Friday, March 5, 2010

Playing With Fire

Your dictionary will try to convince you that crème brûlée means burnt cream, but oh it's so much more. It's a velvety, smooth, voluptuous bed of custard under an impossibly crisp sugar crust. If that hasn't won you over yet, consider this: you also get to play with a blow torch. Sold. Right? I was never crazy about making these, because of the hot water bath baking and all the fuss with the splitting creme. Then I came across Nigella's method and couldn't resist. No baking, no water bath, just a whisk and a little patience. The night we made this, our vegan friends dropped by unexpectedly and when they saw what was on the table they both sinned. Can you blame them? Here's how to make your own...

Recipe: Crème brûlée

1 1/4 cups heavy cream
1/2 vanilla bean
4 egg yolks
1 generous tablespoon granulated sugar
Approximately 3 tablespoons Demerara sugar

Start by placing 4 shallow individual ramekins in the freezer. Alternatively you can use one larger dish. Chop a vanilla pod in half and scrape the lovely seeds out. Pour the creme into a saucepan with the vanilla seeds and bring to the boiling point, but do not continue to boil.

In a separate bowl, beat the egg yolks and the granulated sugar together. While whisking the egg and sugar, pour the creme into the bowl. Continue whisking to avoid scrambling your eggs. Pour everything back into the saucepan and cook over medium-low heat until the custard thickens (about 10 min). Nigella says "You do want this to be a good, voluptuous crème, so don’t err on the side of runny caution."

When the custard is thick and nice, get your dish(es) out of the deep freeze and pour it in. Leave outside to cool for about 10 minutes and put in the refrigerator till truly chilled. Just before serving, generously sprinkle the tops with demerara sugar and burn using a blowtorch until bubbles form. Cool for a moment and Serve. It's best to make the sugar crust just before serving, If you sprinkle the sugar and don't burn it immediately, the sugar will absorb moisture and you will end up with a shell that is chewy instead of crisp.

Note: You can buy a small kitchen blowtorch at most kitchen stores these days. They're much smaller than the hardware store kind, but just as effective. And please, be careful.

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