Photo Guide: No-Fail Creme Brûlée

Hearing the name “Creme Brûlée” invokes a series of different emotions in different people. The wide range of reactions to Creme Brûlée include ” brew what?” to “Isn’t that just failed flan?”. The seemingly fancy dessert is really just a facade to a simple burnt cream.

To me, creme brûlée signifies simplicity and spontaneity. I tend to fall back on creme brûlée when I need a dessert for any dinner occasion. The sweetness of the creamy custard is contrasted with the depth of the crispy caramelized sugar creating a multiplicity of aromas, flavors, textures, and emotions.

Yesterday, I went with my good friend Trishala to visit her roommate Sara on a road trip. This marked the beginning of my spring break and also the start of a much needed getaway. One goal of the road trip was to create a dessert that would signify the success of the trip. Finally settling on creme brûlée, I also decided that it was finally time for me to invest in a torch. Yes. That was no typo. Finally.

My friends Trish and Sara

For those of you new to this dessert, it can be separated into two different components, a rich custard base, or the “creme” and a crunchy caramelized sugar top, or the “brûlée”. The brûlée   has been marketed to be produced with a torch. Now that I have most of my readers equally confused, I’ll start making my point.

Many of my friends refused to make creme brûlée because of the “torching” involved. But here’s a tip: any butane torch works fine. There isn’t a need to shell out extra money to buy a specialized torch that is marked up in a specialty store. That aside, the only reason why torches are being used is because most ovens in restaurants didn’t have a broiler so chefs resort to hand torches.

I headed out to Home Depot in Aliso Viejo and picked up my torch and a can of butane for about 30 dollars. When I visited, my friends faced the embarrassment of “HEY MIKE, we got a couple of girls in isle 18 looking for blow torches”. I was taken a bit more seriously when they realized I knew the difference between propane and butane. To save you the trouble: just get any butane torch, and a bottle of butane, instructions are included.

Now the torch is just one of the few things people dread when it comes to creme brûlée. This dessert involves techniques such as tempering, the use of a water bath, and caramelizing. I have a couple of notes for you so don’t be dismayed and read on! Personally, I like creme brûlée served cold on the bottom and slightly warm on top. Traditionally, the custards are returned to the fridge after they are brûléed so it is served cold entirely. If you plan on making this change, make sure to adjust the time accordingly.

Start by preheat the oven to 375 F and boiling water, that way you can focus on the actual preparations.

In another saucepan, heat the heavy cream on a medium fire. Separate the eggs, keeping the yolks only.

Lightly whisk the sugar, salt, and vanilla into the yolks.

Once the heavy cream forms small bubbles remove the sauce pan from the heat.

While whisking, slowly ladle the heavy cream in a steady stream. This step is known as “tempering”. By doing this, you are gently bringing the temperature of the egg yolks up instead of cooking the egg yolks and turning it into scrambled eggs. After you ladle about 1/4 of the cream in, pour the remaining cream into the bowl in a steady stream while whisking.

Using the ladle, skim the bubbles on top out.Place the ceramic dishes in a 9 by 13 baking dish. Fill the baking dish with the hot water until it reaches half way up the sides of the ceramic dishes. Fill the ceramic dishes with the cream mixture. Set the baking dish in the oven for 15 minutes. Gently shake the baking dish and if it is still thin, continue to bake for another 5 minutes. Repeat this process until the cream is set but still jiggles.

When it is done, remove the baking dish and set the baking dish, with the custards on the counter for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, place the custards in the refrigerator overnight or until they are completely cooled. You can leave these in the fridge for up to 4 days.

I brûléed my custard using my new handy torch. I like finishing off creme brûlée with an extra sprinkle of salt just to give it an extra dimension.

Creme Brûlée

Servings: 8

Ingredients

  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 6 eggs yolks
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • a pinch of salt
  • 1/2 tsp of vanilla
  • 1 Tbsp Sugar

Directions

Preheat the oven to 375 F. Boil water in a medium saucepan, enough to fill a 9 by 13 baking pan half way. In another saucepan, heat the heavy cream on a medium fire.

Lightly whisk the sugar, salt and vanilla into the yolks. Once the heavy cream forms small bubbles remove the sauce pan from the heat. While whisking, slowly ladle the heavy cream in a steady stream. After you ladle about 1/4 of the cream in, pour the remaining cream into the bowl in a steady stream while whisking. Using the ladle, skim the bubbles on top of the bowl out. If your mixture does curdle, there are two solutions. If its extremely lumpy, use a blender to smooth out the lumps and proceed. If there are just a few lumps, then just use a fine meshed strainer to strain out the lumps.

Place the ceramic dishes in a 9 by 13 baking dish. Fill the baking dish with the hot water until it reaches half way up the sides of the ceramic dishes. Fill the ceramic dishes with the cream mixture. Set the baking dish in the oven for 15 minutes. Gently shake the baking dish and if it is still liquidy, continue to bake for another 5 minutes. Repeat this process until the cream is set but still jiggles slightly when the pan is shaken.

When it is done, remove the baking dish and set the baking dish, with the custards on the counter for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, place the custards in the refrigerator overnight or until they are completely cooled. You can leave these in the fridge for up to 4 days.

Making the Brûlée

Using a torch or a broiler

Right before serving, place the tablespoon of sugar on the ramekins and shake the ramekin so that the sugar is evenly distributed. Shake the excess off into the next ramekin and repeat until each ramekin has a layer of sugar on top. If you prefer a thicker layer shake out less excess and redistribute it evenly across the top of the custard.

If using a torch, using slow, and smooth motions, move back and forth a few inches above the custard so that the sugar melts and caramelizes but doesn’t burn.

If using a broiler, place the custards under the broiler and watch closely as the sugar can burn fast. When making the brûlée in the broiler, the entire custard tends to warm up. I would suggest placing the dish bake in the fridge until it cools down before serving.

Stove Top

If a torch or broiler isn’t immediately accessible to you, or if your ramekins aren’t broiler safe, try this third method. In a small pan, heat up 1 teaspoon of water and 2 Tablespoons of sugar. When the sugar is melted into a golden auburn color, remove from the heat. Carefully, pour the sugar over the custards or use a spoon to drizzle a pattern. I recommend drizzling the pattern because pouring the sugar can create an overly thick layer.

Brûlée using the stove top method produces a thicker layer that ends up being thicker.

My awesome hostess’s mom, had made some quiche prepared earlier. Yum!

I was able to save the remaining creme brûlée for an extra treat the next morning.

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