What could be better on a hot summer day than a big, cold glass of…
Literally translated, Crème Brûlée means Burnt Cream, but the way the French say it is much more romantic. A rich, creamy vanilla custard topped with a layer of hard caramel, that is literally, scorched sugar.
What better way to bring romance to the table than to break out the blow torch and burn a little sugar?!
This is a dessert we often share, each of us coveting the bits of bitter-sweet caramel crunch, competing for the last scoop of sweet custard. Enjoying each creamy mouthful; the cool custard, the hot caramel the contrast, the sexy smoothness.
This is the base for our Valentine’s Day dessert feature, a beautiful classic, which we’re featuring with a bit of a twist; but first we give you the basic recipe for Crème Brûlée, with a couple of tips from Chef B to ensure perfection.
First, start with real cream, the 35% stuff don’t try to skinny-up this recipe by using half and half, it contains too much water and that will make your custard break. Go full fat, then add a great quality vanilla; either a vanilla bean or a real vanilla bean paste.
You want to SEE the gains of vanilla, it should tint the cream to a hue of soft beige, speckled with dark, rich vanilla bean.
Next, cream the egg yokes with sugar, lightly whisking until it is a creamy, buttery yellow, then set the whisk aside.
Bubbles are the mortal enemy of Crème Brûlée, as you add the warm cream to the cold egg mixture, don’t whisk. Instead gently stir with a spatula or wooden spoon as you combine the custard to a smooth, even texture
There is a fine line between cooked custard and sweetened scrambled eggs, so add the cream slowly to the the yokes so you don’t COOK them. If you notice a curdy texture, you’re hooped. A couple of fine curds you can remove by passing through a fine sieve, but big chunky curds… you’ve got breakfast, not dessert. “Chunky” is not an adjective that applies to Crème Brûlée, if the custard is rough, you go back to square one and start again.
Go slow, don’t rush the custard. Think… foreplay.
As you pour your custard into the baking dishes, you may notice a few bubbles on the top. To eliminate them, grab your barbecue lighter and gently fan the flame across the top, this will burst the bubbles and leave the surface smooth.
The other area where you want to avoid bubbling, is in the oven, you do not want to bring the custard to a boil, because it will separate and break the custard giving you, once again; scrambled eggs. Instead, lower your temperature (to 280*F) and cook longer. You know they’re done when the top is springy to the touch and the centre is still slightly jiggly.
Once it’s baked, smooth and cooled sufficiently in the fridge, apply a coat of sugar on the top. Spread it with your fingertips so that the distribution of sugar is even.
Now is time for the fun part, a little flame to the top of the sugar to melt and caramelize it so it colours to a sweet amber and forms a hard candy shell on the top. Purists would insist that some portion of the middle be coloured a deeper, mahogany; burning the sugar for that slight bitterness that creates the greatest contrast of flavour and gives the dish it’s name.
No need for the oxy-acetylene fellas, a hand torch will do… it’s burnt, not incinerated.
Crème Brûlée Recipe
Prep time: 35 minutes
Cooking time: 50 – 60 minutes
3 cups heavy cream (35% milk fat)
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
(or 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste)
1/2 cup sugar
6 large egg yolks
plus 1/4 cup of sugar to finish your caramel
Preheat the oven to 280*F
- Start with the cream, vanilla bean and its pulp into a medium saucepan, over medium-high heat and bring to a low boil. Remove from the heat, cover and allow to sit for 15 minutes. Remove vanilla bean.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together 1/2 cup sugar and the egg yolks until well blended and it should be a creamy yellow. Add the warm cream, a little at a time, stirring constantly, with a spoon or spatula.
- Pour the liquid into 6 (7 to 8-ounce) ramekins. Place the ramekins in a large cake pan or roasting pan, deep enough to accommodate hot water halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Pour boiling water, carefully around the ramekins. Bake just until the Crème Brûlée is set, but still trembles in the center when moved slightly, approximately 45 – 60 minutes (or until it’s done).
- Remove the ramekins from the roasting pan and refrigerate for at least 2 hours and up to 3 days.
- Remove Crème Brûlée from the refrigerator and allow to stand at room temperature for 15 to 30 minutes. Add approximately 1 tablespoon of sugar to the top of the cold custard, spread evenly with fingertip. Using a torch, melt the sugar and form a crispy top of amber-brown caramel, scorched slightly. Allow the to sit 2 to 3 minutes before serving.
French tradition states that the caramel should be so firmly set that the spoon will stand erect in the dish as it’s presented at the table.
Share (passionately) with someone you love.
Happy Valentine’s Day Foodie Gypsies.