June 16, 2012

Creme Brûlée

Creme Brûlée is my dad's absolute favorite dessert, so I like to make it for him for Father's Day. For anyone who has never tried it, it is a creamy vanilla custard baked in individual ramekins and topped with crunchy caramelized sugar.

Ideally, the texture of the custard is somewhat gelatinous and springy (but not as firm as jello) and is topped with a thin, crispy, sugar shell. To achieve this caramel layer, most restaurants use a kitchen torch, but many people don't have one at home. I found that placing the ramekins on a rack as close to a broiler as possible caramelizes the sugar without overcooking the custard. I also use coarse, dark turbinado sugar instead of regular sugar to speed up the process. As for the custard, the recipe calls for vanilla extract, but you can use the seeds from half of a vanilla bean to make it even more special. If you use the vanilla extract, channel your inner Ina Garten (Barefoot Contessa) and use the "good" vanilla.

There are a few tips to making this creme brûlée even better. First, make sure you don't scald the cream when you heat it up. If you do, you'll see little orange-brown particles floating in the liquid, anywhere from one or two to completely full of them. If there are only a few, you can remove them with your finger or a spoon, but I recommend starting over if there are a lot. When you pour the cream into the egg yolks, try not to cook the eggs because nobody wants scrambled eggs in their creme brûlée. All you have to do is pour the cream in very slowly after letting it cool a bit, whisking constantly. Don't pour the cream in all at once without whisking. Another thing to avoid is splashing water into the ramekins when you make the water bath. The water will prevent the custard from setting correctly and will ruin the dish. Luckily, it's not too hard to avoid if you pour the water in slowly and carefully.

I like this recipe specifically because it only makes two. However, if you need to make more, simply double, triple, or quadruple the recipe. This dessert is elegant and surprisingly simple; it is sure to be amazing!

1 Cup Cream
2 T Sugar
Pinch Salt
3 Egg Yolks
1/2 tsp Vanilla
1 T Turbinado Sugar
Berries, Whipped Cream, etc. for Garnish, Optional

Heat oven to 300F and adjust rack to lower-middle position. Place a towel in a deep baking dish and put two ramekins on top.

Combine 1/2 cup cream, sugar, and salt in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-low heat, stirring often. Stir in the remaining cream once cooled slightly. Combine the egg yolks, vanilla, and 1/4 cup cream mixture. Whisk in the remaining cream.

Strain the custard into the ramekins to remove any bits of cooked egg. Pour enough hot water into the pan to come two thirds of the way up the ramekins.

Bake for 30-40 minutes or until barely set in the center. Cool to room temperature, then cover with plastic and chill for at least four hours or until cold.

Wipe off any condensation and sprinkle with the turbinado sugar. Brown with a kitchen torch or broiler until caramelized, then garnish with the berries or whipped cream if desired.

Makes 2
Recipe Adapted from Cook's Illustrated

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