Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Creme Brulee

Without hesitation I can declare that Creme Brulee is my absolute favorite dessert. If ever it's on the menu, I order it; every single time. If I could eat only one dessert for the rest of my life, it would be Creme Brulee. Are you picking up what I'm laying down here? I love Creme Brulee. I said, "I LOVE CREME BRULEE." I  L-O-V-E it. I know there are a million calories in it but I just don't care. Every fat laden caloric spoonful is so very worth it! Ahmen.

As much as I love creme brulee, I've rarely made it myself. Odd, because it is super simple. Easy peasy ingredients, only four of 'em, and pretty low on the difficulty scale. BUT. . . it does require a kitchen torch. I've made it before using the oven broiler but that's dicey. So, I've had the whole "chicken and egg" scenario with creme brulee. I don't make it often because I don't have a kitchen torch and I haven't bought a kitchen torch because I don't make creme brulee often. See what I mean. A culinary paradox; a conundrum if you will. So, for years, I was stuck scouring dessert menus for my beloved dessert. And then last Christmas, my wonderful husband, got me a kitchen torch. Hallelujah!

Now to find the perfect recipe. If you start looking into it there are a bazillion different recipes for Creme Brulee. Kind of odd since it only has four ingredients. It's basically a vanilla infused custard with a hard caramel shell on top. Every recipe has it's own subtile differences in proportion and preparation and I think it just comes down to preference. The recipe I'm showing you here is basic, simple and easy. And delicious! Give it a try. . .

These ingredients are as simple as it gets: sugar, egg yolks, heavy cream and vanilla beans. I scored when I found these vanilla beans at Costco; 10 vanilla beans for $11.99. WOW that's a deal. They are usually way more expensive. You can substitute vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract if the beans are too pricey. Truth be told, this is actually the frist time I've made creme brule with real vanilla beans.

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Line a deep roasting pan with a dish towel and set your ramekins in the pan. Here I'm using 4 - 6 oz. ramekins. I've also made this same recipe using 6 - 4 oz. ramekins. Either works depending on the size and number of servings you want. Set the pan aside. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and keep it hot until you need it.

Split 1/2 a vanilla bean and scrape the seeds out from the inside. Put the pod and seeds in a medium sized pot with the cream. Heat gently over medium heat until the cream just starts to scald. You know it's ready when you have steady, rapidly forming small bubbles around the edges and there is steam rising from the surface. When you get to this stage, remove from the heat and remove the vanilla bean pod. Make sure you DO NOT LET IT BOIL!

While the cream is scalding, whisk together the egg yolks and sugar. When combined the mixture should just start to lighten in color. 

Whisking vigorously, slowly pour the scalded cream into the egg yolks. If there is a lot of foam on the surface, skim it off with a spoon.

Strain the mixture into a clean bowl. This will get rid of any bits of egg that may have cooked and any stringy things from the vanilla bean.

Ladle the mixture equally into the ramekins and then fill the roasting pan with enough boiling water to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins. The easy way is to set the pan on your oven rack BEFORE you pour the water into the pan.

Bake just until custard is set. About 35 minutes for these 6 oz. ramekins; less if using smaller ramekins. Let cool completely at room temperature. Then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate 2-3 hours or overnight.

Just before serving sprinkle 1-2 tablespoons sugar evenly on the top of each custard. Using a kitchen torch, hold the flame 1 to 2 inches above the surface and move in a circular motion. The sugar will turn amber brown and liquid then cool to a smooth hard surface. All kitchen torches are different so it may take some practice to see what works best for you.

Here I've got it a little too close and some of the sugar is burned.
(I still ate it anyway.)

This was the first time I used this torch and you can see I need to practice. They don't exactly look perfect. I'm undaunted though, this divine dessert deserves to be perfected and I'm just the gal to do it. Plus, guess who gets to eat all the practice creme brulees? Moi!

Regardless of how it looked, it tasted exactly as it should have. Creamy, rich, vanilla-y, caramely, wonderful. Is there any sweeter sound than the gentle "tink" as you crack the caramel and dive into custardy goodness. Culinary Nirvana!

Creme Brulee
2 C. heavy cream
1/2 vanilla bean, split and scraped*
1/2 C. sugar, plus 6-8 tablespoons
5 large egg yolks

Preheat oven to 325°F. Line a large baking pan with a kitchen towel that just fits the bottom. Set 4 6 oz. oven safe ramekins on the towel. Bring a large pot of water to the boil and keep simmering until ready to use.

Over a medium flame, heat cream, vanilla bean pod and scrapings until bubbles start to from around the edge of the pan and steam just begins to rise from the surface. Remove from heat. Remove vanilla bean pod.

In a large bowl, whisk the 1/2 C. sugar with egg yolks until combined and yolks start to look lighter in color. Continue to whisk while slowly streaming in the hot cream. Whisk gently until combined. Strain the mixture into a clean bowl and then ladle evenly into the ramekins.

Pour hot water into the pan until it comes halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake at 325°F for 30-35 minutes until custard is just set. Remove to a wire rack to cool to room temperature. Then cover and refrigerate for at least 3 hours.

When ready to serve, sprinkle 1-2 tablespoons sugar evenly over the surface of each custard. Using a kitchen torch heat the sugar until it turns brown and forms a smooth surface. Hold the flame 1-2 inches above the sugar and move in a circular motion. Serve immediately.

*Substitute 1 teaspoon vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste.

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