Oh,my. I can’t say I have ever met anyone who doesn’t love crème brûlée. And if you don’t, then I’m not sure we can be/stay friends. Has anyone noticed my friend requirements are almost solely food and drink related? Don’t judge me.
I’m glad I didn’t know how relatively easy this process is or I would have been making this on the regular and would probably be getting my coronary arteries scraped out as we speak. It does require some patience (egg tempering, more on that later) and some vigilance (jiggly but not wavy) but overall, kind of a cinch. And setting small sugar fires is pretty fun too! But it’s not inexpensive. Ten dollars for 2 vanilla beans because once again, I’m in East Texas so there’s no such thing as vanilla paste in these-here-parts, sigh. And ten egg yolks. Luckily I get those for free so YAY ME! Some recipes call for 8, some call for 10. Egg yolks are evidence that God loves us so I say ten!
This was my Christmas dress rehearsal. There will be roughly 15 people for Christmas. I am NOT doing 15 individual ramekins because I love myself. So along with making crème brûlée for the first time, I’m also trying it in one large container (a deep pie plate) instead of individual ramekins. I need to make 2 of these for Christmas (along with the tiramisu) so I thought I would have to double the recipe later this week. However, I was over the moon to discover this recipe made the exact right amount for 2 deep pie plates about ⅔ full which felt about right to me. Based on absolutely nothing. I digress.
So I put 4 cups of heavy cream on medium heat and scraped out this little jewel. It’s pretty easy. Just slit it from top to bottom and then scrape the knife from bottom to top. Get all the good stuff out and put it into the cream. Then just toss the whole pod in there for good measure.
While your cream is heating up (watch this carefully, you want a low simmer, not scorched), separate ten eggs. I’ve probably mentioned this a time or 5, but there is something so zen to me in separating eggs by hand. No fancy egg separator necessary. Be delicate or the yolk will break. Because I’m not really a baker, I separate mine in the sink because I see no need to save whites that I will likely never use. I will probably start saving them after the first of the year for weekend breakfasts when I try to get healthy….again. Anyway, separate your eggs by hand, feel the zen, try to forget the cholesterol. Throw your eggs in your favorite mixing bowl and mix on low with ¾ cup white granulated sugar.
Once your eggs are separated your cream should be about at a simmer. Remove your cream from the heat and strain through a fine mesh strainer. This removes any curdled fat and the larger pieces of vanilla so your cream, and therefore your custard, is nice and smooth. I have a medium handheld sieve that I line with cheesecloth and strain half into my large pyrex measuring cup. Okay folks, put your patience pants on because this is the tempering part.
When you temper eggs, you are adding hot liquid to room temperature eggs with a goal other than scrambled eggs. Which means you have to add at least the first cup at a mere drizzle. I tend to err on the side of caution (only with eggs) and add the whole 4 cups this way. It’s slow and a bit aggravating but oh, so worth it! A lesson I learned here is to beat on the low side rather than on high. Mine got a little bubbly so when the custard set, it wasn’t as smooth on top as I would have liked. It doesn’t really matter since you torch sugar on the top but I it matters to me!
Back to the drizzle. I’m super fortunate. I not only have a kitchen aid which makes this much easier, I also have a guard for the bowl that has a spout I can pour down into. So I set the mixer to mix and concentrated all my effort on the small stream of hot vanilla cream. Once the first 2 cups were in, I strained the last two and added that at a slightly wider and faster stream.
Once all of the cream is incorporated, dip a spoon in that and taste the magic. That, my friends, is the promise of bliss!
Okay, so whether you’re doing ramekins or pie plates, you need a pan large enough for them to fit in. Oven needs to be already preheated at 325. I used a large deep roasting pan because it was the only thing I had that would neatly fit a pie plate. Pie plate in the roasting pan.Fill the pie plate ⅔ with crème brûlée. Note there is enough left for another pie plate. Do a small happy dance.
Crème brûlée is not baked. It is bathed. So put the pan in the oven and then fill it with boiling water until it reaches the halfway point on the outside of the ramekins/pie plate. Close the door. I started checking at 30 minutes. The first pie plate took 30 minutes even. The second one I put in right after I took the first one out took 35 minutes. Nobody can explain these kitchen mysteries. We must accept.
The goal is a jiggle but not a wave. Think jello. If it’s wavy, don’t give it more than a few more minutes before checking again. It should NOT be set all the way when you take it out. That will result in a very eggy flan tasting custard and we are looking for something silkier here. So remove the jiggly custard and let rest until room temperature. Finish setting in the fridge at least a few hours but it’s best if overnight. Cover well with plastic wrap when refrigerating.
Time to torch!! I had some raw sugar (also known as cane turbinado). I threw some in a food processor and blasted until it was almost dust (fine sugar burns better).
I coated the top of the brûlée, not thick but thick enough you couldn’t see the custard. Fired up my new cooking torch and browned that sucker. Sugar is flammable, it actually catches on fire briefly. It was fun but took much longer than I thought it would. But it ended up with a beautiful brown sugar glass top. I read today on a blog that this guy likes to wait a couple of hours, do another layer and then repeat one more time. I may do that at Christmas. This glass was thin and fragile. It’s nice when it’s a little more like stained glass. But it tasted like toasted marshmallows nonetheless and the custard was a perfect consistency. The taste can’t be beaten. I took two (okay, three) bites and promptly made Staci put it in her car to take to work. I do not need that in the house! We gave the other one to the neighbor for Christmas. (I hear she’s sick and I kind of want to go get it back but I would feel like the Grinch in Whoville.)
I think you should challenge yourself and give this a shot. Like the tiramisu, it wasn’t nearly as difficult as I thought it would be. I believe in you! Merry Christmas, everyone! My prayer is that God has and will continue to bless you as richly as He has blessed me this year and in the years to come!
Happy reading, joyful cooking and spread the Christmas cheer!