Sunday, February 6, 2011

Creme Brulee

A dessert usually seen on restaurant menus, and less often on the home cook's kitchen table... creme brulee is an unjustifiably feared dish to prepare. This recipe makes an intimidating dessert very easy. Not only that, but it is also one of the best version of creme brulee I've had. Often, creme brulee is too firm, eggy, sweet, and/or runny. This recipe makes a rich, velvety custard. The recipe I use is adapted from the one found in "Coffee: The Essential Guide to the Essential Bean". It can be found on Amazon at


9 egg yolks

1/2 cup sugar

pinch of salt

1 tsp real vanilla extract

1 cup of half and half

3 cups of cream

sugar for caramelizing

Oven: 325 F

In a large bowl, whisk egg yolks along with sugar, salt and vanilla until slightly lightened in color and sugar is well incorporated. At the same time: in a large saucepan, heat cream and half and half over medium heat until a skin forms on top. Remove from heat. Add about 1/3 of the hot cream to the egg yolk mixture, whisking continually. Once well incorporated, add yolk/cream mixture back into hot cream -- again, whisking the whole time. Once well blended, pour mixture through a wire mesh strainer back into the original bowl. Place 6 Pyrex custard cups in a 9x13 cake pan. Fill custard cups with the creme brulee mixture, nearly to the top but leave enough room to move the pan without spilling the custard. Place on oven rack of preheated oven. Pour hot or boiling water into the pan around the custard cups until it comes about 1/2 of the way up the sides of the cups. Cook for 40-60 minutes until edges look set but the center (size of a quarter to half dollar) is still wobbly. Remove from oven. Take custard cups out of water bath and place on a rack to cool to room temperature. Cover each cup with a square of plastic wrap and refrigerate until cold.
For serving: sprinkle a teaspoon or so of sugar on the top of each custard. Using either a dessert torch or small propane torch, gently melt the sugar on the tops of the custard until is is a deep brown and no sugar crystals remain. This part takes a bit of practice, but the mistakes are tasty. I use a standard handyman's propane torch... it cost me all of $12 at the hardware store. I find it works better than the small butane culinary torches and costs about 1/4 of the price. Not to mention the propane torch is useful for other things than just melting sugar. Let the desserts sit for about a minute to let the sugar harden, then serve immediately with a cup of freshly made strong coffee, or perhaps a dark porter or stout beer to cut the richness.