Friday, March 8, 2013

Crème Brulee

When I we first moved to California, I slowly became obsessed with what I consider to be one of the best desserts ever conceived.  Sweet and creamy, cool and a bit crunchy, decadent yet not cloying I am of course talking about Crème Brulee.  Literally translated to Burnt Cream, this is very simply a custard base with a melted sugar crust.  I was somewhat intimidated by this dessert, not really understanding the versatility of eggs and how vital a role they play, and since Mrs. Thirsty is lactose intolerant, this wasn’t one of those dishes that she wanted me making all the time to perfect.  Not that she didn’t enjoy it, just that the price of entrance had to be worth the main event.  With that in mind I would occasionally use coconut milk, trying to find something we could both enjoy.  Since moving to Germany we have found that there are a lot of Lactose Free products that we didn’t find so readily available in North America, the largest brand being MinusL.  They have this heavy cream that is lactose free and wonderful to work with, and work with it I do.  We generally keep about 3 boxes of this hanging around the apartment at all times, just in case I get it in my head that I want some crème brulee.  After playing with various ratios of egg to cream, and different flavourings I found this has been my best base for a crème brulee, from here you are only limited by your imagination

Finished Product FirstIsn't it beautiful!!

Crème Brulee
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 50 minutes
Number of Servings: 6 – 150ml ramekins
Qty     Measurement            Item
6                                           Egg Yolks (Free Range is ideal, deep orange and rich)
700      millilitres                  Heavy Cream (Est. 3 cups)
1          5cm                           Cinnamon Stick
1                                            Vanilla Bean, Split and scraped
1          strip                           Lemon Zest, removed with potato peeler
65        grams                        Granulated Sugar (1/3 cup)
15        grams                        Honey (2 Teaspoons)
50        grams                        Turbinado Sugar (for Brulee) (4 Tablespoons)

1)      Preheat oven to 170°C (325°F)
2)      Combine heavy cream, cinnamon, vanilla and lemon zest into heavy sauce pan over low heat.  Steep for approximately 20 minutes.  Do not boil.
3)      Whisk together sugar, honey and egg yolks until smooth & creamy
4)      Strain flavoured cream to remove solids then slowly pour into egg mixture.  Whisk constantly while adding small amounts of cream.
5)      Pour custard into ramekins and place ramekins into water bath
6)      Bake custard for 40 minutes and check, centre of custard should slightly wobble/jiggle a bit.  If too liquid continue cooking for 5 minutes at a time and check.
7)      Remove from oven and water bath when custard is ready.  Cool to room temperature and then chill for at least 3 hours.
8)      When ready to serve, add Turbinado sugar to top and shake to spread.  Using torch, melt sugar evenly to a crust.  Allow crust to cool.  Custard can be put back into fridge for a short time, though the sugar may not retain crisp structure.

Bruleeing the sugar with a hand torch,
you can see some of my madelines in the background

This method generally makes a pretty thick custard base.  I love the creamy, dense texture and so I make it a little thick with a single layer of sugar burnt on top.  Mrs. Thirsty on the other hand really likes the burnt sugar and will add a second layer to the top of her crème brulee. 

Some Strawberry Creme Brulee waiting to have the sugar added

Depending on whimsy and what we have in the house I will sometimes slice some raspberries or strawberries and line the bottom of the ramekins with them.  Another time I added 50g of cocoa nibs to the cream and replaced the lemon zest with the zest from an orange, trying to make a Terry’s Chocolate Orange style Crème Brulee.  It worked out wonderfully. 

Some beautiful raspberries,
wonderful balance to the sweet flavour and creamy texture

Since there are all those left over egg whites, I usually make some Gluten Free Madeline’s, but that is for another post.  I’ll bring that one soon.

Photos courtesy of Mrs. Thirsty and Sister Thirsty