This is a classic crème brulée with a lemon bottom — serve it on its own or with other lemon desserts. Or you could leave out the lemon altogether and add various other flavours to the infused cream here: rose water, a piece of orange rind, some lavender, or a piece of ginger, cinnamon or cassia bark. There are various ways to burn your layer of sugar over the custard — you can also use a brulée iron or blow torch.
Finely grate the yellow zest from one of the lemons and set aside. To fillet the lemons, cut the top and bottom from both of them. Sit the lemons on a board and, with a small sharp knife, cut downwards to remove the skin and pith.
Remove the segments by slicing between the white pith. Remove any pips. Discard the lemon ‘skeleton’.
Put the sugar in a small saucepan with
To make the custard, put the cream and vanilla bean in a heavy-based saucepan and bring to just below boiling point. Turn off the heat and leave for 30 minutes to infuse, then remove the vanilla bean, scraping the seeds into the cream with the point of a knife.
Whisk the egg yolks and sugar in a bowl for 2 minutes until thick and creamy. Whisk a ladleful of cream into the yolks. Then pour in all the cream, mixing it well, and return the whole lot to the pan, over the lowest possible heat. Whisk almost continuously to keep moving the heat around for about 10 minutes, or until you notice the custard thickening. It should make ribbons when you whisk. Take care not to let the custard get too hot or the eggs will split — if they do, quickly take a hand-held mixer and purée on full power for a couple of minutes.
Pass the custard quickly through a fine sieve into a cold bowl and continue whisking to prevent the eggs cooking further. You can also hold the bowl in a sink filled with cold water while you whisk. When the custard is quite cooled, ladle it into the ramekins, not filling them too full and trying not to send the lemon syrup everywhere. When they are completely cool, cover with plastic wrap and put them in the fridge for a few hours before serving.
To make the praline top, put the sugar in a small saucepan with a few drops of water and simmer until it darkens to caramel. Lightly butter a metal or marble surface. Pour out the caramel onto the surface and let it cool and harden before you break it off and smash it with a meat mallet or pulse it in a blender until it is in crumbs.
Preheat the grill (broiler) to very hot. Take the custards from the fridge at the last minute and sprinkle about a tablespoon of praline over each one. Spread it thinly over the whole surface with the back of a spoon. Put the custards on a rack as close as possible to the grill until the praline has melted — the custard should be still cold on the inside and the sugar crisp on the top. Serve absolutely immediately.
© 2004 All rights reserved. Published by Murdoch Books.