Monday, March 14, 2011

Weekly Recipe - Crème Brûlée

I thought I would start something new on my blog so I am going to try and post one of my favorite recipes along with some of the background on how it evolved to what it is. Many of the recipes that I use regularly started out pretty different from their current form. Often I start with something out of my library of cookbooks and I make little changes over time (either by necessity because I didn't have an ingredient on hand, or on a whim because I think it will make it better). Others I happened upon and loved so much that I kept making them.

I absolutely LOVE Crème Brûlée. It is hands down my favorite dessert. Too often I will order it at a restaurant only to be utterly disappointed. Usually it is because the chef doesn't actually know what a Crème Brûlée is and ends up serving a Creme Carmel/Flan or just did a really poor job making the custard.

The first time I made it I was so scared that I was going to mess it up but it turns out that it is really easy to make. So easy that I can make it with my 3 year old 'helping.'

4 cups heavy cream
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 pinch salt
1 Vanilla bean*
10 Large egg yolks
1/4 cup turbinado sugar (i.e. sugar in the raw)

Large roasting pan
Dish towel
8 six oz ramekins
Kettle of boiling water
Medium non-stick saucepan
Silicone whisk
Large measuring cup or pitcher
Tong with rubber bands wrapped around the tips
Cooling rack

  1. Adjust oven rack to the lower middle position and preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. Cover the bottom of a roasting pan with dish towel.
  3. Arrange eight 6oz ramekins in the pan making sure they don’t touch.
  4. Bring kettle of water to a boil.
  5. Combine 2 cups of cream, granulated sugar and salt in a medium saucepan
  6. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean and add it to the pan along with the pod.
  7. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar.
  8. Remove from heat, cover and let steep for 15 minutes.
  9. Place egg yolks in a large bowl and whisk.
  10. Stir the remaining 2 cups of cream into the hot mixture.
  11. Slowly add in 1 cup of the cream mixture whisking constantly until smooth.
  12. Whisk in the remaining cream until thoroughly combined.
  13. Strain through a fine mesh strainer into a large measuring cup or pitcher.
  14. Pour the custard evenly into the ramekins
  15. Put pan in the oven and pour boiling water to 2/3 up the sides of the ramekins.
  16. Bake until the custards are barely set and are no longer sloshy (30-35 minutes or 25-30 for shallow or fluted dishes).
  17. Transfer the ramekins to a wire rack and allow to cool for 2 hours.
  18. Set on baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap & refrigerate for at least 4 hours.
  19. Just before serving uncover the ramekin and blot the top dry with a paper towel.
  20. Sprinkle the top with turbinado sugar and shake to distribute evenly.
  21. Ignite torch and caramelize the sugar. (Keep flame 2in above ramekin move in a sweeping motion from the perimeter to towards the middle until the sugar is bubbling and deep golden brown.

Helpful Hints #1: You have to use heavy cream. There is no way to make this dish low or lower fat.
Helpful Hint #2: You really need to use a vanilla bean. It is impossible to get the wonderful vanilla flavor with the extract. If you plan ahead there are great places to get vanilla beans online for way cheaper than $5 each that you pay at the grocery.
Helpful Hint #3: If you get the packets of turbinado a single one is the perfect amount for the top of one ramekin.
Helpful Hint #4: I am a big fan of Oxo tongs. The large rubber bands that come on fresh broccoli work great to help the tips grip the ramekins. All other methods I have tried of extracting the ramekins from the water bath have failed miserably.
Helpful Hint #5: Don't spend the extra money on one of the specialty kitchen torches. Just get a butane torch from your local hardware store or at a garage sale for a $1 like I did.

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