Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Crème Brûlée

Ina Garten said, "Creme Brulee is the ultimate 'guy' dessert. Make it and he'll follow you anywhere." 

I love Ina Garten.

Though I definitely am not making crème brulee to impress someone, I think that the point is clear: make this once, and everybody will be begging you for more. (And girls will appreciate crème brulee just as much, if you're wondering.)

Crème brulee translates to burnt cream, which reflects on the method used to make it.  It's actually pretty simple.  Scald some cream, mix it with egg yolks and sugar, then cook it in water bath (bain-marie) until it jiggles like Jell-O. Finally, sprinkle some sugar on top and torch it.  The result is crackly, sweet shell protecting a luscious, creamy center.  And the flavor is amazing.  Nothing I know can compare to it. 

I have always wanted to try making crème brulee, but until my loving sister gave me a set of ramekins and a torch for Christmas, I was unable to.  But don't worry if you don't have a torch--I'll include instructions in the tips for using a broiler instead, which you should have in your oven. 

Here are a few tips before you start:
  •  Temper the egg mixture by adding the milk in a thin stream. If you don't, you'll end up with a bunch of egg curdles (which is o.k. since you'll eventually strain them out.)
  • When pouring hot water into the pan, be careful.  Bunch the ramekins up on one side of the pan and pour water on the other, and do so before putting it in the oven, to be safe. Use two pans if you have to, but bake one at a time.  If you get a little bit of water in the ramekin, leave it. When the crème is done cooking, just pour out the excess liquid.
  • Don't over-cook.  The crème brulee is done when it is a little jiggly, like Jell-O.  If it sloshes, it needs more time, if it doesn't jiggle at all, it's over-done (in which case it just won't be just as creamy.)
  • Flavor with a vanilla bean. This gives it a beautiful, inimitable flavor that will wow your taste buds.  (You can, however, add 2tsp vanilla extract to the strained mixture.)  Vanilla beans are cheaper if you buy them online.
  • If you don't have a torch:  Preheat broiler.  Place ramekins in roasting pan and fill with ice water (so it doesn't cook.)  Sprinkle about 2 tsp. sugar and spread over tops.  Place pan under broiler, about 2-3 inches below heat source.  Close oven and watch ramekins.  Remove when the tops are dark golden brown. 
The process is similar to making pastry cream, like I did with the gateau basque cake.  Once you get a hang of it, I'm sure you'll find it much simpler and it'll become one of your favorites.

Scalding the cream.

Adding it to the egg mixture.

I used a ladle to pour the mixture into the ramekins.

Carefully pour hot water into the roasting pan.
Burning the cream.

Crème Brûlée

Makes 8 servings
from Flour by Joanne Chang


1-1/2 cups (360g) heavy cream
1-1/2 cups (360g) half-and-half
1 vanilla bean, split
8 egg yolks
3/4 cup (150g) white sugar, plus some for sprinkling
a pinch of salt


  1. Place a rack in the middle of the oven.  Preheat to 325*F.  Place (8) 4-oz ramekins in a large roasting pan with at least 3-inch sides (use two pans if you have to.)
  2. In a medium saucepan, combine the cream and half-and-half.  Scrape the seeds out of the vanilla bean and add to the mixture, then add the pod.  Place over medium-high heat and scald (not boiling, bubbles start to appear around edges.)
  3. Meanwhile, whisk egg yolks until blended in a large bowl.  Stir in the sugar until combined.  Slowly pour the hot cream in a bit a a time, in a small stream, and whisk constantly.  Strain mixture into another bowl, pitcher, or liquid measuring cup.  Stir in the salt.
  4. Dividing evenly, pour custard into ramekins (if you aren't using a pitcher, use a ladle.)  Carefully pour hot water in the roasting pan until the water reaches the level of the custard.   Cover with aluminum foil or a baking sheet and really carefully move to the oven.
  5. Bake for 20 minutes.  Lift up the foil and jiggle the pan.  If the custard is sloshy and liquidy, it needs more time.  If it jiggles like Jell-O, it's done, and if it doesn't jiggle, it's over-done.  Add more time if necessary.  Carefully remove pan when done and let cool until cool enough to handle.  
  6. Refrigerate ramekins in an air-tight container for at least 1 day and up to 4 days.
  7. Sprinkle about 2 tsp of sugar on top of each ramekin. Light a torch and wave it about 1 inch above the sugar, caramelizing it until it is a dark, golden brown.  
  8. Let cool for 5 minutes and serve, or refrigerate a few hours before serving. 

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