If crème brûlée is on the menu, I’m ordering it.
Of all the crazy new flavors chef’s are making these days: earl grey, chai, passionfruit, green tea, even black sesame crème brûlée, I’m still a purist. There’s nothing better than vanilla bean crème brûlée with a perfectly torched top. Seriously.
In college I bought a dozen ramekins thinking I would learn how to make it. Six years later…it finally happened. I did have to buy a torch and all. Here’s what you’ll need:
Ingredients: makes 12 servings
1 whole vanilla bean (or 1 tsp vanilla extract)
1 quart heavy whipping cream
8 large eggs
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup superfine sugar
Special Tools You’ll Need
A culinary torch (I used this one), 12 4oz ramekins (or an equivalent oven-safe dish), and a roasting pan (or equivalent large oven-safe pan that can hold the ramekins).
Step One: With a sharp paring knife, slice the vanilla bean longways, just enough to open it, but not slice it in half. With the back of the knife, scrape the tiny beans from the pod getting every last bit.
Step Two: In a medium saucepan, heat the heavy cream on medium heat until it just starts to steam. DO NOT bring it to a boil. Stir the vanilla beans and the scraped pod into the cream and turn off the heat.
Step Three: Preheat the oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit.
Step Four: Separate the egg yolks from the whites (we won’t be using them, save them for an egg white omelette later). Then, with a whisk, beat the egg yolks and sugar until they turn a light yellow color. The sugar may not dissolve completely into the mixture, it’s fine.
Step Five: Over a fine-mesh strainer (preferably into a large measuring cup for easy pouring), strain the vanilla cream to remove the bean pod and any beans that may interfere with the texture of the cream.
Step Six: Here’s the hardest part of this entire recipe, and it’s easy, trust me. Very slowly pour the vanilla cream into the egg mixture while whisking. If the cream is too hot, you’re going to cook your eggs (and nobody wants that). A slow pour and a constant whisk will allow the cream to cool a bit before it reaches the egg. Do this until everything is combined.
Step Seven: If you’ve whisked hard enough (maybe your arm’s hurting a bit), there will be a light foam on top. Skim this foam off with a spoon or sieve and discard. To be totally honest, I ate the foam. It’s very much like the foam that tops a cappuccino, but slightly sweet. I don’t care what you say about raw eggs. I live dangerously.
Step Eight: Once the foam is discarded (or eaten), spoon the cream into ramekins (or whatever oven-safe dish you’re using). I used twelve 4oz ramekins. Place the ramekins (or whatever dish) into a larger oven proof pan (I used a roasting pan and a cake pan for the ones that wouldn’t fit). Then, fill the pan with warm water until it’s about halfway up the ramekins (or whatever oven-safe dish you’re using, no judgement). This is called a water bath.
Step Nine: Bake for 40-60 minutes or until the cream is still jiggly, but not liquid, they should seem pretty solid. Remove and place on a wire rack to cool.
Step Ten: Once cool, place them into the fridge and chill for at least 2 hours (overnight is ideal).
Step Eleven: Remove the cream from the fridge and top each ramekin with a teaspoon of super-fine sugar. I found that a light coating of sugar was not enough, and too much made the caramelized layer too thick. Try to find a nice balance. If you’re using a large dish instead of ramekins, good luck to you.
Step Twelve: Now, light the torch and caramelize that sugar! I found that pointing the torch at an angle rather than 90 degrees over the cream worked better. You’ll need to work quickly making sure to constantly move the flame around. Holding it in one place will burn the sugar too much in one spot. We’re looking for a somewhat even caramelization. Working quickly also ensures that the cream below isn’t warmed too much.
Step Thirteen: Let them cool for a minute or so to let the caramelized sugar solidify, then serve. Untorched crème brûlée will keep for a few days in the fridge, and is best served freshly torched, so keep that in mind.
This could be dangerous.