2018-02-07 / Featured / Taste

Heart-day creme brulee without the crowds


Creme brulee is time consuming, but the rewards are decadent. Serve it on its own or garnished with fresh berries. JENNY McQUEENCreme brulee is time consuming, but the rewards are decadent. Serve it on its own or garnished with fresh berries. JENNY McQUEENDespite the long wait for warm weather, there is solace to be found in February – in all of the delectable treats of Valentine’s Day. In addition to heart-shaped chocolates, there are decadent desserts, and you needn’t brave the restaurant date crowds to experience them. Why not stay in and try your hand at something a little special? Perhaps – creme brulee?

Before you run for the hills, rest assured that I will be here as your confectionary guide throughout the entire (admittedly lengthy) process. Now, I’m not going to lie to you and tell you that creme brulee is easy. You have to do things in the right order and be watchful of the bake time – otherwise, you will end up with a custard that is either too runny or too firm. The good thing about creme brulee is that it is inexpensive to make. The only investment is vanilla bean (available at most grocery stores) and a small propane or butane torch (which you can find online or at your local kitchen or hardware store). So why not give it a go?

Creme brulee is all about the texture, and perfecting it is the goal. This custard, consisting of only four ingredients, should be thick and creamy with a brittle shell of golden-brown burnt sugar on top. It’s the burnt sugar topping that elevates an otherwise simple treat to the high ranks of dessert fame, adding texture contrast and a rich, smoky warmth to each velvety bite. Perfect.

Creme brulee
Yields 6 servings

2 pints heavy whipping cream
1 vanilla bean
6 egg yolks
½ cup sugar, plus 3 Tablespoons
6-8 cups boiling water

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. In a kettle or pot, set water on the stove to boil.

Select six 4-ounce oven-safe ramekins, as well as a deep-sided baking dish that will fit all six ramekins. The dish should be deep enough that, when filled with water, the water will reach . of the way up the sides of your ramekins. Set aside.

In a cold sauce pan, combine cream and vanilla. It is important to use vanilla bean, as opposed to vanilla extract. Vanilla extract is made with alcohol and will cause your milk to curdle slightly, giving your final product a grainy texture. Your vanilla bean should be soft and bendable. Take a paring knife and slice the bean lengthwise. Using the dull side of the knife, scrape out the black paste, add it to your cream and give it a quick whisk. Drop the scraped bean in there as well – we will take it out later.

Place the sauce pan over medium heat. Heat cream until you see steam rising off the top – this means it’s hot enough to steep the vanilla, infusing the flavor into the cream. Keep over heat but do not bring to a boil. Allow the vanilla to steep for at least 15 minutes.

While your cream and vanilla are steeping, you are going to prepare the eggs and sugar. We will be separating the eggs. To do this, crack an egg over a small bowl and pry open the shell without dumping the contents, so that you have two shell halves with the yolk cradled in one half. Pass the yolk back and forth between the shell halves, allowing the white of the egg to spill down into the bowl. After three or four passes, you should be left with just the yolk in the shell. Drop yolk in a medium-sized mixing bowl and discard shell. Repeat with all 6 eggs. If you break one of the yolks while separating, set it aside and try again with a new egg.

Add ½ cup sugar to your yolks. Using a hand mixer, beat the yolks and sugar until the color changes from deep to light yellow.

Creme brulee gets its shell from melting sugar with a torch. JENNY McQUEENCreme brulee gets its shell from melting sugar with a torch. JENNY McQUEENTake cream off the stove, remove the vanilla bean husk, and skim off any film that might have developed on top of the cream. Slowly add your cream to the egg mixture, ½ cup at a time, stirring constantly. Keep mixing continually until incorporated – otherwise you can cook the yolks with the hot liquid. Once all the cream is combined, portion the mixture evenly into your six ramekins. Pour the boiling water into the baking dish around the ramekins, and place in the oven.

Bake 40-45 minutes, until the edges are firm and the center just barely moves when jiggled. Remove from oven and chill for at least 3 hours, or up to 3 days.

When you’re ready to serve, remove from fridge and top each ramekin with ½ Tablespoon sugar. Using a torch, melt the sugar until golden brown and bubbly. It will harden to a shell as it cools.

And that’s creme brulee in all its complicated glory. The first time you take a bite, all that hard work will be worth it. Share it with someone special over Valentine’s weekend, or make five new friends. ¦

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