Missy Weldy enjoys cooking food but, even more, she likes to burn it.
The French word for “scorched” is “brûlée,” as in “crème brûlée,” custard that is sprinkled with sugar and torched to create a crispy, caramel layer. But, fancy term or no, Weldy likes the thrill of almost, but not quite, lighting pickles, baked beans and other foods on fire. She translates that enthusiasm into “Brûlée Yay or Nay,” a series of short videos in which she scatters sugar on random foods and then lights ’em up.
It started with a butane torch, a kitchen item the south Minneapolis woman bought a couple of months ago.
“I love my torch so much! I’m thinking of knitting it a cozy. Originally, my intention was to make crème brûlée but I didn’t have the ingredients on hand and I wanted to use the torch, so I thought, ‘What do I have?’ And then I thought: ‘Oatmeal!’ ” recalled Weldy, 46, whose wife, Erica Mauter, has declined to be in the weekly YouTube shows. “That’s just how my brain works. I make random connections and then see if I can act on them.”
She has acted on them a lot. Weldy only recently got around to making her first crème brûlée, but she has put the heat on just about everything else in her pantry. The result is 10 two- or three-minute episodes of “Brûlée Yay or Nay,” which can be found on YouTube and an Instagram account, @bruleeyayornay.
It follows a simple format: Weldy makes or buys (in the case of frozen pizza) some sort of food, places it on aluminum foil on her dining room table, pours on some sugar, caramelizes it with her torch, recites a limerick about it while waiting for the sugar to cool, tastes the brûléed item and concludes by giving it a “yay,” “nay” or, in one instance, “OK.”
All of that time, the effervescent Weldy also is filming with her cellphone. The only thing she doesn’t do is the limericks, which are written by an anonymous friend who is paid in Weldy’s favorite food, carrots.
One of the most appealing things about carrots — and crème brûlée — is crunchiness, argues Weldy, who thinks “crunch” should be considered one of the food groups. That puts her in the company of the fictitious title character of the movie “Amelie,” who lists among her biggest pleasures using a spoon to crack the shell of a crème brûlée.
In her show, Weldy applies the scientific method to cooking, which makes sense since she is a scientist. A former first-grade teacher in Bloomington Public Schools, she’s now part of the Microbiota Therapeutics team at the University of Minnesota, which you may have read about in Mary Roach’s bestseller, “Gulp.” She’s part of a process in which, essentially, microbes from healthy poop are transplanted into people with gastrointestinal issues in an effort to nudge their digestive tracts in the right direction.
“Growing up, I wanted to work with animals. That didn’t pan out and I thought I wanted to do environmental biology for a while, but then I got into medicinal biology. It’s just been a great fit. I love learning about the things we can’t see that are so impactful in our lives,” said Weldy.
She always has enjoyed entertaining herself with personal challenges — running a half-marathon, perfecting the haiku, creating a sweepstakes for classmates when she was in grade school — so honing her torch skills has been a big part of the videos’ fun.
Twin Cities brûlée expert Diane Moua gets that.
“It’s actually an art. It’s how high you hold the torch, how close you hold the torch, how long. Some people make [the layer of sugar] too thin, some too thick. There are so many facets. It’s not just burning sugar,” said Moua. “Teaching my staff to brûlée, they burn it all the time or they’re under-brûléeing and not getting that caramelization.”
Moua, whose hands have scars that evidence the hazards of molten sugar, says even she still encounters the occasional hiccup when she’s torching at work, where they do the classic crème, as well as brûléeing crêpe cakes, bananas and even macarons. She thinks the inherent danger is part of the appeal of a good brûlée. Like bungee jumping or writing an entire novel that’s one long sentence, it’s the flirtation with disaster that gives it zing.
“Torching something is very glamorous. It’s adding the final touch to it. We do lot of cakes and my go-to frosting is a Swiss meringue you torch,” said Moua. “Just a little heat touches it, and it’s the most beautiful thing ever.”
Moua is not the only one interested in the drama of brûléeing.
“When I did the soufflé, it caught on fire. The brownie did, too. Part of it is, I pretend like, ‘Oops, it caught on fire,’ but actually I think it adds some fun to the show,” admitted Weldy, whose dogs Florence and Peanut Louise have made cameo appearances in the videos.
There’s a long list of things Weldy would like to brûlée, and friends offer suggestions, such as the cauliflower that was the loudest “nay” thus far. The biggest success? Oatmeal so delicious that Weldy said, “You could serve it in a restaurant.”
She began making “Brûlée Yay or Nay” just before COVID-19 forced her to work from home. With a long list of things she might try sprinkling sugar on and torching, she says the pandemic has intensified her interest in brûléeing. But she has an idea for her next challenge already: making her version of Pop-Tarts, the toaster pastry, with mystery fillings for guests to sample and judge.
“It could even be a State Fair booth. You order the filling of your choice or you order a surprise, like a grab bag. I love grab bags!” said Weldy.
While brainstorming, Weldy has made them filled with Nutella, peanut butter and jelly, and pickles and mustard. Other ideas are taking shape but it’s certainly not a stretch to imagine worlds colliding and a brûléed Pop-Tart somewhere in Weldy’s future.
Chris Hewitt • 612-673-4367