JUSTIN WELSH: Food Muse — Crème Brûlée

I am not a big dessert guy. I rarely order them when I go out to dine, and putting a nice cake together isn’t a bug I get too often.

Baking in general has never been my strong suit. I blame that only on myself. I have never spent as much time working on it as I do perfecting other techniques. But when you put together a menu, dessert must be an option.

I pride myself in making most anything from start to finish. When putting together one of my first menus, I struggled to find desserts. After quite a bit of research, I found two that were quick, easy and incredibly good — Crème Brûlée and Bananas Foster.

Crème Brûlée has been on my menus since 2006. I love this dessert, and people love it, too.  I can whip it up in minute, and into the oven it goes. After that, I’ve got roughly an hour and 15 minutes to not have to worry about it. The water bath each dish sits in, along with the 300-degree air finish the work for me.

I have shared this recipe with only a few people over the years. The only thing that has changed is the way I handle the sugar. I now use a mortar and pestle to grind the vanilla beans into the sugar. Other than that, this a tried-and-true dessert that will make your guests wanting more.

Crème Brûlée
7 egg yolks
1 quart heavy cream
7 tablespoons sugar plus 7 tablespoons sugar for topping (Roughly 1 tablespoon for each)
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise. (Use the back side of a paring knife and run it along the opened pod.  The beans will scrape off onto the knife. You can substitute the vanilla bean for 1 tablespoon vanilla extract.)

1. Separate the yolks from the white in a bowl. Whisk the eggs for 1 minute.
2. Add vanilla beans and sugar. If you have a mortar and pestle, place sugar and vanilla bean seed and grind it until the seeds have mixed into the sugar. Add to yolks. Whisk for an additional 30 seconds.
3. Using a spatula, add the heavy cream into the yolk and sugar mixture. DO NOT use a whisk. A whisk at this point will begin to introduce air into the cream, creating bubbles. Those bubbles will give your custard a rough topping. When cooking, the bubbles will cook the yolk faster than the custard will set up.  In other words, you will have scrambled eggs on top of your custard.
4. Place mixture into small custard cups, leaving up to 1 inch room from the top.  (I use restaurant style soup cups for this. They sell oval custard dishes in most stores. I like the taller dish for this to make the next steps easier.)
5. Place dishes into roasting style pan. Enough to hold all at once, without them touching.
6. Fill the roasting pan with enough hot water to just below the custard line of the cup. Place into oven and set timer for 1 hour and 15 minutes. Be careful as you lower it into the oven, making sure no water waves its way into the custard.

To check to see if the custard is done, tap the edges of roasting pan to see if the custard has a wiggle to it. If the custard mix is still loose, then continue to cook another 15 minutes.
Once the custard is finished, remove from the oven and let cool. Once warm enough to grab, let dishes cool at room temp for an hour. Place in fridge and let cool.

Once the mixture has cooled; this next step can be done in one of two ways.

  • Torch: A lot of places have Crème Brûlée torches. They are small handheld torches that use butane for fuel. I have used large torches that use propane, and they work just fine.
    1. Place sugar (1 tablespoon for each) on top of set custard. Move the dish around until the sugar has covered the top area.
    2. Light torch. With one hand, grab the dish and tilt it, bring the flame jut inches away from and move it around as the sugar melts. It will brown and spread around. Be careful to not get the flame to close if using a larger torch.
  • Pan: I like this technique a lot more. It gives it a glassier finish.
    1. Place sugar in small sauté pan. Turn on burner to medium high, and watch the pan. As the pan gets hot, the sugar will begin to melt. Once it starts to brown, it will become liquid quickly, so keep a close eye.
    2. Once sugar has melted, immediately pour over top of the Brûlée. You can melt all the sugar together if serving all at once, or just use roughly 1 tablespoon per custard. For both methods, then let the sugar topping cool. Once the sugar hardens, use the back of a spoon to break the topping.  The crunch adds a nice texture to the dish.


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