Classic Crème Brûlée
I understand that at this moment there are very few people searching for a classic, decadent crème brûlée recipe. It’s a little impractical of me to be posting about such a thing, seeing as that thing called New Years’ resolutions has taken hold of the world and the craze to eat healthier and drop some holiday pounds has most invariably come with it. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing; I guess it’s very good and helpful that the motivation for improving ourselves comes around with the New Year. And I have to admit, even though I usually don’t take to New Year resolutions, I kind of have this year. Sort of. It’s actually more the kind of thing where I was feeling sick a couple days ago and then had an irrational and nonsensical revelation that maybe just maybe I am feeling sick because I eat way too much sugar and it’s some sort of pre-diabetic thing my body is trying to warn me of. (Logic, begone!) Yeah, so now I am really trying to save any sort of added sugar to be a special occasion type of thing.
So why, may one ask, am I still deciding to post about crème brûlée (especially considering that the past seven, yes SEVEN-in-a-row things I have posted about on this blog are sweets)? Because 1.) this is truly a flawless recipe for crème brûlée that should be on all of your minds, someday, once this whole resolution thing wears off 2.) I have nothing else to post about that doesn’t use sugar and butter in some form anyway.
It may seem at first that crème brûlée is one of those things “best left to the professionals,” but I was seriously surprised at just how much better this crème brûlée tasted than any I’ve had in restaurants. There is no beating the pure flavors of the vanilla and cream, with the freshly-caramelized sugar crust on top when it is made at home. This surprise first happened almost 4 years ago, when I made this recipe for the first time with Waylon (back when we weren’t dating but were just friends! Weird) and Lindsey. It’s a shame it’s taken me so long to make it again, but it’s one of those reliable recipes I’m happy to know I have in case an opportunity calls.
Another thing I like about making crème brûlée from home is the liberty one has with making the burnt-sugar crust. Not only is it almost too much fun to use a blow torch to caramelize the sugar, but the brûlée part of this homemade dessert is incomparable And unlike seemingly everyone else in this universe, I usually don’t really love the sugar crust part at restaurants. But at home, the crust is thinner, the caramel taste is less burnt, it tastes fresher, it’s just better. The nice part about it too is that you can personalize this part—if you like yours more caramelized or thicker, you can do that.
Speaking of the caramelized crust—I’m fortunate enough to have a father who is a high school biology-environmental science teacher and routinely has access to blow torches for his labs. I got to borrow one, but I’m not sure I’d spend the money on at-home blow torches if I didn’t have that option. I’ve seen some recipes that call for the sugar to be caramelized under the broiler setting in the oven, which intrigues me, but I feel like I’m not sure how well that would work. Would it heat up too slowly to keep the custard still chilled and creamy? If you’ve tried it that way, do let me know.
Anyway, I understand that it is a new year and people have resolutions. But years are long, and before we know it, the beauty of sweets and desserts such as this will happily return to be acceptable (every so often, of course) in everyone’s lives. When that time arrives, and a hankering for a lush, perfect-in-all-ways dessert comes your way, consider making some homemade crème brûlée.
PS: I know it is common for bloggers to do a round-up sort of post that captures their favorite recipes throughout the year. I tried doing that, but all that resulted was me getting a serious craving for some Lebanese food and some sun. But, if I had to pick a single favorite post, it would be this one about pistachio baklava. Less for the baklava, but more for the story and pictures that went along with it. Obviously I’m not only restless for the sun right now, but to be in the sun somewhere else in the world. Here’s my wish for the new year: travel gods, please be good to me.
One Year Ago: Flourless Chocolate Torte (my timeliness, or lack thereof, of what I post around the New Year continues!)
From Cook’s Illustrated
If necessary (but I don’t advise it nor have I tested it myself), you can substitute 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract instead of the vanilla bean. Also, you could use regular granulated sugar instead of demarara or turbinado sugar. Also, I didn’t do this, but the original recipe highly recommends testing the doneness of the cream by using a instant-read digital thermometer. Placed in the center of the custard, the thermometer should register 170 to 175 degrees when done.
4 cups heavy cream
2/3 cup granulated sugar
pinch kosher salt
1 vanilla bean
12 large egg yolks
8 heaping teaspoons turbinado sugar or demerara sugar
Preheat oven to 300 degrees and adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position.
Combine 2 cups cream with the sugar and salt in a medium saucepan. Using a paring knife, split the vanilla bean in half and sliding the knife along the inside, scrape all the seeds from the pod. Add both seeds and pod into the cream mixture, and turn on the heat to medium. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally, making sure all the sugar dissolves. Once beginning to boil, remove from heat and let the flavors steep for 15 minutes. While the mixture is steeping, place a kitchen towel flat in the bottom of a large baking or roasting dish. Arrange eight 4 or 5-ounce ramekins or shallow dishes on the towel. Bring a kettle-full (or medium saucepan-full) of water to boil over high heat.
After the cream mixture has steeped for 15 minutes, stir in the remaining 2 cups cream to cool the mixture down. In a large bowl, whisk yolks until broken up and combined. Add about a cup of the cream mixture into the yolks and whisk to loosen up the yolks gently. Repeat once more with another cup of the cream mixture. Add the rest of the cream mixture and whisk until homogeneous and evenly colored and combined. Strain through a fine-mesh strainer into a at least 2-quart measuring cup or pitcher to make for easy pouring later on. Discard any solids left in the strainer.
Carefully pour and divide the cream mixture evenly among the ramekins. Carefully place the baking dish on the oven rack. Even more carefully, pour boiling water into the baking dish, taking care not to splash water into the ramekins, until the water reaches at between halfway and two-thirds up the height of the ramekins. Bake until the custards are just barely set and no longer sloshy, about 30-35 minutes. Once removed from the oven, transfer ramekins to a wire rack to cool, about 2 hours. Once cool, cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate until completely cold, about 4 hours (or up to 4 days).
When ready to serve, uncover ramekins, and soak up any condensation that collects on the top of the custards by gently placing a paper towel on the top surface. Sprinkle each ramekin with a heaping teaspoon of turbinado sugar and tilt and tap the ramekin until its evenly colored. Ignite torch and holding flame about two inches from the surface of the custards, caramelize sugar until a deep golden brown. I found the best technique for even, deep caramelizing is moving the flame in a circular motion without directly holding the flame over one spot for too long. If not serving immediately (which you probably should), place back in the fridge to cool.