Food is tied up in so many metaphors, but probably the most evocative of all are about sugar. The taste of sweetness is something all babies crave. And no matter how old we get, we never lose our fondness for sugar. Our sweet tooth just starts to crave different forms of satisfaction.
The first song about sweetness and love I remember was “Sugar, Sugar” (1969) by the Archies. It has a delightful bubblegum pop quality; what’s not to like about lines like “You are my candy girl and you got me wanting you.”
I was just 5 when the Rolling Stones first asked “Brown sugar, how come you taste so good?” in their classic song from the Sticky Fingers album. As soon as I was old enough to tune my boom box to rock music on WLS, I knew Brown Sugar was naughty, what with the slave owner taking advantage of the women he owned and the double entendre equating brown sugar with Black women and taste with, uh, tasty things. This was the kind of song my parents would not want me listening to, which of course made it more appealing.
The 1987 rock anthem “Pour Some Sugar on Me” by Def Leppard left me indifferent. The lead singer sounds like he wants to make noise more than love. Echo & the Bunnymen’s “Lips Like Sugar” from the same year is reserved and sad, a song more about longing and a passing encounter with a woman who floats like a swan across the water. If you caught her, she’d have “lips like sugar… sugar kisses.”
R & B artist D’Angelo tells the story of a girl from Philly named Brown Sugar in his 1995 song of the same name. The sexy hook is the best part: “I want some of your Brown Sugar, oh oh oh, oooh.” And there’s something appealing about the way Baby Bash & Frankie J brags about his girl, asking “Suga, suga how’d you get so fly?”
But my favorite of all these is Flo Rida’s song “Sugar” (2009) which mixes an infectious, candy-coated beat with funny lyrics and an even more humorous video of his Novocaine-induced daydream.
For my sugar-inspired dessert, I started with Alton Brown’s flawless crÃ¨me brÃ»lÃ©e recipe from the Food Network Site. My ramekins got left behind when I moved to Oakland, so I baked them in heavy-duty ceramic coffee cups I snagged at the thrift store down the street. And instead of topping the finished custards with vanilla sugar, I used a 50-50 mixture of vanilla bean infused sugar and Smoked Brown Sugar from The Smoked Olive.
Smoked Brown Sugar CrÃ¨me BrÃ»lÃ©e
1 quart heavy cream
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
1/2 cup vanilla sugar
6 large egg yolks
2 quarts hot water
1/2 cup Smoked Brown Sugar
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
Place the cream, vanilla bean and its pulp into a medium saucepan set over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat, cover and allow to sit for 15 minutes. Remove the vanilla bean and reserve for another use.
In a medium bowl, whisk together 1/2 cup sugar and the egg yolks until well blended and it just starts to lighten in color. Add the cream a little at a time, stirring continually. Pour the liquid into 6 (7 to 8-ounce) ramekins (or cups). Place the ramekins into a large cake pan or roasting pan. Pour enough hot water into the pan to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake just until the crÃ¨me brÃ»lÃ©e is set, but still trembling in the center, approximately 40 to 45 minutes. Remove the ramekins from the roasting pan and refrigerate for at least 2 hours and up to 3 days.
Remove the crÃ¨me brÃ»lÃ©e from the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes prior to browning the sugar on top. Divide the smoked brown sugar equally among the 6 dishes and spread evenly on top. Using a torch, melt the sugar and form a crispy top. Allow the crÃ¨me brÃ»lÃ©e to sit for at least 5 minutes before serving.
Adapted from Alton Brown of The Food Network.