Sunday, October 19, 2008

Creme Brulee

I didn't have much experience with creme brulee until I visited Peohe's in Coronado (across the bay from San Diego) with my grandmother this summer. In fact, I don't recall ever tasting creme brulee until she ordered one for the table. (This is my soon-to-be 86-year-old grandmother who is diabetic. She has to have "a bite" of everything that's on the table. Apparently this is a genetic trait. I am the exact same way, as is my mother. I just want a taste of whatever's around.)

Anyhoo, Gramma ordered the macadamia nut creme brulee, and I promptly fell in love with this simple yet incredibly tasty dessert. I've been craving it ever since, and though I've had it at restaurants, I have read that it is incredibly easy to make at home. It is a bit time-consuming, but it's not hard.

I got the recipe from my classic cookbook, Better Homes and Gardens, 75th Anniversary Addition. Yes, I used a recipe for this. It's not something you can wily-nilly throw together.

I don't have small ramekins, so I used my two individual ceramic baking dishes. They worked just fine.

Here is the cream after being cooked. I refrigerated overnight to make sure it was chilled enough to go under the broiler.

Can you spot the flecks of real vanilla bean?

Close-up after going under the broiler for about 8-10 minutes. Some of the sugar got a little blackened, but that's ok. Most of it turned out hard and caramelized, the way creme brulee topping is supposed to be.

And the finished product! I was worried the custard would melt under the broiler, but it did beautifully. I moved my oven rack to the very top position, so they would be directly under the broiler. Then I cracked the oven door and literally watched the sugar until it was done. As you can see, it is a very thin margin of time between golden and beautiful and scrumptious, and blackened and burned and bitterly yucky.

This was my first shot at this dessert, and it turned out great! I'll definitely be doing it again, but next time attempting chocolate!

Here is the recipe:
2 cups half-and-half or light cream (I used whipping cream)
5 slightly beaten egg yolks
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla (I used a whole vanilla bean)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 sugar

In a small heavy saucepan, heat cream over medium-low heat just until bubbly. Remove from heat; set aside.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, combine egg yolks, the 1/3 cup sugar, vanilla and salt. Beat with a wire whisk until just combined. Temper the egg mixture by slowly beating a small amount of cream into egg mixture. Continue until all cream has been incorporated.

Place into ramekins or ceramic vessels, diving custard mixture evenly among them, into a cookied sheet or baking dish. Place dish onto oven rack. Pour enough boiling water into dish to reach halfway up the sides of cooking vessels. Bake in a 325 oven for 30 to 40 mintues or until a knife near the center of each custard comes out clean. Remove dishes from water; coll on a wire rack. Cover and chill for at least 1 hour or for up to 8 hours. (I chilled overnight.)

Here is where I deviated from the main recipe. It says to carmelize the sugar in a saucepan, the pour over custards. This is the boring method. Instead I sprinked sugar over the entire top of the custards, making a thin layer. Then I did the aforementioned broiler step, watching those suckers the whole time.

This was a freakin' awesome dessert, albeit one made rarely. Don't be afraid; go for it!

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