Vanilla Bean Crème Brulee
With its creamy velvety texture and crisp caramel topping, crème brulee ranks high in my book of desserts. If it’s on the dessert menu of a restaurant, I will always order it, even if I am full. For my birthday last year, a very dear friend of mine gave me a crème brulee set, which has a torch and 4 dishes. I was thrilled and very much excited to use it to make crème brulee at home. However, it didn’t happen until I had a bad crème brulee experience at a restaurant. We went for dinner last week at The Catch Kitchen & Bar in Steveston Richmond during the Dine Out Vancouver Festival 2017. The food and service was great, but the earl grey crème brulee I ordered after dinner was not. The waiter told me that it was not gluten free. I was a little surprised. As far as I know, Crème brulee is made with only four ingredients, cream, eggs, sugar and flavoring. Where does the gluten enter here? Anyways, I ordered one for my husband. The appearance was exactly like crème brulee with a perfect caramelized top. But being the curious person, I had to taste test. After tasting, it was clear the lusious richness of egg yolks was missing in this crème brulee and seemed to be thickened with all-purpose flour. Not sure if that was their twist on a good dessert, but it was terrible. My husband ate it anyway.
I thought I had waited too long and decided it was time to take the crème brulee set out and do a trial test for Valentine’s day. And guess what? Amazingly enough I made the perfect crème brulee on the first try! Breaking through the crisp caramelized top into a velvety interior was a pure bliss. It was one of the easiest desserts I’ve ever made and using the torch was fun! I don’t know why I never thought of making it earlier.
The preparation has two part procedure, first the custard is prepared then the top is caramelized with a butane torch. It is usually served in individual ramekins. Great thing about creme brulee is that the custard is made ahead and put in the fridge. There’s no fancy plating necessary. Simply take them out of the fridge, dust them with sugar and brulee the top before serving. In fact, you can do this in front of your guests and serve or let them do it themselves. It’s truly spectacular.
To make this recipe I went through three of my saved websites to learn the basics and tricks. You can see them here, here, and here. I mixed and matched their recipes and came up with a straightforward recipe of my own.
Creme brulee is not difficult to make just read the recipe and notes a few times and organize everything before beginning. To start, carefully separate the egg yolks from egg whites. Freeze the egg whites, they can be used for all sorts of things such as Sicilian cookie, souffle, omelette or frittata. Next, Preheat your oven to 300°F and boil a pot or kettle of water, that way you can focus on the actual preparation. Arrange 4 ramekins in a baking pan because crème brulee is cooked in water bath. The purpose of water bath is to provide a low even temperature for the custards to cook evenly and set properly.
In a saucepan over medium low flame, heat cream until just bubbly. The traditional way of flavoring a creme brulee is vanilla but one can infuse with a variety of flavors. I used vanilla bean. You could use vanilla extract but the natural flavor of the vanilla bean really adds to the dish. and, it is not hard to find vanilla bean in the spice rack of your grocery store. Split the vanilla bean lengthwise and cut it into two then add it to the cream (this way the seeds and pod both go in the cream). While the cream is heating up, whisk egg yolks in a bowl until thick and pale. Recipes would say to add sugar in eggs or cream but I don’t think you really need extra sugar. There is enough sugar on top which you are going to be eating and enjoying with each bite.
Once the cream comes to a gentle boil, add a small amount to the eggs, stirring continually. This is called tempering. By doing this, you are bringing the temperature of the egg yolks up instead of cooking the egg yolks and turning it into scrambled eggs. Continue to whisk as you slowly add the rest of the cream. Strain the custard mixture into a pitcher or a big measuring cup and then pour into the ramekins, filling them only about three-quarters full. Once this is done, the whole thing takes a trip to the oven and the baking pan is filled with water until it reaches halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake the custard for approximately 20 to 35 minutes, this will depend on the size of the ramekins that you are using. I used 13 cm x 8cm oval ramekins.
After about 25 minutes check to see if the custards are done. Reach into the oven with tongs and give one of the ramekins a gentle shake. The custard should set on the outside edge, but jiggly at the center. If it is too liquidy bake for few minutes and check again. Remove the custard from the water bath and place onto a cooling rack. If any of the custards still seem slightly underdone, leave them in the water bath for another minute or so out of the oven. They will continue to cook a bit in the hot water. Let it cool for an hour then refrigerate for 4-6 hours but ideally overnight.
Next, comes the fun part of getting that crisp, golden brown crust over the top of each custard. I am using cook’s blow torch. If you do not have a torch feel free to experiment with your oven broiler. Let sit the custard at room temperature for 15-20 minutes. Sprinkle the top with a thin layer of sugar. For a 5″ size ramekin I used 1 1/2 tsp of turbinado sugar. You could use whatever sugar you have. I used regular white sugar on one to see the difference. White sugar melts faster. Any small grain sugar will dissolve quickly into a smooth mirror like consistency than large grains. However, I really liked turbinado, even though it took a little long to caramelize but it melted into a beautifully crisp, amber top, giving the dish an intense flavor and depth to my unsweetened custard. The heat from the torch can make the previously set custard soft again so it’s good to give it the second chill for 15 min. or so. I like mine fully set. It should hold its shape when you take a spoonful but be soft and cream-like in the mouth (this is what I learnt from eating in different restaurants).
If you’re planning a romantic dinner at home on Valentine’s day, why not make this classic vanilla bean crème brulee? It is sensuous, gorgeous and the perfect ending for a special homemade meal 🙂
Sinfully rich dessert which blends the cool velvet smoothness of custard topped with a crisp, caramelized layer of sugar
- 4 egg yolks
- 1 1/4 cup (310 ml) heavy cream
- 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and cut into two
- 6 tsp turbinado sugar for glazing
- Place 4 ramekins in a 1 1/2 " high baking pan. Set aside.
- Preheat oven to 300 F. Fill a tea kettle or a pot with water, bring to a boil and set aside
- Pour the cream in a pan and heat on medium. Add vanilla bean.and bring it to a gentle simmer.
- Meanwhile, whisk egg yolks until thick and slightly pale.
- Remove the cream from the heat and slowly add cream into the egg mixture, stirring constantly to temper the yolks.
- Strain the mixture through a fine mesh sieve.
- Pour the mixture evenly in the prepared ramekins and place into the oven.
- Pour hot water, from the tea kettle into the baking pan until the water comes about halfway up the sides of the ramekin.
- Bake for 25 -35 minutes or until it barely shivers when shaken. Just keep in mind that different sizes will affect the cooking time.
- Cool at room temperature for an hour then refrigerate for 4 hours or overnight.
- Before serving, sprinkle 1 1/2 tsp turbinado sugar on each, using blow torch or oven broiler melt the sugar until it blisters and browns beautifully.
- Chill the custard for 15 minutes before serving because the custard can melt under the torch.