I don’t know about you, but all in all I’m a pretty healthy eater. I feed my family a lot of fresh fruits and veggies, lean meats, and for the most part, not a lot of junk. Sure, we like the occasional treat, but mostly I try to give my munchkins good quality nutrition for their growing bodies.
But everyone deserves a treat. And everyone has that one thing (or two or three) that is the ultimate embodiment of sinfully delicious, nourishes your soul, amazing food. For me, that pinnacle of food perfection is Creme Brulee. No, I don’t know how to make all the fancy accents over the letters, you know what I’m talking about. The most silky, amazing custard cream that will ever pass your lips. Perhaps you’ve been intimidated by the thought of making it. And if you don’t know what I’m talking about, then you must try this recipe immediately.
I will admit, if you’ve never been to culinary school, terms like “bain marie” can be a little scary. But believe me when I tell you that there is nothing easier than making creme brulee, which is, essentially, just custard. Several lifetimes ago, I watched Tyler Florence make this recipe and I was intrigued. Then instantly hooked on this simple yet sinful delight.
You will need:
1 quart heavy cream (I mentioned this was a splurge, right?)
3/4 cup of sugar
9 egg yolks
1 vanilla bean
First, slice the vanilla bean in half lengthwise. You will see it’s filled with a sticky substance that looks like tiny specks and smells like you’ve gone to heaven. Those are vanilla “seeds”- technically called caviar. You can call it what you want, those things are what makes this stuff taste so amazing. Using the flat of your knife, scrape the seeds into a pot, throw in the pods, and add the cream. Turn on low/medium heat. You do not want this pot to boil over or you’ll be redecorating your kitchen.
While the cream and vanilla are slowly coming to a simmer, separate your eggs. You can use an egg separator, a coke bottle, your hands, or just the shells- whatever works best for you. Put the yolks in a large bowl or the bowl of your stand mixer (I’m lazy, so lazy). I save the whites for omlettes or to feed my dogs, but you can use them for all sorts of things or just dump them- up to you. You will not need the whites for this recipe. Once you’ve got your 9 yolks together, add the 3/4 cup of sugar and either start whisking like crazy or turn on your mixer. After a few minutes (3-5 minutes generally) your dark yellow-orange yolks will turn glossy and a pale, buttery color. That’s how you know they are ready.
About this time, your cream/vanilla mixture will also be ready. Steaming hot but not boiling. Turn off and remove it from the heat. Reduce your mixer speed to low and dip about 1/2 a cup of the hot cream out of the pot (making sure to strain off the vanilla pods). This is the only tricky part. You can’t just dump hot cream into your eggs or you’ll have scrambled eggs. So you need to sloooooowly drizzle it in with the mixer going or while whisking. This is called “tempering” the eggs.
Once you’ve got the first 1/2 cup of cream in, strain the rest of the cream mixture and slowly add it to the egg mixture, constantly stirring. Try not to whip up too much froth on top, as that makes for a less pretty final product.
You are now ready to cook your little pots of heaven. Arrange your ramekins in a large pan such as a roaster or a 9×13″ pan. Depending on the size of your roaster and ramekins, you might have to set up 2. I use two 9×13″ pans with my multitude of random little ramekins. Put your ramekins in your pan, and using a measuring cup, pour the egg and cream mixture about 3/4 full into your ramekins. Put the pans in the oven, and then fill the pans with hot water until it rises up about 1/2 way up the sides of the ramekins (this is called a “Bain Marie” and helps the custard cook evenly.) Bake at 325 degrees for 40 minutes. You’ll want to keep an eye on them if you’re using different sized ramekins- you want the centers to tremble a bit when you shake them, and smaller ramekins will need to be removed when done to prevent over cooking. You can also put foil over the tops to prevent browning, if you’re really particular…I’m not.
Once the custard is cooked, remove from the oven *carefully* (remember they are in pans of HOT water) and place them in the fridge for at least 2 hours. Try to resist the temptation to eat them warm. They are VERY GOOD warm.
When you are ready to serve, remove your little lovelies from the fridge about 1/2 hour before you want to serve and allow them to sit at room temperature for that time. Then sprinkle with 1 tablespoon of sugar and using a kitchen torch, quickly and lightly brown the sugar on top so that it forms a crisp, candy like layer.
Note: I personally don’t require the sugar browning step. I find it fiddly and it is an impediment to me diving into my custard dream instantly. However, if you’re going to be serving these at a fancy dinner party, you’d better learn to do the “brulee” part. You can buy a fancy little butane kitchen torch for around $20 at any kitchen goods store. They aren’t even scary to use. But if you’re me, you don’t want any kitchen gadget that only has one use. So I personally use a regular ole butane torch like you buy at the hardware store. Works every bit as good, if not better, and I can use it for all sorts of things. And it cost less.
So you see, creme brulee can be a super fancy and elegant dessert. But it can also be the ultimate in easy peasy comfort food.
Some other things you can try once you’ve mastered the basic recipe are flavored creme brulee: mango, ginger, orange, raspberry, are all delightful additions. Chocolate is also easy and nice. Perhaps my favorite twist is to serve it with fresh berries instead of the crisp sugar crust. Have fun with it! I promise you won’t be disappointed!
Don’t throw out that vanilla pod either! You can rinse the cream off of it, let it dry and put it in a jar of sugar to make a vanilla infused sugar that is lovely for all sorts of things like serving with fresh fruit for a simple and elegant snack, or rolling icebox cookies in before baking.
Recipe Courtesy of Tyler Florence and Food Network