When Ava Lovelace’s geeky erotica novella The Lumberfox opens, it’s winter in Atlanta and it’s snowing. Hard. And if you’ve ever been anywhere near the South when it decides to snow hard, you pretty much know that we’re, well, ill-equipped to deal. So it’s no surprise when heroine Tara and hero Ryon get into a fender bender. And if it’s a little more surprising that Ryon turns out to live nearby and Tara agrees to go home with him, well, all is forgiven by the end of this smoking hot and utterly charming novella of geek romance gone wild.
Ryon Brubaker, our foxy lumberjack type hipster geek, is a brewmaster and executive chef. Tara, our determined geek girl, is a web designer for Cartoon Network. When Ryon rear-ends her in the middle of a snowstorm and their sexual chemistry is immediately apparent, he wisely points out that going home with him to crème brûlée and a warm fire would be infinitely more comfortable than Tara spending the night in her car once she inevitably runs out of gas in the awful traffic. So she demands that he talk to her mom and give her his driver’s license number over the phone, an intelligent and creative way of getting around what otherwise might have seemed an abrupt and dangerous choice on the part of the heroine.
Sometimes it seems like a book has been written just for you and that’s totally how I felt about this one so I’m not sure how objective I can really be. The protagonists make constant inside joke geek references on everything from Star Wars to Firefly to Hunger Games. Since I met my husband playing Dungeons & Dragons, this was super amusing to me, but to a non-geek might be a little confusing. The mutual appreciation for geek culture is an important plot point here though because it goes a long way toward explaining the characters’ immediate affinity for one another. Bonding happens fast between Browncoats.
What follows is some of the hottest and most respectful sex I’ve ever seen in pixels. I counted up the times Ryon asks Tara’s permission to continue or checks in to be sure she’s still on board and it ended up being fourteen, I think. Each one is slightly different and I don’t want to give the sense that it gets repetitive because it totally doesn’t. It just takes this encounter, which could have been stock fantasy material, and makes it simultaneously more interesting and much hotter. Oh, and when I say this novella is smoking hot, I mean really, really hot. This is erotica and it’s pretty explicit. And so, so good.
And, speaking of hot, oh gawd, the FOOD. Ryon brews beer and cooks and bakes for a living. Over the course of the story, Tara is offered roasted chicken with veggies, chocolate truffles, Nutella and strawberries, waffles, hot cocoa, grilled cheese, home-brewed beer and crème brûlée. Gracious, what woman wouldn’t fall head over heels? There are also a couple of food-related metaphors including the sentence, “But he didn’t make a move for the door–just looked at her like she was a steak dripping with butter.” So as a bonus, here’s my favorite recipe for steak dripping with butter.
There are supposed to be three of these Geekrotica novellas in the series. The second, The Superfox, wasn’t my cup of tea, but the third one can probably be expected by the end of the summer once Ava Lovelace (aka Delilah Dawson) is finished with some other projects. I think it’s safe to say that about an hour after it’s available, I’ll have already finished it. Can’t wait!
Ryon is the kind of professional who apparently just keeps crème brûlée in the fridge for unexpected guests. This is not wholly unsurprising as it’s fine to make it three days ahead and just finish it when you’re ready to serve. However, crème brûlée is one of those desserts that often intimidates amateur bakers. First, there are special tools involved: a stand mixer, a kitchen torch and a thermometer. Then there’s the problem of needing the right technique to boil cream, temper eggs and bake in a water bath. I get why people find it a little scary. But it’s not rocket science and if you mess up, nobody dies. You can use a whisk instead of a mixer and get a cheap kitchen torch at Bed Bath and Beyond for under $20. Maybe it’s a geek thing, but playing with fire? How could you turn that down?
If you can’t find or don’t like the chocolate-hazelnut marvel that is Nutella, that’s okay. You can leave it out without other modifications to the recipe. But I still think you should read Lumberfox to find out why this just HAD to be Nutella crème brûlée. I’m not going to deny that this dessert is fussy. But in the process of Googling around to find some tips and tricks to make crème brûlée a little more fool-proof, I hit on some super ones that should make this classic dessert easier for even less experienced bakers. I’ve included some photos and additional instructions under the recipe if you’re interested.
|Or of this is all just too much for you, you could obviously still go this route.|
I recommend you eat this one in bed. Preferably not by yourself.
- 4 cups heavy cream
- 1 whole vanilla bean
- 6 egg yolks
- ½ cup sugar
- 4 tablespoons Nutella, melted in the microwave for 30 seconds
- 4 teaspoons raw or turbinado sugar, divided
- Fresh strawberries (optional)
- Preheat your oven to 330 degrees. In a large saucepan, add your cream. Slice the vanilla bean down the center and scrape out the insides. Add the bean and the insides to the cream. Heat over medium high heat until it comes to a boil. Remove from heat and set aside.
- While cream is cooling, add the egg yolks and sugar to the mixer (or use a wire whisk). Using your whisk attachment, whisk until mixture is creamy and has a light color. Remove vanilla bean from the cream and discard. Temper the egg mixture into the cream mixture (see below for instructions on tempering). Strain if desired. Add in the melted Nutella and continue mixing until everything is combined.
- Pour mixture into ramekins, filling to the interior line on the ramekin. Place the ramekins into a large ovenproof dish or roasting pan with a tea towel in the bottom to stabilize the ramekins. Place the dish into the oven. Fill the dish with warm water so that the water level reaches halfway up the sides of the custard. This creates a water bath so that it will cook evenly. Bake for approximately 40 to 45 minutes, until the center is slightly jiggly and the sides are firm or the centers of the ramekins reach 160-170 degrees on an instant read thermometer.
- Remove the ramekins from the water bath with tongs. Transfer to a baking sheet and refrigerate for 3 to 4 hours or until the mixture sets up completely. Can be made up to three days ahead.
- Remove the crème brûlée 15 minutes prior to melting your sugar. Dust the tops of each ramekin with 1/2 teaspoon of sugar, rolling the edges so that the sugar is distributed evenly. Using your kitchen torch, scorch the tops. Allow to rest five minutes prior to serving.
- Garnish with fresh strawberries, sliced and fanned, and serve.
Here’s some more tips in case you’ve never made crème brûlée before.
First, don’t burn your cream. It’s better if you can just stand there while the heat is on and stir occasionally until it starts to boil. And as soon as it does, take it off the heat and pour it into a heat-proof bowl, preferably one with a pour spout. I like vintage Pyrex, which you can almost always find in thrift stores. Waiting for your cream to finish boiling also gives it time to cool while you deal with your eggs.
Separating eggs is a basic baking skill and I do it a lot. I use a very specific setup though because even though it doesn’t matter too terribly much if you get a little egg white in your egg yolk for this recipe, anything that you make with the leftover egg whites (like meringues, macarons or royal icing) will care very much about a little bit of egg yolk. I separate the eggs one at a time into an egg white holding pen and then dump them into a final container once I’m sure they’re not yolk contaminated.
Next, this is not a time for the underbeating of eggs (which you know should be at room temperature, yes?). In most baking, undermixing is actually a good thing. Not here. When you whisk together your egg yolks and sugar, you want the hint of a froth in addition to your “lighter color” which I think is harder to judge empirically than the presence of a few frothy bubbles or some culinary school style “ribbon stage”.
When it comes time to “temper” your eggs, most modern recipes seem to have no idea what this means. Here’s the thing: tempering eggs doesn’t just involve whisking continuously as your pour cold eggs into hot cream. That’s a recipe for scrambled egg lumps in your custard. No. What you want to do is take six tablespoons of hot cream (one at a time) and whisk them into your cold eggs. This warms the eggs to the point where they won’t scramble in the hot cream. Then you pour your egg mixture into your hot cream while whisking continuously. You can even strain the final product if you want just to be sure there are no eggy lumps, but it probably won’t be necessary if you do your tempering right.
Then when it’s time to bake, add the ramekins to the roasting pan (with a tea towel spread over the bottom underneath the ramekins), put the roasting pan in the oven, and then add the hot water to the pan using a pitcher. That keeps water from sloshing into the ramekins as you move the pan, which is good because water in your custard will definitely keep the crème brûlée from setting properly.
In crème brûlée recipes, you will often see reference to “set on the outside and jiggly in the middle” as when you want to pull out your cups. That’s not precise enough for me and often leads to my custard not being properly set. Big heartbreak when you discover it THREE HOURS LATER after proper refrigeration. So instead, just use a thermometer and remove them from the oven when the temperature reaches 160-170 degrees Fahrenheit.
There! I hope that helps take a little of the fear out of making crème brûlée the way Lovelace used Ryon’s use of affirmative consent to take the fear out of erotica. Go on, try it. You might like it.