So a few weekends ago, I had this awesome dinner party. I don't pull out all the stops that often, but this time I did. After treating people to fun nibbles to start, we sat down for a great dinner (that post is coming down the line!) Of course at this point, we were stuffed to the gills. No reason to eat anything else. But that would be foolish. So dessert is a MUST! And what a perfect dessert it was!!!
Le Cirque's Creme Brulee
Creme Brulee starts with the best eggs you can get. Farm fresh is best! Organic and/or free range is the next best. But whatever, make sure they are fresh and the best you can get. The egg whites can be frozen and saved for a later use, perhaps a pavlova.
Mix the egg yolks with sugar. That amazing orange yolk will turn to a beautiful pale yellow.
Of course, like the eggs, get the best heavy cream you can. I wish I had easy access to a dairy. Alas, I went with an organic heavy cream from my local market. Heat the cream with vanilla bean/seeds. And if your naughty and have a good quality vanilla extract, a little extra shot will shoot your creme brulee to the moon! But don't tell anyone, that's our little secret.
Once the cream and vanilla have steeped for awhile, slow pour the cream into the eggs, stirring as you go. But do go slow. If your cream is too warm/hot and you go to quick, your yolks will scramble. If it helps you, add a few spoonfuls of the cream to the egg yolks, stir, add a little more, stir and eventually you can start pouring the cream. Once all the cream is in the eggs, make sure to scrap the pan. You want all those vanilla seeds from the pot into the mixture. Strain the final mixture through a fine mess strainer to remove any bits and bobs. That could be part of the vanilla pod. Or perhaps a stringy bit of egg.
**At this point, the custard can be sealed up and let in the fridge, which I did, for two days.
When you're ready to cook, pour the custard into the ramekins. The ramekins will need to be placed in a larger baking dish, which I have lined with a clean towel. Once the custard is in the ramekins and the pan in the oven, carefully pour warm water into the pan, at least halfway up the ramekins. This will facilitate a slow, steady, gently heating and cooking of the custard--guaranteeing a super smooth custard!
Bake! Once cooked, remove the ramekins to a tray and place in the refrigerator for several hours to become fully chilled. You don't want to serve warm or room temperature creme brulee. I think chilled is best!
To get the infamous crackle, bruleed topping, you need to sprinkle with sugar. I used three types of sugar. No reason, but something I did the first time I made creme brulee...still do it now. Make sure the topping is a 'lite' topping. Too much will make it very hard to have a thin, crisp crackled top...to as I say, not as I do!
I had too much sugar on my cremes. I couldn't get it all melted without truly burning the sugar, which you don't really want to do to much of. Any more than this in color, which start to get bitter. Dark brown, not black! So give the sugar a gentle hand. If you can, garnish the creme brulee with some fresh berries. Raspberries and blueberries are my favorite. They go great with the rich creme.
Despite the heavy hand with the sugar, my topping was light shattering glass! The custard was amazingly rich, soft, smooth, full of vanilla and just the right amount of sweet.
Of the six of us at dinner, only two of us finished our creme brulee. These bowls were a little too big. Each was 3/4 of a cup of custard. If we hadn't gorged ourselves on all the amazing vittles before hand, I'm sure all would have finished our dessert. That being said, one of the ramekins was licked clean at the end of dinner!!!
Le Cirque's Creme Brulee
from The Essential New York Times Cook Book by Amanda Hesser
4 cups heavy cream
1 vanilla bean, split, sees scraped out and reserved
Pinch of salt
8 large egg yolks
3/4 cup plus 2 TB granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1. Heat the oven to 300 degrees. Place eight 6-ounce ramekins in a roasting pan. Combine the cream, vanilla bean and seeds and salt in a saucepan set over low heat and warm for 5 minutes.
2. Gently whisk the egg yolks and granulated sugar in a large bowl. Gradually pour in the hot cream and stir gently to combine. Strain the custard into a pitcher; discard the vanilla bean and use a spoon to skim off any bubbles on the surface of the custard.
3. Pour the custard into the ramekins, filling them almost to the rim. Place the roasting pan in the oven and carefully pour warm water into the pan until it reaches halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Loosely cover the pan with aluminum foil. Bake until set, 1 to 1 1/4 hours. Remove the ramekins from the water bath and allow to cool.
4. Cover the ramekins individually and refrigerate for at least 3 hours, or for up to 2 days.
5. When ready to serve, heat the broiler. Uncover the ramekins and place them on a baking sheet. Top each with 1 TB of brown sugar, and using a metal spatula or your gingers, spread the sugar evenly over the custards. Broil the custards about 4 inches from the heating element until the sugar browns and caramelizes, 30 seconds to 1 minute. *Use a blowtorch, if you have one, to caramelize the sugar on top.
NOTES: I had 6 matching ramekins. I tested how much custard they could hold, by filling them with water, then measuring that amount. Each of my ramekins held 3/4 of a cup of the custard. That was exactly how much this recipe made. Six ramekins of 3/4 cup of custard.
As noted above, I used a blend of three sugars, granulated white sugar, brown sugar and turbinado sugar. Not necessary, but interesting.