This was 1999, mind you. They will come to be known as "the dark ages". No cooking blogs. No quality websites. And paging through old cookbooks, I couldn't find a good recipe that actually described the process. The ratios, sure. But how do you execute? This was an area where I suffered a number of enormous failures. Stirred custards that curdled. Oven custards that simply weren't the right consistency (I just don't like the consistency that oven custards hit). Burned sugar. And one, where it all looked perfect. The custard looked just right. The sugar was melted properly. And when my guests put their spoons through the melted sugar with a loud *crunch*, we noticed the pooled liquid underneath the custard. Gah.
With all of the right information, a crème brûlée doesn't have to be difficult. It's barely even time-consuming. And done properly, it's one of the best desserts ever. (Indeed, I'm quite convinced that anyone who doesn't *love* crème brûlée, hasn't had it done properly). So this year, on November 19th (the birthday of my wife), I give her crème brûlée.
(This recipe is modified from Debbie Puente's Elegantly Easy Creme Brulee: & Other Custard Desserts):
8 egg yolks
⅓ C granulated white sugar
2 C heavy cream
1 tsp pure vanilla extract (or 1 whole vanilla bean, slit lengthwise)
¼ C turbinado sugar
Warm the eggs to room temperature. Separate the eggs and beat the yolks until light yellow and foamy.
Slice the vanilla bean end to end, and scoop out the guts of the vanilla bean into the cream.
Drop the vanilla bean into the cream. Meanwhile, using a double boiler over low heat, warm the cream and white sugar until 140°F. Stir constantly. I use a silicone spatula, to scrape the bottom of the pan and ensure that nothing burns.
Now you need to temper the egg yolks. Basically, you're getting them ready for cooking so that they don't curdle. Add the warm milk, very slowly, to the mixing egg yolk. It's particularly important that the addition is slow at the beginning. You're making a cream/egg yolk emulsion, so go slow.
Fish out the vanilla bean, then pour the mixture back into the double boiler. Warm slowly, *stirring constantly* until the temperature reaches 175°F. Warming slowly prevents the mixture from curdling. Once the temperature reaches 175°F - Take off heat immediately! It may break (get grainy, lumpy, icky) at any point during the heating. If so - Take off heat immediately!
But what if it breaks? Disaster? No! This is the crème brûlée secret of secrets (shhhhh). If the custard breaks and curdles, you can save it. Run it through a blender, very quickly, blending just until smooth.
Pour the custard into some heat-proof ramekins, and wipe off any spillage (this'll be important when you start flaming the custard). Cover the ramekins and place in the fridge overnight.
The next day, crush some turbinado sugar in a mortar and pestle until it's of a relatively fine consistency. This makes it much easier to get an even melted sugar, without burning it. Dust a layer of sugar ontu the custard, and gently knock the ramekin to get an even distribution of sugar on the surface. Fire up your torch. I prefer to use the teeny little butane kitchen torches, though only for one reason. The bigger propane torches get too hot, and soften the custard underneath. The wimpy butane torches take longer to melt the sugar, but the custard stays perfect.
Brush the flames of your torch across the sugar until it melts evenly. Keep the torch and the ramekin moving. If you're not coordinated, you'll burn yourself, so be careful (speaking from experience, here). Some of the sugar will turn brown, you want that. That's delicious caramelization going on.
While the sugar is still melted, you can toss in a couple raspberries or a mint leaf or both. Otherwise, serve plain, or beside some punitions. Ramekins keep in the fridge up to a week, so make extra.
The perfect dessert. Happy birthday, beautiful.