Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Creme Brulee

Creme Brulee is also known as the "Queen of British Desserts." I have no idea why.
Few desserts can easily evoke the luxury of the creme brulee. Literally meaning "burnt cream", it is a fabulous custard dessert with a crisp, crunchy top of caramelized sugar. The home cook will not often attempt this as broilers can be tricky in the residential oven, and I honestly can't think of many that go out and buy blow torches. But maybe that will change with both the Foodie movements that seem to be happening everywhere as well as Colorado's whole legal marijuana thing going on. (Don't over-think that last part if you didn't get it initially. Move on.)

The long and short of it is that the creme brulee is kind of a dream, a special occasion, something you can only get when someone offers it in a restaurant. You don't think to make a bunch of these dudes and have them in your house. At least, I assume you don't. Maybe you do. I do, but I don't hold myself to be a normal person, necessarily.

I didn't really care to have a creme brulee on my menu at the restaurant. To tell you the truth, I thought it was overplayed. I thought that everyone did that, and I wanted so much to prove that I was a good, creative, innovative pastry chef that I didn't want to go on, what I thought, was a stand-by. But everyone kept on asking for creme brulees for dessert.

"Fiiiiine..." I huffed as I went off to find the perfect recipe.

I didn't much care for the recipe in my textbook from culinary school. It was fine, sure, but I wanted something a little more different. I went to Google and trawled through Epicurious.com, Tumblr, and Pinterest, but I really didn't find anything that caught my eye. I just wanted a simple, good, vanilla bean creme brulee. Basically, I just didn't want to trust the randomness of the internet. Sourcing is so important, you guys. Don't trust everything if you don't know the source. So I went to a source I trust: The James Beard Foundation.

JamesBeard.org has become a staple for my recipe bookmarks. If ever I need something to go off of, I go there. I found the most-excellent creme brulee recipe there. It was just your basic, wonderful, perfectly-execute-able dessert. You can check out the recipe there, or just continue reading. Up to you!

Vanilla Bean Creme Brulee
yield: 8 creme brulees, or one fukken big one, depending on your dish size

  • 12 egg yolks
  • 1 quart heavy cream(heaviest you can find)
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 1 cup/7 oz sugar(vanilla sugar, if you can)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 hearty pinch kosher salt
Preheat your oven to 325 degrees F, or 300 if you have a convection oven. I like 325 with no fan/low fan, so that's what I use. Combine the cream, vanilla bean(scraped seeds and pod, please), extract, and salt in a heavy-bottomed saucepot and bring to a boil. Remove immediately from the heat and cover with aluminum foil to let steam. Combine the egg yolks and the sugar with a rubber spatula. I don't use a whisk because it creates a foamy custard head on top, and that can mess with the final texture on top. There are ways to skim it off, but I just find it easier to use the spatula and save myself a step. 

Temper in the hot/warm cream mixture to the egg yolks, and then combine everything in the saucepot. Return to medium-low heat, stirring constantly with your spatula. I just go until it's a nice nape(which is just coating the spoon nicely, basically) before I remove from the heat and strain. Please don't skimp the straining. You'll catch any nasties or curdles that might have occurred. Just don't skimp it, okay? Don't skip this step.

Pour into ramekins of your size choice. I like the traditional creme brulee ramekins, but you can use whatever, as long as it's ovenproof. Place them in a baking dish with high sides. A casserole dish will do. Move the dish into the oven and add water to the dish until it reaches a little more than halfway up the sides of your ramekins. You can go higher, but I am clumsy, so I just go that high. Cover the entire pan with aluminum foil and close your oven door, setting the timer for 10 minutes. At each 10 minute interval, you'll return to the oven and rotate the pan. Just gently turn it around to a 180. Nothing big. You just want to make sure it's cooking evenly. 

After about 30 minutes, lift up the foil by a corner gently and check. Give it a tiny shimmy and if it's just set, remove it. Remove the ramekins from the water and let sit on your cutting board or any other fairly room temperature surface for about an hour before wrapping and putting it into the refrigerator.

About five minutes before serving dessert, sprinkle with white sugar and either torch it using a torch, or broil it under the broiler to get that signature crust. Then pop it in the freezer. The cold air will seize up the sugar and give you a crazy-good crunchy crust when you break it with the spoon. Plus you won't have that weird warm/lukewarm layer of custard just below the crust that can sometimes be unappealing. If you want to be a total copycat of me, serve it with a garnish of caramel corn, orange segments, and blueberries. And hopefully you can be just as surprised as how much you love classics like that. I realized through this dessert that there is nothing wrong with playing the Hits that everyone loves. You can be an artist, sure, but your art won't mean shit if you can't perfectly execute the basics. So learn to execute the basics! There is nothing wrong with the basics, especially when those basics are a vanilla-y unctuous custard underneath a crust of sugar. 

Happy eating!