It’s been some time since I have been able to post a new blog, and I’m excited to make my return this morning! I’ve been exceptionally busy doing play after play after play after play (I am going into my 4th show in a row in a couple weeks), plus I started a new job – very exciting! Many wonderful things happening in 2014 – but I have dearly missed writing my blog for my faithful readers. I didn’t miss too many exciting desserts for Baked Sunday Mornings – if you’re following along in the book, I had some unsuccessful results with the Lime Angel Food Cake (a touch too deflated and rubbery), and the Banana in a Blanket just did not appeal to me, visually or taste-wise. Not a huge banana fan here.
However, I am more than happy to make a return with a classic, favorite dessert. Before I proceed, I must make a sad confession. I am typing this blog out on my laptop with a slightly burnt index finger. Yikes! Nothing pleasant about that. How did this happen, you ask? Well, consider: this week for Baked Sunday Mornings, the assignment is Classic Creme Brûlée with Caramelized Brown Sugar. Yep. You got it. I brûléed the tip of my finger, not just the creme! Ugh! This has never happened to me before when making creme brûlée – unfortunately, my finger just happened to slip into the portion of sugar I had just caramelized with the kitchen torch as I was transferring the ramekin to another section of my counter. OUCH!
Getting that out of the way, I adore creme brûlée, so the fingertip sacrifice was slightly worth it! It’s one of those desserts that fall under the ‘sexy’ and ‘seductive’ category. It’s subtle, smooth, then sassy – with that crackling, crunchy burnt sugar top. I have frequently ordered it in restaurants when it’s been on the menu – but the wonderful conceit with creme brûlée is that it is super easy to make, despite its fancy moniker, which translates to “burnt cream”. The hardest part may be using a kitchen torch, if you are unfamiliar – and even that turns out to be easy and fun in the end (um, if you’re careful, that is!).
Baked’s recipe uses only 6 ingredients. First, you warm 2 cups of heavy cream in a saucepan (yes, a whopping 2 cups – for 4 servings; you need to indulge a little with this one), along with a vanilla bean, split down the center to allow the millions of wonderful little vanilla seeds to spill out into the custard. I unfortunately did not have a vanilla bean handy, so I used about a teaspoon and a half of vanilla bean paste. While this is warming, separate 6 eggs. Forget investing in a fancy egg separator – your hand is the best tool. Wash your hands thoroughly, then crack the egg into your fingers and let the whites drip down into a bowl while you carefully cradle the golden yolk into your hand. When the yolk is completely free from the white, I take the opportunity at this point to gently pinch off that stringy white chalazae attached to the yolk. Typically, if this is left on, it cooks up into an unappealing, chewy mass in your custard. Obviously, you want to avoid this in such a light, silky dessert. You will be sieving the custard in the final step, so if you skip it on this step, you should be able to strain it out later on. (Don’t toss those egg whites – save them in your refrigerator for another use!)
In a separate bowl, the egg yolks are beaten with a whisk with 1/3 cup sugar and a pinch of salt, until they just start to turn a pale yellow and no further. Gently stir in the warmed vanilla/heavy cream mixture, a little bit at a time, to temper – and not scramble – the egg yolks. The key word here is stir – I’ve learned from countless other times making creme brûlée that at this point, you want to get rid of that whisk you started with and use a wooden spoon or spatula to incorporate the warm cream; the reason being that you want to avoid creating a lot of fizzy air bubbles on the tops of your custard, which bake up into an unsightly mess. You want to keep the surface of your custards as smooth as possible for the layer of sugar you will scatter over it later.
Pour the egg/cream mixture through a fine mesh sieve into a large measuring cup that will allow you to pour the custard into the ramekins to be baked. This is a crucial step, as it removes any egg solids (or that icky white chalazae) that may have cooked when you added the cream to the egg yolks. Pour the custard mixture into ramekins. As the recipe suggests, I yielded about 4 6-ounce ramekins worth of custard – perfect for a small dinner with a couple friends. Place the ramekins in a small roasting pan, then carefully pour boiling water into the pan until it encroaches about halfway up the sides of the ramekins. This is called a bain marie, or water bath. Baking custards in a water bath allows them to bake uniformly, preventing excessive curdling or overcooking. A bain marie is also a wonderful way to bake a cheesecake.
The creme brûlées are baked for about a half hour, in the roasting pan, until they just slightly jiggle in the centers. Remove, and let cool to room temperature, before wrapping them in plastic and refrigerating them overnight (which I have found is best). While making these a day in advance may seem a touch tiresome, it also frees you up for making dinner the next night and not having to worry about dessert! All you need to do is brûlée the custards when ready to serve.
There are kitchen torches specific for making creme brûlée and desserts, and there are also larger, possibly even cheaper, propane torches available in your local hardware store. Either will work! Baked’s recipe for creme brûlée adds a slight twist in that it uses dark brown sugar – instead of the standard granulated – for that splendid caramelized top. Toss a couple tablespoons or so of sugar across the top of your custards, and with your fingers, gently smooth it out. Turn on your kitchen torch – don’t be scared of it! – and carefully move the flame close, but not too close, to the sugar. I sway the torch back and forth, watching for the sugar to begin melting and bubbling into a glorious, golden crust on top of the custard. It will smoke up a bit, but don’t be alarmed – it’s doing what it’s supposed to. If you’re like me, you might hold the torch over one spot until it’s almost dark amber in color; I like the sugar on my creme brûlée just bordering on burnt more than brown. Set the creme brûlée aside for a little bit for the crust to fully harden.
The glorious moment of truth comes when you serve the creme brûlée. I love to ‘thwack’ the base of my spoon against the sugary top. It should beautifully crack into shards, disclosing that beautiful, creamy baked custard, speckled with vanilla beans, underneath. A well-made creme brûlée is a true beauty to behold. What I especially appreciate about creme brûlée is how it texturally appeals not only to the visual senses, but also – obviously – to the taste and palate. The smooth custard, permeated and perfumed with warm vanilla, contrasts luxuriantly against the earthy crunchiness of the burnt sugar crust. It is almost intoxicating – and yes, quite sexy. Serve this on a date night and watch the sparks fly. With this recipe, you might find a fun little surprise in the bottom of your ramekin – I discovered that a lot of the vanilla beans settled there. No matter – it was still delicious, and I decided that the vanilla bean was actually preferable to just using vanilla extract.
I recently made creme brûlée for Oscar night using Ina Garten’s recipe, as I forgot that Baked had a recipe in this cookbook at the time. It was a wonderful treat for this occasion, though I found myself quickly running into the kitchen and firing up the kitchen torch to brûlée the custards in between commercials! With any dessert, obviously your best bet is to plan accordingly!
To try your own hand (and not burn it!) at creme brûlée, follow this link:
…and be sure to check out how my fellow Baked Sunday Mornings bakers fared. I think I can confidently predict that none of them were as klutzy with the burnt sugar as I was!
I still have a busy few weeks ahead of me, but I will do my very best to stay up to date with my blogs. Thank you for hanging in there with me! Happy St. Patricks Day to everyone, by the way! May the luck of the Irish be always with you!