Sunday, September 5, 2010

Creme Brulee

By request, I'm posting my Creme Brulee recipe. We recently bought a set which included ramekins, water bath, and ramekin holder. You don't need this, but it speeds up the process quite a bit. You'll see why. It's also an excuse to use a blowtorch.

You'll need few ingredients to make 4 individual brulees. Pre-heat your oven to 300 degrees. In a small saucepan, heat 1 1/2 cups heavy cream on a medium heat. If you have one and wish to use it, feel free to split a vanilla bean and add it. I'm unable to get my hands on one (I live in Chinatown, and work in Harlem. Neither place typically has vanilla beans readily available. Yes, there is a Fairway near me, but it's a pain in the ass to get to.). For the rest of us, add a teaspoon or two (up to you, I like adding a little more to have more of a vanilla taste to the custard) vanilla extract to the heavy cream. Meanwhile, in a separate bowl or kitchen aid (use the wire whisk) whisk together 6 egg yolks and 1/4 cup white granulated sugar until homogenous. When the cream is just hitting the boiling point (which will be about when you finish whipping together the yolks and sugar) remove from heat. Turn your mixer to a medium-high speed (this is important) and add a small amount of the cream (~1/4 cup-ish). Once it is incorporated, add a little more cream. Once that is done, add the rest of the cream, and continue to whip the mixture for another 10 seconds or so. Don't worry about foam.

Remove the mixture and pour into a separate bowl through a strainer. This will remove any egg shell pieces, as well as any pieces of egg which were cooked by the cream. Fill your water bath to about halfway. Place the ramekins in and fill each with the batter. Most recipes tell you to spoon off the foam. I find this a pain in the ass, as well as a waste of batter. Instead, I take my blowtorch and quickly wave the flame over the tops of the ramekins. It will make the bubbles disappear. You can do it two or three times. If you end up singeing the top a little, don't freak out, it's fine.

Stick the bath into your oven and leave in there for 50 minutes. Yes, 50 minutes. I've done this a number of times now (I have to justify the cost of the materials somehow) and it is always 50 minutes. Naturally, ovens differ, so check yours out at 45 minutes. I have not noticed a difference between it being located in the middle or top of the oven, so don't worry about it. How do you know it is underdone/done? Shake the bath gently. If the custard moves like a liquid, it is underdone. If it jiggles like Jello jigglers (which are slightly stiffer than classical jello) you're good. And yes, it is a very fast turnover point. At 45 minutes, it will be completely liquid. At 50 minutes, it is done.

Here is where the set is nice. Normally, you will need to leave the ramekins alone or very carefully remove them. My set has a wire holder which allows me to immediately remove the ramekins from the hot water bath, which allows them to cool more quickly. Generally, you'll want to wait until they cool a little bit before you stick them in the fridge (rule of thumb- don't stick piping hot items into the fridge or your milk will be chunky in the morning). Leave them alone for at leave a half hour- you want them nice and chilly. If you are planning on eating the creme brulee more than an hour or two later, leave them in the fridge. The custard will keep just fine, don’t worry. When you are ready to eat the dessert, take a teaspoon of granulated sugar and pour it on top of the first ramekin in a heap. Pick up the ramekin and angle it slightly, rotating so that the sugar coats the top evenly. This will ensure that you get a nice, even layer of perfect thickness. Excess gets poured on top of the next ramekin, and repeat. Once done, grab out your blowtorch.
Your first crème brulee will likely be over-scorched. I expected that I would need to move the flame rapidly and many times to get even heating. In fact, I have found that I get more consistent results if I move the torch slowly and evenly, giving the entire dish only one or two passes (one slow, one quick). Play with it- it’s really mostly a matter of practice more than anything. Oh, make sure you are not holding the ramekin when you use the blowtorch, and if you are afraid of setting your kitchen counter on fire, put foil down first.
Once done, the brulee’s go back in the fridge. Don’t try to eat it just yet- molten sugar + mouth = ouchie. Let it sit for ~1/2 hour. Eat within an hour or so. Any longer, and the sugar will start to soften and re-dissolve in the custard. Bon appétit!
Some thoughts: Have fun. Joanna and I decided to play with the type of sugar we used on the top. Most people use sugar in the raw or white sugar. I’m curious to try maple sugar. Last night, we tried using some black and harlequin sugars we had sitting around. This was interesting not just visually, but because the sugar grains were fairly large, the thickness and texture of the sugar layer was different. The black sugar was surprisingly boring and was very difficult to gauge the temperature. See below. Note: The tops are a little sloppy, because it is very difficult to make an even layer with very large grained sugar. Also, when using colored sugar, it will melt fully, but the dye stays put. So it looks unevenly coated, but it actually was very nice and even.
Oh yea. When adding the hot cream, make sure the mixer is fast. Too slow and the cream will cook the eggs much more- going fast will allow you to properly temper the eggs (raise their temperature without cooking). It always will cook the eggs a teeny bit, but this will minimize it.