The sound of the spoon tapping into the cooked sugar on top is absolutely lovely. Beautiful. The top layer reminds me of being a kid in Minnesota and gently stepping a boot into a small puddle that has just iced over to watch the cracks form.
Smooth, cool, creamy, vanilla-y, and so rich. Yum.My relationship with Crème Brûlée is relatively new. A few years back, I auditioned for a baking show, and I made a sort of “bucket list” of things I had never made before that I thought I should try to quickly add to my baking repertoire. Crème Brûlée was one of the things on the list. I had never had Crème Brûlée before. I only vaguely knew that it was kind of a “fancy” dessert at nice restaurants. I did quite a bit of research to learn as much as I could and to find the best recipe to try.
I found a winner in this one. I have still never had Crème Brûlée anywhere else except this recipe that I have made myself, so I cannot tell you firsthand how it compares to fancy restaurant Crème Brûlée, but I can tell you it is A-M-A-Z-I-N-G! AMAZING!
This is what I chose to make for my sweetheart (and my book club guests) for Valentine’s Day this year. Terry is a die hard chocolate fan, but he now lights up anytime a reference is made to Crème Brûlée. The first time I made it, he was a skeptic. “What is this? It doesn’t even have any chocolate in it?” He was pretty sure he was not going to like this. A flop for sure.
It was love at first bite.
He licked his ramekin clean and started looking for more. When his birthday or other special occasions come around, and I ask what treat he might like, this one usually makes his list. What more could a man ask for? A wonderful dessert that he gets to take a torch to before he eats it. It is probably not necessary to tell you that he had a very HAPPY Valentine’s Day this year.
Everyone else who has tried this has had pretty much the same opinion. Divine. I have had people say it is the best they have ever had. Others have commented on how incredibly smooth it is compared to others they’ve had. People are usually impressed that I made it myself. The reputation of being a “fancy restaurant dessert” makes it seem like something that would be hard to do at home. It’s really not. Try it and see what you think. I think you’ll be very happy you did.
- 4 cups heavy cream
- 1 whole vanilla bean, split and scraped (or 1 tablespoon vanilla extract)
- 10 egg yolks from large eggs
- 3/4 cup white sugar
- additional white sugar or sugar in the raw or turbinado sugar for topping each serving
- small custard dishes or ramekins (I used 12 small custard dishes for this recipe)
- a kitchen torch (my research taught me that most kitchen torches are fairly useless; most recommend buying a torch from a hardware store instead)
- a fine mesh strainer
- Preheat oven to 325 degrees and gather ramekins or custard dishes and place them inside a baking or roasting pan or two. Set aside.
- Pour heavy cream into a medium saucepan over medium-low to medium heat.
- Split a vanilla bean with a paring knife and scrape the insides into the cream along with the bean. (I HIGHLY recommend using a vanilla bean, but you can use vanilla extract as a substitute.)
- Let the cream and vanilla simmer until just below boiling.
- While the cream is simmering, whip egg yolks and sugar in a large bowl with a whisk or spoon until thick and pale yellow.
- Once the cream is hot, very slowly pour a small amount of the hot cream into the egg yolks while whisking them. You are tempering the eggs which basically means you are heating them up slowly to avoid scrambling them. Add more of the cream a little at a time while whisking. Once you have added a cup or so, you should be able to add the rest all at once (slowly) but continue whisking.
- Set a fine mesh strainer over the saucepan you used to heat up the cream and pour the cream and egg mixture through it. This step is used to strain out any bits of egg or cream that may have cooked slightly and the vanilla bean pieces.
- Pour mixture into the ramekins or custard dishes. I filled mine about 2/3-3/4 full. (Note: I find it hard to pour directly from the saucepan into the custard cups without making a mess, so I transfer the mixture into a glass measuring cup with a spout and pour.) I always find that many of the vanilla specks settle to the bottom of the saucepan, leaving the highest concentration at the end. I usually try to “top off” all of the custard dishes with the cream at the end to more evenly distribute those yummy vanilla specks.
- Pour warm water into the baking pan until it is about halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Be very careful not to get any water in the custard. (If you find it easier, you can first put the pan on your oven rack and then add the water–whatever works to not create a disaster.)
- Carefully transfer the pan(s) into the oven and bake for about 30 minutes (may vary depending on the number and size of your ramekins) until the custard is just set. The centers should still have a little jiggle to them and the custard should have a slight color to them, NOT brown.
- Carefully remove ramekins from the hot water bath and let them cool on a counter top.
- Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2-3 hours, longer if you can.
- When ready to serve, sprinkle each ramekin with a layer of sugar (about 2 teaspoons, again, depending on how big your ramekins are).
- Use a torch to carefully caramelize the sugar until it is browned but not burnt. You should achieve a thin crisp surface of browned sugar on top. If you torch the sugar too far in advance or torch it and then put it back in the refrigerator, it will lose some of its crispness over time.
- Enjoy the wonderful sound of tapping a spoon through the warm crisp top and savor the contrast of the cool creamy custard underneath.
Other notes: I buy vanilla beans online for a much lower price than you find at the grocery store. I have never made Crème Brûlée with vanilla extract, but it is listed as an acceptable substitution in most recipes I have seen. When you are finished with the bean in this recipe, you can rinse it off, dry it completely, and then drop it into your sugar bowl. The vanilla aroma will infuse in your sugar and can be used to add a little extra flavor to whatever you put the sugar in.
This recipe yielded 12 servings for me using custard dishes that are about 4 inches across at the top and hold a little more than 1/2 cup of liquid. If you do not already own custard dishes or ramekins, you might check for them at a thrift store; that’s where all of mine came from for a very discounted price.
Source: Adapted slightly from Pioneer Woman