24 February 2011

Crème Brûlée

I finally went and bought myself a blow torch. As far as I'm concerned, Crème Brûlée can only be made using a blow torch, not with a broiler or any other heat element. I'm sure it can be done and the results are fine, but there's something truly special about serving this dessert straight from the fridge, very cold, but with a perfectly crisp layer of melted sugar on top. The picture above was taken before I had finished caramelizing all the sugar; it should be darker and cover the whole surface, but the blow torch is tiny and the flame is small, so it took quite some time!

Crème Brûlée

2 cups heavy cream
8 egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar plus about 8 teaspoons more for the caramel glaze
1 tsp vanilla extract

Turn the oven to 325 degrees F. Heat the cream to almost a simmer over medium heat. In the meantime, stir the egg yolks and 1/2 cup sugar in a medium bowl until just blended. Slowly, gradually add the cream. Really, do this slowly - you're looking to make a custard, not scrambled eggs. Strain into a second bowl using a fine-mesh sieve. Add the vanilla and divide in 4 larger or 6 smaller ramekins.

Place a few layers of paper towels in a large, oven-proof glass dish. Place the ramekins on top of the paper towels, making sure they do not touch each other or the sides of the dish (or the bottom, but the paper towels should be taking care of that). Place in the oven and immediately pour scalding hot tap water into the dish (but not into the custard, obviously) until it comes about 2/3 up the side of the ramekins. Cook for about 35 minutes, or until quite set but still quivery in the middle. Remove from the oven and extract from the water bath. Let cool on a cooling rack until the custards are at room temperature. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight or up to two days.

Just before serving, remove the ramekins from the fridge. Evenly sprinkle about 2 teaspoons of sugar over each ramekin of custard and apply heat. You're looking for a dark caramel crust that you have to crack open with a spoon in order to properly eat. As mentioned before, a blowtorch would be ideal for this, but in a bind, you can use your broiler set to high. This will probably heat the custard as well, and the end result won't be as tasty, nor will it be prepared traditionally.

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