Monday, February 13, 2006

Saint Valentine loved Crème Brûlée

I mean, wouldn't he? I admit to not being up on my knowledge of Catholic saints, but if Saint Valentine represents a day for you to tell the people close to you that you love them, I don't know how this dessert wouldn't encapsulate that feeling. It is surprising, with its delicate caramelize crunch; it is sensual, with the silky smooth custard below; and goodness is it ever delicious. Crème Brûlée, to me, is one of those things that I can't imagine anyone not loving.

(insert Flashdance joke here)

Chris (yes, let's give my husband a name) and I took a fantastic 2 week honeymoon in France and Nice, and while we were there I think we ate and drank our weight in incredible wines, crème brûlée , chocolate mousse, and duck--yes, duck. I think we both could easily say that duck is one of our favorite meats, and since we--1) live in America, where duck is not a traditional meat, and 2) live in Knoxville, TN, where duck is both difficult to find, and expensive when you find it--we took full advantage of our location.

But, this entry isn't about duck, even though I could talk about it endlessly (and I have found a very good, if pricey, supplier here in town). No, this entry is fully about what I consider one of the most seductive and luscious of sweet treats, crème brûlée.

I started this yesterday, obviously a bit early for Valentine's Day, but since the recipes I searched through all made at least 4 portions I decided to make the custard beforehand, so we could have a trial run with our very fancy dinner of whole wheat vege pizza and salad. I have made crème brûlée once before, and while the flavor was perfect I found my custard to be lacking in that silky smooth texture I sought.

Seeing as how I am such a Francophile, I was shocked to dig around and find some people saying that this is historically an English dish! The English are indeed well known for their puddings and custards and, sure, Trinity College in Cambridge is famous for their Brulees as far back as the 1600s, with an iron having the college crest being used to burn the sugar. Hmph. I am sticking with my credit given to the French, since other traditional French crèmes (such as Crème Anglaise) have a thinner, more delicate quality than British puddings.

I made this using the incomparable Ina Garten's recipe, found in her book, Barefoot in Paris. This is a wonderfully simple and nearly foolproof recipe, and it produced custards so silky smooth that I was nearly transported back to Paris.

Crème Brûlée
serves 4-5

I had a decision to make when it came to caramelizing. I had a twee kitchen torch, but I found the flame unimpressive and it lacked the heft I was more comfortable controlling.

So, we pulled out the massive blowtorch, and the real fun began! I love this part of the process almost as much as eating the dish, watching the sparkling crystals of sugar bubble up into a chestnut brown shell. I'm telling you, I am incredibly full right now, yet my mouth just started watering.

1 extra-large egg
4 extra-large egg yolks
.5 cup sugar, plus 1 Tbsp for each serving
3 cups heavy cream
1 tsp good vanilla extract
1 Tbsp Grand Marnier

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix the egg, egg yolks, and .5 cup of sugar together on low speed until just combined. Meanwhile, scald the cream in a small saucepan until it is very hot to the touch but not boiling. With the mixer on low speed add the cream to the eggs very slowly--you should be just drizzling it in. Add the vanilla and Grand Marnier and pour into 6- to 8-ounce ramekins until almost full.

Place the ramekins in a baking pan (I had to use two large ones), and carefully pour boiling water into the pan to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until the custards are set when gently shaken. Remove the custards from the water bath (I used large tongs for this step), cool to room temperature, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until firm.

At this point you can leave the custards in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

To serve, sprinkle 1 Tbsp of sugar evenly on the top of each ramekin and heat with a blowtorch until the sugar caramelizes evenly. Allow to sit at room temperature for a minute until the sugar hardens into a delightful shell. Eat right away!


Skeezix said...

Ok, damnit. I think I am going to just let your blog do my weekend cooking for me.

I am going to do creme brulee this weekend as my Sunday night Grey's anatomy treat. Where to find a blow torch is the question.

Marianne said...

It is a wonderfully easy recipe, as long as you are very patient when add the hot cream to the eggs. Let me know how it turns out! It's the last rich, unhealthy thing I plan to make for a while.

Lela said...

The photo of you with the giant blowtorch is cracking me up.

I love your blog and it's really inspiring me to start cooking again. Just wanted to let you know - thanks!

Marianne said...

Thank you, that's a wonderful compliment!

kym said...

Man, that looks so good. It's so satisfying to watch it brown up like that! Great pictures.
Skeez, I bought my (smaller) torch at William-Sonoma.

Marianne said...

Also, Bed, Bath, & Beyond sells a small torch for $20, and it comes with 4 ramekins (a bit smaller than the ones I bought, though). The big torch is fun, though!

Skeezix said...

Screw the little ones, I'm getting a big adult sized torch.

Lisa said...

Beautiful job of caramelizing! Too many people make the crust way too thick.