I know Valentine’s Day is in a couple weeks but I wanted to get in early so you can warm-up or practice this recipe. It’s a guaranteed kiss on the smacker when you nail it and it’s perfect for sharing with your Honey. How many of you go to a restaurant and before your server even finishes telling you about the dessert menu, you jump him when he says, “crème brûlée”? I’m not really sure how anyone could not love it. I mean, creamy custard with a caramelized sugar crust??? Plus, torching the crap out of some sugar is super fun. Believe it or not, this is a simple dessert that makes any meal memorable and even sexy, somehow. I think it’s the breaking of the sugar crust into the sweet creamy custard (remember Amelie?).
You will need to get your hands on a butane kitchen torch. Go to any kitchen supply store and they will have them. You really don’t have to spend a lot of money on one–it blows a scorching hot fire, how sophisticated does it need to be? Secondly, you will need ramekins (6 or so, 8 oz.) that are ovensafe and not too deep. An inch in depth is perfect. Finally, the custard will be baked in a “bain-marie” or water bath so make sure you have a roasting pan. The bain-marie is often used in baking custards because it heats evenly and gently, making for a more uniform texture and appearance.
Ok, here’s to plenty o’ kisses on your successful “burnt cream”!
- 1 quart heavy cream
- 6 large egg yolks
- 1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
- 1 cup sugar, divided into 2 halves (one for custard, one for brulée’ing)
- 2 quarts hot water for bain-marie
Preheat your oven to 325˚.
Put the cream, vanilla bean and its pulp into a saucepan on medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat, cover and allow to sit for 15 minutes (The longer you let the mix sit, the more intense the flavor. I’ve seen pastry chefs steep for a couple hours).
In a medium bowl, whisk 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 ramekins. Place the ramekins into your roasting pan and pour enough hot water into the pan to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake until the creme brulee is set, but still slightly jiggly in the center, around 40 minutes. Remove the ramekins from the roasting pan and refrigerate for at least 2 hours. Make sure you don’t have any stinky/aromatic food in your fridge–the flavors will seep into your custard.
Remove the creme brulee from the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes prior to browning the sugar on top. Divide the remaining 1/2 cup sugar equally among the 6 dishes and spread evenly & lightly on top. Too much sugar makes for a hard, thick shell and it’s just not as sexy. Using a torch, melt the sugar to form a crispy candy top. Allow the creme brulee to sit for at least 5 minutes before serving.
Note: This is just your basic vanilla recipe. If you feel like stepping it up, it’s easy. When you steep the custard, just add whatever flavors you want then. Try the zest of 2 lemons. Or 3 cardamom pods. Or a bag of earl grey tea. Or a cinnamon stick. Or a tablespoon of instant espresso. Experiment!
Funny Story: When I first started dating an ex, years ago, he discovered that I loved crème brûlée. I came home from work one day and he had gotten me a torch, recipe book, and a set of ramekins. Then, we got serious, I moved in, and we became gymrats, so needless to say, I never even used any of it. He just wanted in my pants. Dick.
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