Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Crème Brûlée

This post happened entirely out of necessity.  I've been lazy about baking lately, and haven't felt inspired to write a clever post.  Then, while idly leafing through my ad hoc at home cookbook one evening, the urge struck to make TK's whole bass in a salt crust.  TK's recipe instructs you to bury the fish in so much salt that your blood pressure rises just reading the ingredient list.  In addition to the extravagant amount of salt, the recipe calls for 8 egg whites.  This, of course, leaves 8 lonely, unused egg yolks.  Strangely, while I felt no guilt about wasting a whole box of salt on a silly fish, I did feel a twinge of guilt about throwing all those cheerful looking yolks down the drain.  What to do with a big bowl of egg yolks? Custard custard custard!  And the creme de la creme of custard just so happens to be crème brûlée. 

I figured I'd whip out a few of these babies, serve them to the fam, and be done with it.  No post necessary...  WRONG!  No sooner had I caramelized my first custard and cracked its sugar shell when I knew I would have to post this recipe.  With one gentle tap of my spoon, the thin, glassy brûlée snapped into sugar shards, revealing the creamiest custard I'd ever laid eyes on.  The first bite was cool, sweet, and outrageously luxurious - the silk negligee of the dessert world.  You might save your silk negligee for special occasions, folded neatly between tissue paper and tucked away in the back of your drawer... But there was no way I could let this recipe languish between the dusty pages of some old cook book, waiting for someone's anniversary or bridal shower.  Onto the Internet we go!  Gasp! (Keep your drawers on.  It's just dessert.  No photos of unmentionables here).  Please try this recipe.  It's super easy, and even if you're not a food freak who has every kitchen utensil known to man, including a mini-blow torch, you can still get the brûléed effect by user the broiler in your oven.

3 c. heavy cream
6 large egg yolks
1T vanilla
1/3 c. sugar, plus extra for the brûléed topping

Preheat the oven to 300.  Combine the cream and vanilla in a medium saucepan, and set the pan over medium-high heat.  Cook until small bubbles form at the edges of the pan, about five minutes.  Turn off the heat, cover the pan, and let it stand for fifteen minutes while you whisk the eggs.  Heat a kettle of water to boiling for a water bath.

In a large bowl, whisk the eggs and the 1/3 c. sugar until thick and pale yellow, about 2-3 minutes.  The cream mixture should have cooled a bit at this point, but you should still be careful not to curdle the eggs in this next step: slowly drizzle the warm cream into the egg mixture, continuing to whisk the eggs as you add the cream.  If you add the cream too quickly you will risk cooking/curdling the eggs, so take your time! 

Divide the egg-cream mixture evenly between six 6oz ramekins, or between nine 4oz ramekins.  Place the ramekins into a roasting pan or glass baking dish and carefully pour the boiling water into the pan/dish until it reaches halfway up the sides of the ramekins (this is a water bath).  Carefully transfer the pan(s) with the custards into the oven, and bake until the custards are just set.  The centers should still jiggle a bit when you jostle the ramekins.  40 minutes should do the trick.

Remove the custards from the oven and let them cool in the water bath.  Lift the cooled ramekins out of their bath, and stick them in the fridge to chill for 4 hours, or overnight.

To serve, sprinkle about 1t sugar on the top of each custard.  Using a kitchen torch, hold the flame 2-3 inches above the sugared surface and slowly sweep it back and forth until the sugar bubbles and caramelizes.  Alternatively, preheat the broiler and move the oven rack to the top rung (within one inch of the heating element.  If you can't get it that close, just broil it for a bit longer).  Stick the sugared custards under the hot broiler for 20-30 seconds - until golden brown.  Allow the caramelized surface to cool and harden for that satisfying *snap* as you dig in!