(originally from my old blog…)
2008 note – if you want to see pictures of the process, go here.
Tuesday night when everyone was over I made Creme Brulee,
which is an egg custard slow-baked in a water bath, then chilled, then sprinkled with granulated sugar, and then the sugar is caramelized either under a broiler or with some kind of blow torch. After it melts and browns, the sugar hardens, so when you dip your spoon into the dessert, you hit a crackly layer of sugar and then the rich, creamy texture of the custard. It's a nice contrast.
The recipe I used is from my Baking & Pastry Formulas book, which was one of my two "bibles" when I was a baking and pastry arts degree candidate at Johnson & Wales University a couple of years ago. I didn't finish, which bothers me if I think about it too long. But I learned a lot while I was there, so it was not wasted time.
Here is the recipe for 12 servings of Creme Brulee (which translates as "Burnt Cream"):
(Just about all the measuring was done by weight, not cups, so it helps if you have a kitchen scale. If you don't have one, send me an email and I'll figure out the conversions for you)
12 4-ounce ramekins
2 13 x 9 metal cake pans
A fine-mesh strainer
A couple of bowls
9 ounces of egg yolks
4 1/2 ounces of granulated sugar
vanilla extract to taste (or any other flavor you might want to use. This is the basic recipe.)
3 pounds of heavy cream
Preheat your oven to 325 degrees F.
Whisk the egg yolks and sugar together.
Whisk in the vanilla extract.
Whisk in the heavy cream.
Strain the mixture; remove any foam on top.
Distribute the mixture evenly among the 12 ramekins.
Place the ramekins in the metal cake pans – 6 in each. Leave space in between each ramekin and the sides of the pans.
Pour some warm water into the pans, and then have more warm water ready to pour.
Place the pans on the center rack in your oven. Pour more water into each pan until the water comes about half-way up the sides of the ramekins.
Close the oven and bake until firm. And in this case, firm means "set" but not "hard as a rock." When you shake the ramekin (gently), there should be a little jello-like wiggle in the center.
The length of cooking time will depend on your oven. Check them at 30 minutes, and then about every 10 minutes or so after that. The nice thing about baking things this way is it's a slow, gentle process. The only way to overcook them is to completely forget about them for a few hours.
Anyway, when they are done, CAREFULLY take the pans out of the oven and set them down. I say CAREFULLY because the water in those pans is hot and if you aren't CAREFUL, the water could slosh out and splash you and that would hurt and might cause you to drop the pan, in which case all the rest of the water would splash everywhere…and worse still, there would be 6 shattered ramekins with custard splattered everywhere that you'd have to clean up and throw out. This stuff is too good to waste like that, so, like I said, BE CAREFUL.
Remove the ramekins from the water bath (or bain marie, to trot out my culinary French), and allow to cool. When cooled, put them in the fridge for at least 4 hours, or overnight if you have time, until thoroughly chilled.
Before serving, take them out of the fridge and sprinkle some granulated sugar on the surface of each custard.
Now there are, like I said, a couple ways you can brulee them. One way is to put them under the broiler in your oven. If you're doing it this way, fire up the broiler and put the top rack about 6 inches below the broiler. Place the ramekins on a cookie sheet and slide them under the flames. You might want to just do a few at a time. Keep an eye on them – this isn't a recipe for blackened custard. You want to caramelize the sugar, so you want to watch for an amber/brown color. The color probably won't be even – it may look kind of blotchy. That's okay. Take them out before they burn! Hurry!
OR, if you want to have fun and play with fire, get a blow torch (they make little hand-held ones you can buy) and carefully move the flame back and forth over the sugar until it melts and browns. Keep the flame moving – sugar will burn quickly. This doesn't really take very long, and it certainly impresses people if they've never seen it done before. Fun party trick.
A few moments later, the sugar on top will harden and, voila! You did it! Your friends will be impressed as anything – and it was so easy!!!!