Saturday, February 26, 2011

Just Desserts: The Perfect Creme Brulee

Believe it or not, but one of the very first dishes that got me baking and cooking was this creme brulee. I was in my senior year of high school and assigned a project to pick an interest and devote one month to studying, learning, and cultivating this interest. A friend (who also loves food) and I decided to study eating etiquette from eastern and western cultures. We dined around San Francisco, met restaurant owners, chefs, and pastry chefs, and researched French and Japanese cuisine. We then took our inspirations and headed for the kitchen. This classic creme brulee is one of the few from the many we created as a part of that high school project that I continue to make today. It's really easy to make and virtually fail proof, granted you work slowly and carefully. The result is a creamy, rich, decadent dessert I reserve only for special occasions.

Here are the ingredients you will need:
(Serves 10; I usually cut the recipe in half)
  • 4 cups whipping cream
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 1 vanilla bean (the bean is preferred, but 1 teaspoon of a high-quality extract can be substituted)
  • 1/2 cup sugar

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Place the cream into a heavy, medium-sized saucepan. Split the vanilla bean lengthwise and scrap out the beans with the tip of a knife. Place the scrapings and whole bean into the saucepan filled with the cream. On a medium heat, bring the cream just to a boil and immediately remove. It is important that you watch the cream carefully at this step so it does not burn. Cover with foil and set aside.

In a separate medium-size bowl, place the eggs yolks and sugar and whisk until light in color. I usually only use half of the amount of sugar in the recipe because I prefer a less sweet creme brulee. Place a fine-meshed strainer over the egg mixture and VERY slowly pour the hot creme over it. The strainer will catch the vanilla bean and any other large clumps. I usually pour in about a tablespoon of cream at a time at first so the eggs can temper and not curdle. Whisk the cream into the eggs as your pour. Once about half the hot cream is mixed with the egg mixture you can add the rest in a steady stream.

In a baking pan with edges at least 1 inch high, place some serving ramekins and pour some warm water in the pan, making sure not to spill any water into the ramekins. This creates a bain marie, allowing for even cooking so the custard comes out silky smooth. Fill each ramekin with the custard mixture, leaving about 1/4 an inch of room at the top. Carefully transfer the baking pan to the oven and cook for about 45 min to 1 hour, checking every so often to see if the custards have set.

Once the custards have set, remove from the oven and baking pan. Let stand on the counter until they reach room temperature and then transfer to the refrigerator until chilled. Remove from the refrigerator about 30 minutes before serving. Now for the best part...the torching! Sprinkle a thin, even layer of sugar on top of each custard. Use a kitchen torch to start melting the sugar. Torch in a circular motion to prevent spot burning. I like a nice thick layer of hard sugar on top of my creme brulee so I repeat this sugaring and torching process at least 2 times to develop a nice sugar crust. Let cool and serve. Better yet, end a good meal with an interactive activity with your dinner guests by letting them torching their own dessert!


  1. Lisa told me about this recipe...can't wait to try it!! =) Miss you!