Thursday, February 13, 2014

Creme Brulee - Super Simple and Insanely Delicious Dessert for 2

Crème Brulee started off known as burnt cream in Colonial American and 18th century Britain. It turned up in a French cookbook in the late 1800s under the name Crème Brulee, which means burnt cream. But the Crème Brulee stuck with this simple custard, making it sound pretty dang fancy on restaurant menus. This is Crème Brulee for two, but you could easily double or triple it to make it for four or six.

Start off by pre-heating the oven to 300 degrees.

In fact, it couldn't be simpler. Cream, eggs and sugar with a little vanilla.

We start off with one cup of cream, three egg yolks, 3 tablespoons of white granulated sugar, 1 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract and a pinch of salt. We'll also need some demerara sugar for the brulee part.  Demerara sugar works great here because of the larger crystals. It caramelizes beautifully, but it's not a must. If you can't find it, you can just use more white sugar.

Pour half a cup of cream into a sauce pan.
Add the  white sugar and a pinch of salt.

Cook over medium heat until the sugar completely dissolves in the cream, whisking occasionally. Don't bring to a boil. Turn off the heat.

Separate the three eggs and put the yolks in a bowl.

Add the vanilla.

Back at the stove, add the other 1/2 cup of cream to the cream and sugar on the stove and whisk.

Add the cream mixture a little at a time to the egg yolks, whisking to incorporate.

Once the eggs and cream are mixed together, pour them through strainer into a 2 cup measuring cup or a bowl.  A measuring cup makes it easier to pour later.

Don't skip the straining. It makes for a smooth custard. Even what appears to be a smooth mixture will leave something behind in the strainer.

To cook the custard, you'll need some approximately 8 ounce ramekins and a baking dish. Put a dish towel at the bottom of the baking dish and position the ramekins. I've used three here to fill out the large baking dish, but I'll only have 2 ramekins worth of custard with this recipe.
 Put a kettle on to boil. You're going to need some hot water to make a water bath. Now either ladle or pour the custard into the ramekins.
Put the pan in the oven before you add the water. I didn't do it here because I wanted to be able to photograph it. Making sure I got it in the oven without splashing was difficult. 
The water needs to come up about 3/4 of the way up the ramekin. Don't skip the water bath. It makes all the difference in texture for any custard. This includes cheesecakes and bread puddings. I was screaming that at a Chopped contestant last night. He didn't listen and he didn't win.
After about 35 minutes, check the temperature. The custard needs to be about 175. Temperature is wildly important to a custard. So get a thermometer. We gave in and got a fancy instant read.
Put the ramekin on a wire rack and let cool for a couple of hours.
Then wrap with plastic and refrigerate at least 4 hours. Overnight is great as well.
When the custard is thoroughly chilled, take it out of the refrigerator.
Time to get out the demerara sugar, which is just unrefined sugar. I think the larger crystals make for a better brulee. 
Spread a thin layer of the demerara or white sugar across the top of the custard.
Now you have two options. If you are lucky enough to have a kitchen blow torch, take it out, fire it up and melt that sugar on top of the custard. The sugar will melt and it will bubble and turn brown. I'm going to use my broiler. I'm going to turn the broiler up to high and let it heat up for a minute or two. You'll want to be sure these ramekins are broiler safe. I know these are because I bought frozen crème brulee in them a few years ago.  Put them on a metal pan and stick them under the broiler.
You will have to keep a careful eye on it. You cook it until the sugar melts and gets, well burnt. But not too burnt.
This actually came out a little uneven. I think I lumped the sugar up in some places. Now it's best if you can give it a little more time to chill back in the fridge. Hey, I said it was easy, I didn't say it was quick. That melted sugar will firm up and make a hard top.
There's nothing quite like the cracking sound the hard sugar coating makes when you break it with a spoon.  A few fresh berries on top can be nice if they're in season. But this is so rich and creamy and delicious on it's own.  The textural difference between the hard sugar and the creamy interior is phenomenal. And I have to say, this it was actually the best crème brulee of my entire life.
As Julia Child would say, Bon Appetit!


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