I get all Amelie about crème brulee. If we’re sharing don’t even think about taking the first whack – I must be the destroyer of the perfect golden sugar crust. That crack through said crust with my little spoon is so dreamy…the combo of the sweet, perfectly burnt shards and silky vanilla custard puts every other dessert to shame in my eyes. It is absolute perfection in its simplicity.
So, imagine my delight when I was gifted my own personal mini kitchen torch for Christmas! I guess I had swooned over dessert enough times. At first I was a little intimidated – I’m something of a klutz, and during those kinds of moments in the kitchen it’s usually due to rushing. So while most of my mind was freaking out about the awesome brulee-related possibilities of this amazingly thoughtful gift, a small part was spending time coming up with a way to explain to my hair stylist why a section of my long tresses was tragically and mysteriously singed to above my ear.
But the torch and I…we’re old friends now. It’s just a tiny thing, easy to fuel and operate, very light to handle…and the flame is pretty small as well…a definite bonus.
So once I had the torch, I needed the perfect crème brulee recipe…and there was no problem there because I received Joanne Chang’s Flour cookbook for Christmas as well. For those of you unfamiliar with Chang, stop what you’re doing and look her up immediately (especially if you’re in the Boston area, for SHAME!). She is the genius behind the Flour Bakery, as well as the fantastic eatery Myers and Chang, in Boston's South End (with husband Christopher Myers). She is basically one of my heroes – a very smart lady who pursued her passions in the kitchen. Her cookbook is thoughtful and fun. I plan to try my hand at every cookie, tart, custard and bread.
Anyway, it’s no surprise that Chang’s crème brulee recipe is fabulous. If you want all of her words of wisdom, you’ll have to buy her book. Instead you’re going to get my notes on her recipe, which hopefully you’ll find helpful too. I halved the recipe, but followed her instructions to a tee. I felt just like Amelie cracking into that first one. I'm actually going to go have another one right now.
From Joanne Chang's Flour, with my notes
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 cups half-and-half
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise *or 2 teaspoons of pure vanilla extract - Chang's isn't nuts about this idea but it will work in a pinch
8 egg yolks
3/4 cup sugar, plus 1/3 to 1/2 cup for the top
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Position a rack in the center of the oven, and heat to 325˚F. Place eight 4 ounce ramekins in a large roasting pan with at least 3 inch high sides.
In a medium saucepan, combine the cream and half-and-half. Use a knife to scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean into the pan and add the pod (if using extract, do NOT add at this point. that comes later). Place the pan over medium-high heat and scald the mixture (bubbles will form around the edge, but the liquid should not boil).
In a medium bowl, whisk the egg yolks until blended, then slowly whisk in the 3/4 cup sugar until combined. Slowly pour the hot cream mixture into the egg-sugar mixture, a bit at a time, whisking constantly. Strain through a fine mesh sieve into a pitcher or liquid measuring cup. Stir in salt. If using vanilla extract as opposed to the bean, stir that in now.
Pour custard into the ramekins, dividing evenly. Carefully move the pan to the oven. Pour hot water into the pan to reach the same level as the custard in the ramekins. Cover the pan with aluminum foil. (Be sooooo careful during all of this. The last thing you want is the hot water getting sloshed into the custard. Believe me.)
Bake for 25 to 35 minutes. Chang suggests you start testing the custards at about 20, by gently wiggling the pan, and I encourage this, even though mine took the full 30. You're looking for a Jello-like texture - some movement but jiggly, rather than liquidy.
At this point remove the pan from the oven and let the custards cool in their bain-marie until you're able to carefully fish them out without burning yourself. Place the ramekins in an air tight container and refrigerate for at least 1 day before serving, but up to 4 days.
When ready to serve (or this can be done a couple hours ahead of time), sprinkle 2 teaspoons of sugar on top of each custard, and spread evenly. Light a kitchen torch and wave it back and forth over the surface of each custard, with the flame about 1 inch from the sugar, burning the sugar evenly (don't linger!) until it melts and starts to caramelize to a dark golden brown. Let cool at least 5 minutes and serve!