Thursday, February 21, 2013

Crème Brûlée

If you know crème brûlée, I’m going to assume you also know Amelie Poulain, specifically this scene where she's breaking the hard shell of baked custard. If you've had crème brûlée a.k.a. burnt cream, you should skip ahead to the recipe. If haven't tried creme brulee, you skip to the recipe anyway. 

I first tasted the wonders of crème brulee in Shanghai. My parents took me to a French restaurant that had just opened, suitably called Le Seine. At lunch, they served a buffet, complete with platters of salmon salad, foie gras, and roasted duck bathed in orange sauce. The best part though, was the dessert table. It looked like the Willy Wonka factory blew up and spit out glorious petit fours: chocolate ganache bars, strawberry cheesecake squares, a tiramisu bowl, pineapple soufflés, trays of financiers, fruit tarts filled with pastry cream, and of course, little ramekins of crème brûlée. As soon as we were brought to our table, I threw down my jacket and rushed past the lunch table, went straight to the desserts and swooped up as many creme brûlées as my greedy arms could hold just in case they ran out later on. Clearly, I was well versed in dessert buffet dining.

Breaking the layer of burnt sugar and scooping out chilled, lusciously smooth custard definitely ranks among my Top 20 of Life’s Most Pleasurable Experiences. I think Nigella Lawson describes it best, “[There] a few puddings are as voluptuously, seductively easy to eat”. I did some serious reading before making this for Valentine’s Day last week and even though I don’t have a blowtorch, crème brûlée is equally easy to make at home. Once the chilled custard is ready, sprinkle evenly with sugar and stick them under a broiler, soon enough, the sugar will bubble and squeak. Do what I did and share a ramekin with your loved one, I swear it tastes even better.

Crème Brûlée
Recipe from Epicurious
Method for making crème brûlée without a blowtorch adapted from Kitchn

2 cups heavy cream
½ cup sugar
1 vanilla bean
5 large egg yolks

12 teaspoons brown or demerara sugar

Preheat oven to 325°F. Place six ¾-cup ramekins into a 13 x 9 x 2-inch a baking pan or three 1-cup ramekins a baking pan. In a heavy medium saucepan, mix cream and sugar together. Using a small sharp knife, cut the vanilla bean lengthwise, scrape seeds from the bean and add the seeds and bean into saucepan. Stir over medium heat until sugar dissolves and mixture begins to simmer. Cover pan, reduce heat to very low and simmer for 10 minutes to infuse flavours. Be careful not to let the cream boil over. Take out the vanilla bean and discard.

Whisk the yolks in a medium bowl until well blended. Gradually add the cream mixture and stir gently. Using a measuring cup, evenly distribute the custard into ramekins. Pour enough hot water into baking pans to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Carefully transfer pans to the oven.

Bake custards until almost set in the centre when the pan is gently shaken, about 35 minutes. Using a metal spatula, transfer the custards to work surface and allow to cool for 30 minutes, then chill in fridge for at least 3 hours or up to 2 days.

To make burnt sugar, set oven rack to the highest level of the oven and preheat broiler to 450°F. Transfer chilled ramekins to a baking sheet. Sprinkle an even layer of brown or demerara sugar over the tops. Broil for 5-8 minutes, until the top is golden brown and the sugar is bubbling. Rotate the baking sheet so that the sugar broils evenly.

Remove the ramekins from the oven and put them back in the fridge for another 30 to 45 minutes until cold before serving (if you leave them in the fridge longer, the burnt sugar on top will soften). 

Recipe here!

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