Thursday, October 25, 2012

Burn Baby Burn, Custard Inferno! - Crème Brûlée

Crème Brûlée.......

The mere word conjures feelings of pure decadence. This is completely understandable considering the amount of fat contained in these little dishes of burnt sugar crusted heaven. But then again, this is a desert to be relished on special occasions. After all, you wouldn’t sit down and eat a whole pint of Ben and Jerry’s Chunky Monkey for dessert every night of the week now, would you? Or would you?

To be honest though, a 4 oz serving of Crème Brûlée, while not exactly healthy, really isn’t THAT bad.  I mean, it's loaded with calcium and potassium, right?

I love to make Crème Brûlée when I am having a large dinner party; in fact, I find it to be the perfect ending to most complex dinners. There is something refreshing about it’s simplicity after more complicated offerings, and most guests feel truly spoiled when being served such a dessert. I had one guest who commented that the main reason they showed up was in hopes of Crème Brûlée after dinner. Ya know, to this day, I am still not sure if I should be offended or flattered by that.

As stated earlier, Crème Brûlée is ingenious in its simplicity. It is nothing more than a combination of cream, egg yolk, and sugar, flavored with vanilla. What makes Crème Brûlée so much different from other custards is the method of combining these 4 ingredients. After all these years and many, many, many batches of burnt custard, I have found that there is just no way around it; you will need the following to properly execute this dish:
  1. A Bain-Marie (Double Boiler) to bring the custard to the Crème Anglaise stage. (When a clean line remains on the back of a spoon when your finger is drawn through it. If you have ever made cold process soap, another way to equate this stage is ‘light trace’). This step removes all of the air bubbles whisked in while conditioning the yolks. If not, you will have cooked foam on top of your finished crème. It also prevents accidental overcooking of the eggs as well as speeding up the baking process.
  2. Cheese cloth – No matter how good anyone is at separating eggs, you will almost always end up with a little egg white and at least part of the chalaza (The twisted albumen at each end of the yolk to hold it in place inside the shell.) Albumen coagulates at a much lower temp than the yolk will, and therefore must be strained out of the final mixture or you will have chunks.  (not sparkly)
  3. A kitchen torch or a Crème Brûlée iron - Trying to caramelize sugar under the broiler yields unsatisfactory results at best, no matter what they say on the Food Network.
  4. 4 - 4 oz ramekins that are only about 1 inch deep. Otherwise the cooking time will be off. And let’s face it; really good Crème Brûlée has a specific ratio of crusty caramel goodness to custard, if your ramekins are too deep it throws this ratio off. Bigger surface area means more crust.
  5. A roasting pan to use as a water bath. Unlike cheesecake (Which is a custard as well) you cannot cheat and place it in a dry oven, Crème Brûlée needs the gentle 212 degree heating of a water bath or it will quickly become over done and tough.
I know all this just made this undertaking sound REALLY complicated, but I assure you, it's is fairly easy to execute.

Basic Crème Brûlée

1/2 of a Vanilla Bean (Pod and Caviar)
pinch of Kosher Salt
2 cup of Heavy Cream (Light whipping cream and half and half add too much milk protein and make the Crème Brûlée tough.)
1/3 cup Caster or Bakers sugar (It dissolves quicker)
1/2 cup of Egg Yolk, Room Temperature (Yes, I use a liquid volume measure for this, that way it doesn’t matter what size eggs I have in the fridge. 1/4 cup yolk for every cup of heavy cream seems to be the perfect ratio, giving the Crème Brûlée the silky smooth texture)

Preheat your oven to 350F degrees

Split, then scrape your Vanilla Bean, with the back of the knife, to free the inner caviar.

In a medium sauce pan heat Heavy Cream, Kosher Salt, Vanilla Caviar as well as the Pod to just below a boil (scald)

Place the bottom of the double boiler on the stove with about 1 inch of water, begin heating on medium heat.

In the top of the double boiler, but no over the heating water yet, whisk the Egg Yolks and Sugar until the sugar melts and no longer feels gritty in your fingers.

Place a tea kettle over medium heat as well, you will need it for the water bath later........

When cream has hit scald point, remove the pan from the heat, cover and let the Vanilla steep for 5-10 minutes, then fish out the Vanilla Pod.

Begin whisking yolks as you slowly pour the hot cream over them. (this will prevent you from having sweetened scrambles eggs)

Place mixture over the simmering water and cook until the Crème Anglaise stage mentioned above. Your custard should be smooth and almost bubble free.

Strain through 3 layers of cheese cloth into a vessel you can pour from, this removes ANY lumps. (I filter it into a 4 cup Pyrex measuring cup, for easy filling of the ramekins)

Fill ramekins about 3/4 full and place in a roasting pan.

Pull the rack from your oven out and place the roasting pan upon it and finish filling the ramekins almost to the top.

Push the oven rack in and fill the pan with hot water from the kettle until it comes half way up the sides of the ramekins, close the door and reduce the temperature to 325F degrees.

Bake for 15-20 minutes, the center will still be a little jiggly, that is good, if it’s not jiggly, then they are over done.

Carefully remove roasting pan from oven and quickly remove ramekins from hot water to a cooking rack. (I use tongs for this.)

Let Crème Brûlée cool to room temperature before placing in the refrigerator over night.

40 minutes before serving, remove from refrigerator and sprinkle the tops with a thin layer of plain old granulated sugar, or for a super special treat, use Demerara Sugar. (Which is actually my favorite)

With the ramekin in 1 hand and the lit kitchen torch in the other, apply the flame to the sugar, about 4 inches away, as soon as it begins to melt and run, twist the ramekin in your hand, I find this easier than moving the torch around. (I know, I am doing it on the counter, contrary to how I am saying it should be done, but in my defense, I needed one hand for the camera)

When all the tops are covered with a burnt crust, refrigerate for 30 minutes before serving, this will re-chill the custard slightly, but will not be long enough for the crust to get or turn into liquid.

Now take a spoon, and hold the ramekin up to your ear while forcefully applying your spoon to the crust, just to hear that satisfying “Crack” when the crust breaks.

Then there is the perfect spoonful, with just a small amount of the cracked caramel to accompany the unctuousness of the cream custard.

Sadly, it all seems to end WAY too soon.


1 comment:

Patti T. said...

I think every time I take the last bite I am like you and think I wish there were more. I think it just would not be as good or as special if you could eat it by the bowl full. I have made this but I always serve it right after I torch the top, I was always afraid it would soften if I didn't. Next time I will try and let it chill a little afterwards.