What is creme brulee? It's simply soft and smooth baked egg custard with a burnt, crusty sugar topping. The French called it Creme Brulee. The British called it Cambridge Burnt Cream. The Spanish called it Crema Catalana. All three claimed they were the ones behind this sensuous creation. But I think the French made it famous as we normally associate creme brulee as a french dessert. The Chinese has a similar dessert too - the egg tart. Of course it doesn't have the burnt top but a baked crust pastry holding the egg custard.I don't normally have creme brulee for dessert. I'm afriad of cholesterol given that the egg custard consists of egg yolks and heavy cream. But it's nice to have it once in a while. It's a simple and yet luscious dessert. Pair it with a cup of coffee and you'll love it. What makes me want to make this dessert? My hubby bought a kitchen blow torch. He wanted to use it to sear tuna and salmon. And I have the privilege of using it first to make creme brulee.
I searched through the internet for recipes. That's how I came to know about the British, French and Spanish laying claims to be the original creator. The ingredients are simple - egg yolks, sugar, heavy cream, milk and vanilla beans or extract. The various recipes differ slightly in the ratio of egg yolks to heavy cream/milk and the amount of sugar. Some recipes call for heavy cream only and some with a combination of milk and heavy cream. After browsing through the internet, I realized I have the Desserts by Pierre Herme book. It does not have the classic creme brulee recipe but the tea-flavoured creme brulee. What I noticed in Pierre Herme's recipe is that the custards are baked at very low temperature (210 degree fahrenheit/100 degree celsius) without a water bath for about 45 minutes. Most of the recipes call for baking at between 140 and 160 degree celsius with a water bath for about 30 minutes. Which one should I try? In the end I go with Pierre Herme as I've baked a few of his cakes and pastry with satisfaction. I just need to omit the tea and replace it with vanilla beans. And I added grand marnier liqueur too. Decadent.
It's fun caramelizing the sugar. You can hear the crisp knocking sound as you use a spoon to dig in. See the layer of crispy crust in the picture above. The texture is just nice - not too soft and runny but soft enough for you to spoon it without breaking up into bits. It just melts in your mouth. Savor it slowly to taste the crispy burnt sugar blending in with the fragrant vanilla, grand marnier, milk and eggs. It's so good that you cannot stop at one.
Creme Brulee (Adapted from Pierre Herme's Tea-flavoured Creme Brulee)
450 ml whole milk
1/2 plump, moist vanilla bean, split lengthwise and scraped
4 large egg yolks
80 ml heavy cream
1/2 tbsp grand marnier liqueur
1. Centre the rack in the oven and preheat the oven to about 210 degree fahrenheit/100 degree celsius.
2. Bring the milk and the vanilla beans (pulp and pod) to the boil in a medium saucepan or in a microwave oven. Cover the pan, remove from the heat and allow the mixture to rest for 10 minutes, enough time for the milk to be infused with the warm flavour of vanilla.
3. Strain the milk into a heatproof pitcher and discard the pod.
4. In a mixing bowl, preferably one with a spout, whisk together the egg yolks, sugar and heavy cream, beating to blend the ingredients but not to incorporate air. Whisking constantly, drizzle in about a quarter of the milk. When the yolks are acclimatized to the heat, add the rest of the milk in a steady stream. Blend in the grand marnier liqueur.
5. Pour the custard into shallow ovenproof gratins, ramekins or soup plates, making sure that the cream is not poured to a depth greater than 3/4 inch; slip the dishes into the oven. (This is done most easily if you put the dishes on a baking sheet.)
6. Bake the custards for about 45 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the centre of the custard comes out clean.
7. Transfer to a rack and cool to room temperature. Chill the custards for at least 2 hours before caramelizing the tops.
** Note **
The custard can be made up to 2 days ahead and kept chilled and covered.
I used a deeper ramekin and hence filled it to more than 3/4 inch high. As such, I have to bake it for about 50 minutes.
1. Sprinkle a thin coating of caster sugar over the chilled custard. Using a blowtorch, caramelize the sugar a patch at a time. You should have a crispy, crackly topping. Once caramelized, the creme brulee should be served quickly .