Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Let's Do This Thing: Crème Brûlée

Well, here it is! After lots of consideration, research, insecurity, and much prompting from friends, my blog is here at last and I'm already excited about sharing my love for cooking through this venue. 
So, without further ado, what better way to start off a cooking blog than with the favored, the feared, the famous....crème brûlée! 
For those not familiar with this confection, I will give the definition from  The Deluxe Food Lover's Companion (a fantastic book that I HIGHLY recommend): "The literal translation of crème brûlée is "burnt cream". It describes a chilled, stirred custard that, just before serving is sprinkled with brown or granulated sugar. The sugar topping is quickly caramelized under a broiler or with a salamander. The caramelized topping become brittle, creating a delicious flavor and textural contrast to the smoother, creamy custard beneath."
If any of these words are daunting or discouraging, I assure you they need not be. In fact I used to be one of those who kept my distance from this praised dessert, whether because it is associated with upscale restaurants and skilled chefs or simply because of the French title. Whatever the reason, you can imagine my delight when I finally got up my nerve and just tried it! I first made it about a year ago for my mom's birthday, wanting something extra special. Although this virgin attempt included a boxed flavoring and thickener (shameful, I know), it broke me of my past intimidation of crème brûléand I decided that I really needed a cooking torch. 
Thus, a while later, I now am a proud owner of a Professional Cooking Torch by Bonjour and I have added creme brulee to my list of successful, homemade "masterpieces"! And now, I'm sharing that recipe for others still holding back in uncertainty can take full advantage and see just how easy it really is!
NOTE: This recipe was very accurate for the most part, but there was one spot I found a problem. The recipe claimed I could refrigerate the custards after caramelizing the sugar to serve later, but I would NOT recommend this! I finished "brulee-ing" all of the custards and whatever was not claimed I stored in the fridge for later eating. The next day what I found was creme brulees covered in watery sugar syrup and grey banana slices (ew!). When the topping was removed, the custard still tasted wonderful, but the presentation was ruined.

Crème Brûlée (with chocolate, banana, and berry variations!)

- 1 cup heavy cream
- 2 Tbsp plus 1/3 cup granulated white sugar
- 2 extra large egg yolks
- 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract    

Preheat oven to 300F and prepare some boiling water. Get out four 4oz, ungreased ramekins.
  1. In a saucepan over med-low heat, stir together the cream and the 2 Tbsp sugar. Cook, stirring occasionally until small bubbles appear around the edges (about 5 min). Set aside.
  2. In a bowl, beat the egg yolks and vanilla until smooth and light. Spoon in the cream mixture a little at a time, whisking continuously until blended. Divide the mixture among the ramekins.
  3. Arrange the ramekins in a baking pan (I used a jellyroll pan, but a roasting pan would work fine also, or anything with enough space and substantial sides on it!) and place on the middle oven rack. Fill the pan with boiling water at least a little ways up the sides of the ramekins and as much as halfway up.
  4. Bake about 25 min, until JUST set. Chill for at least 2-3 hours.
  5. Just before serving, sprinkle the remaining sugar evenly over the tops of the custards. Caramelize the sugar with a cooking torch (recommended!) or under a broiler until evenly melted and nicely browned and bubbly. Allow to cool for 5-10 min and let the sugar harden up a bit.

chilled crème 
 + sugar
 + fire :)
+ brûlée

= Crème Brûlée!
For chocolate variation:
Use the directions above and add 2oz semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped to the cream and sugar in step 2.

For banana variation:
 Use the directions above and top the cooled custards with a few arranged banana slices before sprinkling with sugar and caramelizing.

For berry variation:
Use the directions above and add 1 tsp freshly grated orange zest to the cream and sugar in step 2 and then top the finished crème brûlées with fresh berries such as strawberries, raspberries, or blueberries. 

Banana Crème Brûlée