Apparently eating a bowl of custard for dessert isn’t seen as socially acceptable behaviour. I was as shocked as you when I found out!
But there is a loophole! Top with sugar, caramelise to a golden crisp shell and you have yourself a decadent, sophisticated dessert, acceptable anywhere from the dinner table to a 3 Michelin star restaurant!
Crème brûlée is a popular French dessert, though the history of the dish is not so clear cut, with the English, French and Catalans all throwing their hats into the ring for its creation! Regardless of it’s origin it is a fantastic dessert; with a base of rich custard armoured with hard golden caramel on top. Who doesn’t love breaking that caramel with the back of a spoon and hearing that *crack*, revealing the smooth, rich, unctuous vanilla flavoured custard between the sweet shards.
What’s The Secret?
The trick to the perfect crème brûlée is a silky smooth, luscious custard. We are going to thicken the custard very gently, at a low temperature, in a bain marie to help protect the custard from the heat of the oven. We want to just set the custard, so we have to keep the temperature of the custard below 84ºC, any higher and we risk curdling the custard, resulting in a pot of sweet scrambled egg, the prospect of which is far less appetising!
The classic crème brûlée is made with just cream, egg yolks, sugar and vanilla pods but I like to use a mixture of milk and double cream to achieve the same richness without the heaviness that comes with just using double cream. I top it all off with a mixture of brown and white sugar, blowtorched to a golden glass-like finish, just begging to be shattered!
Don’t let the fact that Crème brûlée translates to “Burnt Cream” this woefully undersells this dessert. Treat your friends to an acceptable bowl of custard for dessert! Give it a try, they’re easy to make so there is no excuse not to!
— Al Brady
500ml double cream
1 vanilla pod
10 egg yolks
50g light brown sugar
50g caster sugar
Place half the sugar, glucose, milk, double cream and vanilla pod into a pan. Bring gently to the boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Turn off the heat, cover with a lid and leave to infuse, until cool. The milk and cream mix can be left at this stage for up to 24 hours to intensify the flavour.
Whisk together the egg yolks and the remaining sugar, until the sugar has completely dissolved. Pour the cream and milk mixture onto the egg yolks, a little bit at a time, mixing thoroughly between additions. Continue until all the cream and milk mixture has been added. Pass the mixture through a sieve into a jug and remove any foam from the top of the custard. Removing the foam is an important step; the thin membrane of the bubbles in the foam is prone to overcooking, giving the crème brûlée a strong “eggy” flavour if not removed!
Place 6 ramekins into roasting tin and pour in the custard mix over the back of a spoon, to avoid creating any bubbles. Fill the ramekins right up to the top! Pour enough hot water (from a kettle is ideal) into the roasting tin to reach about 3/4 of the way up the ramekins. This hot water bath is called a bain marie. Put the roasting tin in an oven and bake at 120ºC for 50 minutes or until the custard is just set. You can test if the brûlée is set enough by gently shaking them, the edges of the custard should be just set with the centre slightly wobbly. If the custards are not set, return to the oven and continue to cook checking frequently.
Once the custards are cooked, take the ramekins out of the water and put on a wire rack to cool, then refrigerate for a minimum of 4 hours. The crème brûlée can be kept, covered, in the fridge at this stage for up to 3 days. Just before serving mix the light brown and caster sugar together. Sprinkle the sugar over the top of the custard, ensuring there is a nice even coating all over the surface. Caramelise the sugar, either with a blowtorch or under a very hot grill, until a rich, golden brown, glassy crust has formed. Leave the caramel to set for 5 minutes to reach its full crispy, shattering potential!
If you have one available we would highly recommend a blow torch when caramelising the brûlée, as this provides a bit more control over the caramelising. This allows you to move the flame around to ensure an even caramel on top. A grill will work but is more prone to hot spots which can causing uneven caramelisation and burnt areas. Also the grill needs to be quite powerful or it can end up over cooking the brûlée under the sugar before it can be caramelised.
Grab a spoon! Shatter that caramel! And dig in to a bowl of custard that you won’t get judged for!
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The custard base is traditionally flavoured with vanilla,
but it can be adapted to a huge variety of other flavourings.
Replace the vanilla pod with any of these alternatives to really feel alive!
The zest of 2 oranges, lemons or limes grated into the milk and cream to give your crème brûlée a fresh zesty hit! Want it stronger? Go crazy and add more zest!
50g of pistachio, hazelnut, almond, cashew, or maybe praline paste – go nuts!
25g of freshly grated ginger, adding some finely chopped candied or crystalised ginger to the custard before baking.
25g of cocoa powder, stirring in 40g of dark chocolate after boiling the milk and cream and stirring until melted.
Place a few raspberries, blueberries or a few halved strawberries, into the bottom of each ramekin before pouring the custard over them.
The possibilities are practically endless! Why not combine a few of the above and see what works for you! You might be surprised at your own crème brûlée flavour creation!