Sunday, 11 January 2009

Crème brulée

I have always been disappointed with restaurant-made crème brulée. Either they have a too thin or too thick layer of caramalised sugar (too thin means no 'crunch' factor - too thick results in burnt tasting sugar rock) or I find that there's no mouthwatering infusion of vanilla (proven by the lack of vanilla bean specks in the custard). Simply put - they are usually quite crap!

I always thought that with a little time and a nice fat juicy vanilla pod, I could make the perfect tasting crème brulée. I decided to put my money where my proverbial mouth is and give it a go.

Unbaked Crème Brulée

315 mls Single cream
315 mls Double or Heavy cream
1 Vanilla pod (or the best vanilla extract you can find)
A small strip of fresh lemon rind (optional)
5 egg yolks
2 or 3 tablespoons of sugar
Extra sugar (preferabley caster sugar) for sprinkling

Start by heating the fresh single and double cream in a saucepan over a medium heat. Split a fresh vanilla pod down the middle and scrape out the seed paste with a small paring knife. Dropping that and the spent pod into the cream, I gently heat it until the flavour of the vanilla is well infused and the mixture is pleasantly dotted with the tiny vanilla specks (which are the only distinct sign that the chef has used a real vanilla pod in the recipe). I also like to add a piece of lemon rind to infuse a slight tangy flavour. Just a personal taste preference really...

Next I separate eggs (saving the whites for another recipe - most likely for a recipe involving meringue) and whip the yolks with a couple of tablespoons of sugar (most recipes call for caster sugar but I find any sugar at this stage is usable). Most of the time I try to use unprocessed raw sugar as I find it more caramely and slightly healthier than processed white sugar - personal preference and by no means am I preaching my sugarist ways. 

Anyway, beat the yolks and the sugar until slightly thick and creamy looking. Pour the infused cream through a strainer and into the egg mixture, gently whisking it so it doesn't scramble. 

In the empty pot, I pour the custard mixture back in and gently heat until it noticeably thickens to a light custard consistency, stirring gently with a wooden spoon (taking a lot of care not to boil it and turn it into sweet scrambled eggs like I almost did the moment I turned my back to wash a spoon).

Take it off the heat and pour into ramekins (or if you want to be true to the french - pour into flat crème brulée dishes) and chill for about 4 hours, until set. I got these ones for christmas from my mother-in-law. Unfortunately she could only get the last five dishes left in the store, but since these are the cutest ones I have come across, it won't matter that the set is incomplete (the OCD part of me likes even numbers for stuff like dishes, cutlery, etc). Traditionally the dishes are made from a glazed terracotta in a flat, round or oval shape. In these modern times you find them prominently in white porcelain or ceramic (for a more 'posh' look I guess).

Sprinkle each with a couple of teaspoons of caster sugar and flame (or grill) until the sugar turns to caramel and is dissolved evenly, taking care not to burn the crap out of it. I found that moving the flame in a circular motion helped to keep the heat even and made sure that no spot was heated longer than the other. Believe me, you can taste the bitter burned sugar straight away if you go overboard with the heat. 

Chill again to reset the custard (but no longer than one hour otherwise the crisp sugar coating will soften). 
Serve immediately with a small spoon and enjoy having your own little 'Amelie' moment. Come to think of it, I totally feel like watching that now! : )


1 comment: