Créme Brûlée. One dessert that seems to be forever timeless and no matter how chefs try and fancy it up with new ways of plating it the basic recipe will always remain the same.
What is a Créme Brûlée? Well directly translated it is a burnt cream. The brûlée refers to the hard burnt sugar crust that typifies a proper Créme Brûlée. Getting a crisp and crunchy crust is important and is how a Brûlée is judged. When I was at chef school, no matter how flavourful or smooth your dessert was, if the crust wasn’t crisp you would get marked down. You will get some establishments and chefs who cheat the system and pour melted sugar on the top instead of burning demerara sugar with a blow torch, its not the same thing and seeing this being done irks me. The burnt sugar adds to the flavour of the final dessert besides just adding visual appeal.
Ok, let me simplify this. A Créme Brûlée is basically just a baked custard. If you’ve been following my blog you’ll have hopefully read my post on how to make a proper custard from eggs, vanilla, sugar and cream. If you haven’t read that post yet, please feel free to search for it on this site in the search box. I highly recommend you read it to understand the principles involved in making custards and why sometimes you’ll get a scrambled egg-like mush or why your custard has lumps and has split. Knowing how to make a proper custard will also help you with many other things like making ice creams and pastry creams…plus it’s an awesome boasting line at dinner parties!
Ok, onto the nitty gritty of it all. The recipe. One of the simplest recipes you can get but also one of the easiest to mess up. For just 4 ingredients the process in getting that smooth glossy final product is a bit of a delicate one. If this is your first time making it, please take your time and follow each step carefully. Please if you can, rather use vanilla paste or vanilla extract and try avoid vanilla essence. (Vanilla essence is chemically made to taste like vanilla, it isn’t vanilla and doesn’t taste as good…hence it being so cheap). Once you’ve practiced and done this recipe a few times you’ll be able to experiment with new flavours and shortcuts. The correct and classic way is to use demerara sugar to make the burnt crust on top of the custard just before serving but normal white sugar works equally as well. I wouldn’t recommend using brown sugar though, over the years I’ve found it doesn’t melt the same or as as easily as demerara or white sugar does. You can buy a blow torch from any hardware store or good catering supply store. Please be careful! They’re dangerous things. Don’t leave them near hot surfaces as the gas canister will explode.
This recipe makes 10 small ramekins. (a ramekin is that classic small white pot a Brûlée is served in).
Cream – 1 litre
Egg yolks – 220g
Granulated white sugar – 170g
Vanilla paste/ extract – 10ml
1. Heat the cream with 2/3 (two thirds) of the sugar.
2. Beat the egg yolks with the rest of the remaining sugar until combined.
3. Slowly pour the hot cream in the egg mixture little by little. (don’t pour too fast, this will curdle the eggs)
4. Strain the liquid through a fine sieve. This will remove any lumps in the eggs.
5. Place the mixture in the fridge for 24hours.
6. Pour the custard into ramekins or small oven safe bowls. Place each in a large and deep water bath. The water should reach til about a centimetre below the edge of the lip of the ramekin.
7. Cover the tray with foil and seal tightly. Bake at 150°C until the custard is firm but still has a slight wobble in the middle. (don’t bake it until the custard is firm. This will cause a grainy final product)
8. Remove from the water bath and store in the fridge.
9. Once cool, pour enough sugar on the surface of the custard to cover it. Caramelize the sugar with a blow torch a few minutes before serving.
That’s it. Simple as that. Some chefs still struggle with it so don’t feel let down if your first attempt doesn’t work out.