Crème Brûlée

Crème Brûlée is one of those desserts that seems all at once elusive, intriguing, intimidating and delicious. But really, once you grasp a couple basic concepts, and you do it a few times, it’s only one of those things – delicious.

Also, once you get it figured out, the flavor combinations and possibilities are endless.

Maple-Rosemary Orange
Café Mocha with Dutch Process Chocolate

Shockingly, this is actually NOT that hard, if you keep a three key things in mind:

  1. Eggs yolks curdle (i.e., scramble) between 152°F and 158°F. If you dump something hotter than that into eggs, they’re going to scramble
  2. Caramelization (when sugar browns) happens at 338°F
  3. A water bath (more on this later) is essential because it ensures that the custard in the ramekins (the fancy name for the bowls these are made in) never exceeds 212°F

With the above in mind, here’s why people think that making Crème Brûlée is hard. Most recipes instruct you to dump hot cream into eggs, whisking as hard as you can but scrambling them anyway. Then, they have you press the custard through a mesh sieve to remove the egg bits. Then, they have you bake the Crème Brûlée in the oven at 350°F which causes the custard to brown prematurely, unless you cover it, which then raises the temperature, which then scrambles the eggs (again)…

All this is stupid. Read on to find out WHY.

Ingredients

For 3, 7oz Ramekins

  1. 2 cups heavy cream
  2. 4 egg yolks
  3. 1/3 cup sugar
  4. 1-2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  5. 1/4 teaspoon or tiny grating (if using whole) nutmeg – optional

Method

Step 1

  1. Preheat the oven to 300°F (38°F below the temperature that sugar caramelizes) with the rack in the middle position
  2. Arrange ramekins in an oven-proof baking dish or pan that is 2-4 inches deep

Step 2: Warm the cream

  1. In a medium saucepan or small pot, begin heating cream over medium-low heat. You want to warm it up, but you don’t want it to boil.
  2. Once cream is barely steaming, stir gently and remove from heat
  3. AVOID SCRAMBLED EGGS: Using an instant read or probe thermometer, allow cream to cool to 150°F – 2 degrees below the temperature that eggs scramble

Step 3: Meanwhile, while cream is heating and cooling

  1. Separate yolks and whites from 4 eggs, reserving the whites for another use, if you like. Place yolks in a large-ish bowl.
  2. Add sugar, vanilla extract and nutmeg to the egg yolks
  3. Beat together with a whisk until homogeneous and slightly fluffy

Step 4: Combine the cream and eggs to make a custard

  1. Place the bowl with the eggs and sugar on a kitchen towel for stability
  2. In your non-dominate hand, grab the pot with the cream, using a hot-holder or kitchen towel if needed
  3. In your dominate hand, firmly grab hold of a wire whisk
  4. Begin whisking the egg mixture rapidly, and add cream 1/4 cup at a time while continuing to whisk like hell until all the cream is incorporated into the egg mixture.

Step 4: Bake the Crème Brûlée

  1. Pour the custard into the ramekins in the baking dish
  2. Pour hot water (tap-hot is fine) into the baking dish (NOT the ramekins themselves) until the water level comes up about halfway
  3. Carefully (like you’re handling plutonium) place the baking dish with the ramekins into the oven, careful not to slosh the custard in the ramekins
  4. Bake for 45 minutes at 300°F

Step 5: Cool the Crème Brûlée

  1. After 45 minutes, remove the Crème Brûlée from the oven
  2. Using needle nose pliers, carefully lift the ramekins out of the water bath and place on the counter to cool for 30 minutes
  3. Once sufficiently cool, place ramekins into the fridge for 3 hours, or for up to 3 days

Step 6: Brûlée your Crème and serve

  1. When ready to serve, sprinkle a dusting (about 2 tablespoons) of sugar over the tops of the custard in the ramekins
  2. Using a torch, scald the sugar on top. Or, if you don’t have a torch, pop the ramekins directly under the broiler in your oven – watch them like a hawk to make sure they’re an amber, golden brown – not burned
  3. Top with whipped cream, if desired

Variations

Maple Rosemary Orange

  • Place a sprig of rosemary into the cream while heating to infuse; remove just prior to mixing into egg yolks
  • In addition to the vanilla extract and nutmeg, also mix in 1 teaspoon orange extract or bitters

Pumpkin Spice

  • Add 2 teaspoons Pumpkin Spice to egg mixture along with vanilla and nutmeg

Chocolate Mocha

  • Add 3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder, 1 tablespoon Instant Espresso powder and 1/4 cup chocolate chips to the cream; heat cream until chips are melted
  • Top whipped cream at the end with cinnamon, nutmeg

Chocolate Orange

  • Add 3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder, 1 tablespoon Instant Espresso powder and 1/4 cup chocolate chips to the cream; heat cream until chips are melted
  • In addition to the vanilla extract and nutmeg, also mix in 1 teaspoon orange extract or bitters

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.