This is one "fancy" dessert that you can make ahead of time (I did this batch while watching TV) with a minimum of effort and still have all your guests excited about your culinary skills. Creme brulee should start with a custard base that is richer, creamier, and silkier than other cremes (creme anglaise, creme caramel, flan, etc.). On top of that custard should be a layer of caramelized sugar. This sugar can thick or thin. A thick layer is usually produced by caramelizing sugar in a pot and pouring the liquid caramel over the custard. Thin layers (some as thin as paper) are produced by directly heating a sugar layer using a broiler or torch. I make my creme brulee with a torch and turbinado sugar.
The ingredients needed are (clockwise from top) 2 cups heavy cream, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract, 8 large egg yolks, and 1/2 cup sugar.
First pour the sugar into the egg yolks.
Beat the yolks until smooth.
Heat the heavy cream until almost simmering (you can bring to a simmer and let cool a minute). Add heavy cream to the egg yolks on tablespoon at a time while stirring vigorously. This will temper the eggs so as to not curdle them (or make scrambled eggs) when exposed to the heat of the heavy cream.
When about 1/4 cup of heavy cream has been integrated into the yolks, pour the yolks into the heavy cream and mix until smooth.
Now, use a fine mesh sieve and strain the custard mixture to remove and small clumps that may remain the mixture. This step will help ensure a silky texture to the custard. Blend in the vanilla extract after the mixture has been strained.
Pour the mixture into six to eight ramekins depending on size. (Makes a little more than eight four ounce creme brulees.) In the picture below, I filled six four ounce ramekins and two six ounce ramekins (the six ouncers were not full).
Place the ramekins in a baking pan. Pour boiling water into the pan (be careful not to get water into the ramekins), so that the water level is halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Cooking the custards in a water bath will provide a low even temperature for the custards to cook evenly and set properly. Place in an oven preheated to 250°F for about one hour.
After an hour, check to see if the custards are done. We want them to be set on the outside edge, but jiggly (like jello) at the center. The easiest way to do this is to take a pair of tongs with food grade rubber bands wrapped around the ends to help grip the ramekins. Pick up a ramekin and shake to see if the centers jiggle. If the only the center jiggles a little, it's done. If the whole thing is set, remove immediately - it'll be a little over done, but still delicious. If it's not done, just put it back in the water bath and check again in ten minutes. Once the custards are done, let them cool on a cooling rack to room temperature. This will let the custards finish cooking the centers on their own.
Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least eight hours before serving.
About an hour serving, remove the plastic wrap from each ramekin and use a paper towel to gently soak up any moisture that may be extruded from the custard tops. Pour about a teaspoon of turbinado (sugar in the raw) sugar in the middle of each custard. Gently tilt the ramekin and let gravity and gently shaking move the sugar around until the top surface of the custard is covered evenly with turbinado sugar. Using a kitchen butane torch, propane blow torch, or welding torch (whatever strong open flame you've got lying around), heat the sugar until it bubbles and changes color. With a small butane torch, I take my time and don't move from one side of the creme brulee to the other until the spot I've been working on has achieved the brown color that I want. This takes a little over a minute for each creme brulee. (The process is faster with a larger torch.) Don't worry about heating up the custard underneath, we'll refrigerate the creme brulee for a bit before serving. Do worry about lighting your kitchen counter on fire. I usually place the ramekin on a piece of aluminum foil placed over a cooling rack.
Once you're done scorching your cream, place the ramekins back in the refrigerator for about 45 minutes. The caramel will still be hard, but if you wait too much longer, the sugar will start to soften and dissolve into the custard.
Crème Brûlée (serves eight)
Copyright Michael Chu 2004
|8 large egg yolks||mix||temper and mix||strain||mix||250°F for 1 hour in water bath||refrigerate 8 hours||caramelize|
|1/2 cup sugar|
|2 cups heavy cream||heat until almost simmering|
|1/2 tsp. vanilla extract|
|1 tsp. turbinado sugar|