Many moons ago, I thought Crème Brulée was one of life’s mysteries. It always looked hard to make. And then there was that burnt (allegedly caramelized) crusty bit on the top. How did THAT happen?
After cooking school, I never gave it much thought. But then it all started up again, when Karen and I had the most memorable (and it still is) Key Lime Crème Brulée at the Ritz in Naples. Yeah, that would be Florida, not Italy. It had the perfect blend of creaminess, flavor, and location. Of all the recipes I tried to recreate, that was never one of them. I think it was best to let it have it own place in our food world.
Anyway, crème brulée never was one of the desserts I made, or wanted to make. I tended towards cookies, cakes, fruit cobblers, etc. It just wasn’t on the radar screen, and I hadn’t made one since cooking school. Until two nights ago.
I’d agreed to do a dinner for seven people, and thought I’d knock their socks off with some pots de crème, that fab dessert that I like to call, “French Shake-a-Pudding.” But wait. The hostess asked for crème brulée. I tried to charm my way out of it. Shockingly, it didn’t work. So I agreed to do it. Of course, I hadn’t made one in 15 years, Oops.
So, I looked up a few recipes, merged them together, and came up with an edible recipe. Of course, while I am semi-confident in my abilities, I don’t have the near-god complex of trying out a crème brulée recipe on my customers for the first time. So I made it two nights ago. Bingo! It mostly worked. The texture was fine, but it needed more vanilla and sugar. So I did it again. Oh my, and ooooh baby! It was good enough to put a cardiologist on my speed dial. Then I tried torching it. No, I didn’t call an arsonist. I sprinkled some sugar over the top, broke out the blowtorch, and made a crusty, caramelized sugar topping. It was a near-religious experience. And when I made them for the dinner last night, they were happy. Not only did they love these boffo custards, but they loved the show-and-tell when I torched all seven of them. The custards, that is. I swear, I have the funnest job on the planet.
Next big thing? Apparently, it’s Key Lime Crème Brulée.
Oh yeah. Here’s my recipe:
(adapted from La Varenne Pratique, by Ann Willan)
2 cups heavy cream
5 egg yolks
11 tablespoons (approximately) sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla
4 ramekins or wide custard cups, approx 3/4 cup each
1 roasting pan
a blowtorch or a broiler
Preheat the oven to 400°.
In a saucepan, scald the cream.
While the cream is heating, whisk the yolks and three tablespoons of sugar together until the yolks get a bit thick. Add in the vanilla.
When the cream is scalded, using a wooden spoon, SLOWLY stir it into the yolks. When it’s all combined, pour the mixture through a strainer into a pitcher (to get rid of any heated egg bits) . Pour the mixture into the four ramekins.
Place the ramekins into the roasting pan, and add cold water to the pan to come half-way up the sides of the ramekins. Place in the oven, and bake for 15-18 minutes, or until a skin starts to form on the top of the custard. Remove from the oven and the pan. The custard will still be liquidy.
Cool the cups on a cooling rack for at least 15 minutes, and refrigerate for at least 2-3 hours, but overnight is okay too.
10 minutes before serving the crème brulée, sprinkle the remaining sugar over the tops of the custard. That is, approximately two tablespoons per ramekin.
To caramelize the sugar:
Method #1: With a hardware store propane or butane torch, carefully point the flame directly onto the sugar. In moments, it will start to bubble and turn brown. Do this to the whole top of the custard. Let it cool for a few minutes before serving. By then, the sugared top will be crunchy.
Method #2: Carefully place the ramekins under the broiler, until the sugar turns brown. Do not let the custard get hot and start to cook. Remove from broiler. Let it cool for a few minutes before serving. By then, the sugared top will be crunchy.