There’s something super fancy about creme brûlée. It’s luxurious texture, the sweet crunch of burnt sugar – whew – is it getting hot in here, or is my oven on? That’s right, my oven is on and making – what else – creme brûlée! It’s a perfectly gloomy day outside, and I’m taking advantage of the lower temperature by heating up my kitchen.
Don’t be intimidated by creme brûlée. It’s a simple recipe that always brings out the oooo’s and ahhh’s from dinner guests, but there really isn’t that much to it. Really – four ingredients. That’s all you need. Well, okay you also need ramekins, a roasting pan, and a blow torch. Yep, fire in the kitchen. I’m not normally a fan of kitchen “gadgets” but after having owned my kitchen torch for few years now I can officially say that this is not just a uni-tasking gadget. Aside from brûlée-ing your custardy goodness, you can use a torch for all kinds of things. One of my favorite is toasting marshmallows right on top of a creamy cup of hot chocolate. You can also add color and flavor to your meringues on pies or cupcakes or wherever else you might use them. There’s something especially delicious about a bit of burnt sugar that you can’t quite get right out of the oven.
The recipe I use comes from one of my favorite Food Network chefs – Ree Drummond aka The Pioneer Woman. And here it is in all its simply, delicious glory:
4 c heavy cream
1 Tbsp vanilla paste, or 1 vanilla bean, or 1 Tbsp vanilla extract
10 egg yolks
3/4 c sugar
Some extra super fine sugar (for finishing)
Start by preheating your oven to 325°F. It might also be a good idea to start boiling a pot of water, or putting a kettle on – you’ll need it later.
Pour your cream and vanilla into a sauce pan, and start heating it over medium-low. You don’t want it to boil, but you want it to start getting nice and hot. Oh – vanilla! Have you heard of vanilla paste? It is absolutely divine! I only wish I hadn’t used mine all up before I moved. You can use just regular vanilla or the caviar of a vanilla bean if you can’t find vanilla paste, but if you’re curious about where to pick some up I’ve found it at William Sonoma before, or sometimes in small specialty cooking stores. It’s totally worth the purchase.
Next on your to-do list is start whisking your egg yolks with your sugar. They’ll go from a nice deep yellow to a lighter, fluffier, paler yellow. And you’ll get a nice work out in the process. You’ll need to whisk until you get tired, and then whisk some more.
Once your yolks are whipped and your cream/vanilla mixture is hot it’s time to combine. Start by slowly pouring about a cup of hot cream into your whisked yolks. You’ll need to actually keep whisking while you pour, so you may need a 3rd hand if you’re not used to multi-tasking. You’ll need to get everything incorporated slowly so as not to cook the eggs. After the first cup is in, and your yolks tempered you can slowly pour in the rest of the cream – keep whisking until it’s all combined.
Take your ramekins and place them in a roasting pan. If you don’t have a roasting pan, any baking sheet/dish that has higher sides will work just fine. The whole idea of having them in another pan is so that you can bake them off in a water bath. This is why you boiled that water to begin with – yay planning ahead! Pour your custard into each ramekin and place the roasting pan into your preheated oven.
I always like to put the ramekins and roasting pan in the oven before adding the boiling water – that way you don’t risk spilling boiling water onto yourself, the floor, or even into your custard. If you get water into the custard they won’t set up properly, so save yourself the heartache and take the extra precaution when baking these.
All you have to do now is wait for these babies to come out of the oven. I would check these around 30 minutes, but they could go as long as 40. I used deeper ramekins and mine we’re finished until closer to 40 minutes. When you take them out of the oven they’ll still be a little giggly – that’s okay. I like to let mine cool a little before putting them into the fridge to get completely chilled. I’ve heard of people enjoying these hot, but I much prefer mine cold. If you’re like me just pop these into the fridge for a few hours before finishing.
To complete your fancy-schmancy dessert take a teaspoon to a tablespoon of sugar sprinkle it over each ramekin. How much you use depends on how wide your ramekins are. I find that a whole tablespoon is a bit much on mine – which are about 4.5 inches wide. Now comes the fun – blow torch time!
Don’t get too overwhelmed – it can take some practice to get a good crust on these. You don’t want to keep the torch in one place for too long, but you’ll also want to keep it around long enough to crisp up your sugar. I usually rotate the ramekin with one hand while moving the torch around in small circles with the other. Just try to keep everything even, and you’ll start to see the fruits of your labor fairly quickly.
Ah – finished. There’s almost nothing as satisfying when it comes to baking as enjoying your hard work, but the added bonus here is the fantastic crack sound you get when you first break through that hardened, sugary shell. Bliss!
After you’ve had the chance to try this for yourself I’m sure you’ll agree that this is one dessert that looks a whole lot more complicated than it is. The taste and presentation pack quite a punch, but you’ll know that you didn’t have to pull your hair out to get something so fantastic to the table.
Now go, make something delicious!