Crème Brûlée

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Preparation info

  • Difficulty

    Medium

  • Yield:

    12

    servings, 6 ounces each

Appears in

One could easily argue that even though they have many similarities, crème brûlée is, in several ways, the opposite of crème caramel. These small cholesterol bombs use all heavy cream and additional egg yolks (as opposed to milk and whole eggs in the other); the sugar goes on the top instead of the bottom; and the sugar is caramelized after the custards are baked—unlike crème caramel, where the sugar is caramelized first, then poured on the bottom of the molds before the custard is added and the desserts are baked. Finally, crème brûlée is served in its baking dish, while crème caramel is unmolded onto a serving plate.

This rich, smooth-textured dessert is known as Burnt Cream in England, where it has been popular since the seventeenth century. It was not, however, until late in the nineteenth century that the French term crème brûlée, which means precisely the same thing, became popular and the dessert became standard fare in many American restaurants.

The richness of the custard lends itself extremely well to being paired with fresh fruit, either as part of the presentation, as a flavoring for the custard itself, or as a container for the custard. In some variations, the custard is cooked on the stovetop instead of being thickened the traditional way by baking in a water bath. This method is particularly useful when the custard is presented in a hollowed-out fruit shell.

The caramelized sugar crust on a fine crème brûlée should be thin and crisp, so the spoon can go right through. Too much sugar on top will make the crust too hard. If made ahead, the crust will melt, so it should be caramelized to order.

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Ingredients

  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 12 ounces (340 g) granulated sugar
  • 14 egg yolks ( cups/300 ml)
  • 1 whole egg
  • 7 cups (1 L 680 ml) heavy cream
  • teaspoons (7.5 g) salt
  • 1 teaspoon (5 ml) vanilla extract
  • granulated sugar
  • Seasonal berries or other fresh fruit
  • Sugar decorations (optional)
  • Mint sprigs or edible fresh flowers
  • Piped Cookie Curly Cues

Method

  1. Cut the vanilla bean in half lengthwise and scrape out the seeds; save the pods halves for another use. Mix the vanilla bean seeds with the measured sugar, rubbing the mixture lightly with your fingertips to combine. Set aside.
  2. Mix—do not whip—the egg yolks, whole egg, and vanilla-flavored sugar until well combined. Heat the cream to the scalding point, then gradually pour into the egg mixture while stirring constantly. Add the salt and the vanilla.
  3. Place crème brûlée forms (see Note) or ovenproof forms such as soufflé ramekins, 3¼ inches (8.1 cm) in diameter, in hotel pans or other suitable pans and fill them close to the top with the custard. Add hot water around the forms to reach about three-fourths of the way up the sides. Move the pan to the oven, then top off each form with the remaining custard. Be sure to fill the forms all the way to the top because crème brûlée—like any custard—will settle slightly while it is cooking.
  4. Bake at 350°F (175°C) for about 25 minutes or until the custards are set. If using soufflé ramekins, the baking time will be a few minutes longer. Do not overcook, or the custard may break and have an unpleasant texture. Remove the custards from the water bath and let them cool slightly at room temperature, then refrigerate until thoroughly chilled. The custards may be stored in the refrigerator for 4 to 5 days at this point, left in their baking forms and covered tightly.
  5. Presentation: Sprinkle just enough granulated sugar on top of a custard to cover the surface. Clean off any sugar on the edge or the outside of the form. Caramelize the sugar using a salamander or a blow-torch, or by placing the dish under a broiler. Decorate one side of the top of the crème brûlée with a few berries or small slices of fruit, sugar decoration, if desired, and a mint sprig or edible flower. Place the custard dish on a plate lined with a napkin and serve with a cookie curly cue next to the dessert.