Crème Brûlée is one of the best known and most delicious of French desserts. I used to make it often about a decade ago, long before I started blogging. Back then I made it so often that I got tired of it. But now I was reminded by a friend who asked for the recipe. And so I made it again, and it was wonderful.
Three rules are important for making a good Crème Brûlée:
- The crispy layer of caramelized sugar on top should be warm, but the custard underneath should be cool. This doesn’t only give a nice contrast in temperatures, but the custard also tastes much better when it’s cool. This means that it is best to use a burner to caramelize the sugar, as that won’t heat up the custard underneath as much as using the broiler would. In any case you should start with cold (refrigerated) custard. If you have to use a broiler, make sure the ramekins are ‘au bain marie’ in ice water, to keep the custard cool. You can prepare the custard beforehand (and you should, because it should have time to cool off in the refrigerator), but caramelizing the sugar should be done at the last minute.
- The ratio of crispy caramelized sugar to voluptuous vanilla custard should be such that you can combine both in each bite that you take. Otherwise you don’t get to taste the beautiful contrast that is the essence of Crème Brûlée in the first place in each bite. This means that you should use a wide shallow ramekin rather than a tall narrow one, with a diameter of approximately 12.5 cm (5 inches).
- It goes without saying that to get a creamy custard, you should use cream for it (at least 30% fat content) and no milk. This adds some calories, but who is counting calories when you are having Crème Brûlée?!
If you stick to these rules, making a wonderful Crème Brûlée isn’t very hard. Here’s how…
For 4 servings
500 ml (2 cups) heavy cream
6 egg yolks
75 grams (6 Tbsp) sugar
1 vanilla bean
4 Tbsp cane sugar
Pour 500 ml (2 cups) heavy cream into a saucepan.
Cut a vanilla bean in half lengthwise.
Put the vanilla bean into the cream.
Heat the cream over medium high heat, stirring, until it almost boils. But make sure it won’t actually boil. Turn off the heat at once, and allow the vanilla to steep for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, combine 6 egg yolks with 75 grams (6 Tbsp) of sugar in a bowl.
Beat with a whisk…
…until the mixture is pale and creamy. Do you notice the change in color? This takes about 1-2 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 150C/300F. When the vanilla has steeped for 10 minutes, scrape the seeds out of the vanilla bean with a small knife…
…and return the seeds to the cream. Discard the bean.
Add the vanilla-infused cream to the egg yolk and sugar mixture.
Make sure you include all of the vanilla seeds as well.
Whisk to mix.
Put 4 ramekins in an oven proof dish that is big enough to hold them, or in a deep cookie sheet. Pour the custard into the ramekins.
Pour boiling water next to the ramekins until they are submerged about halfway.
Put the ramekins in the oven, being careful to avoid spilling the hot water into the ramekins. (Baking with the ramekins submerged halfway in hot water like this regulates the temperature and is called ‘au bain marie’.)
Bake at 150C/300F until the custard has set, about 40 minutes.
Lift the ramekins out of the hot water to allow them to cool.
Allow the custard to cool to room temperature.
Once the custard has cooled to room temperature, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate to chill.
Once it is time to serve, sprinkle the top of the custard in each ramekin with a tablespoon of cane sugar (after removing the plastic wrap, obviously…). Use a burner to caramelize the sugar. The sugar should be brown but not black (i.e. burnt). It helps to keep moving instead of holding still at the same spot.
Allow a minute or so for the caramelized sugar to cool slightly and become crispy (which you can check by tapping on top with a spoon). Serve at once.
This is nice with a sweet muscat with some caramel notes, like a fortified aged muscat from Australia.
Risotto with pear, gorgonzola, and walnuts is a classic yet unusual and delicious combination.