinse well and wring out.
3. Either line specialised coeur à la crème ramekins with muslin, wrap over the top and place on a plate so whey can drip through drainage holes. Refrigerate overnight.
Make free form by placing muslin on a work surface and divide cream mixture (about ½ cup each) between muslin squares. Bring corners of muslin together, twist tightly and tie securely with kitchen twine. Tie to hang on a rack and place a tray underneath to catch whey. Refrigerate overnight.
4. For raspberry coulis, process raspberries, icing sugar and Cointreau in a food processor until smooth, then push through a fine sieve, discarding seeds. Makes about 300ml.
5. Remove coeurs à la crème from muslin, invert onto coulis, carefully peel away muslin and serve.
Note: instead of mascarpone use fromage frais, quark, ricotta or cottage cheese.