October 25, 2011

So Yummy Vanilla Bean Crème Brûlée

When Hubby-to-be and I were first dating, we went to one of his favorite restaurants and their dessert special that night was vanilla bean crème brûlée. From that first bite, he and I both have been smitten with this delight. Unlike the Pumpkin Bread Pudding from a few days ago, crème brûlée can't be made on a whim unless you all ready have the necessary tools. I didn't- until now.

Hubby-to-be's wonderful mother sent us our wedding gifts early and to my indescribable joy, a set of ramekins and a cooking torch were among the gifts. It just so happens that also yesterday, Hubby-to-be was expecting a call about a job. I've been confident he would receive an offer, so I thought a crème brûlée would be a nice way to celebrate. And even if he didn't get it, there are worse things to cry over than tasty custard (but he did get it, it turns out).

The recipe I used was from Emeril Lagassee, and I have to say I'm disappointed in the quality of the directions. They were unclear about the sugar, and so a lot of people who reviewed it seem to have mixed 1/2 cup plus 6 tablespoons of sugar with their egg yokes, instead of 1/2 cup with the egg yokes and a tablespoon on top of each serving for torching.

The directions also didn't note how long to heat the cream, milk, and vanilla on the stove. It takes some time to get the vanilla flavor out of the bean, so don't rush this. Many of the reviewers also couldn't get this dessert to set. I believe I can attribute this to the sheet pan in the directions. You really cannot get a good, properly set custard if you are putting water into a sheet pan because it's just not tall enough to give you the appropriate coverage.

That being said, mine turned out very well because I knew all of the above ahead of time, particularly the water problem. This is a case where more water is definitely better than less (just make sure you can safely lift it in and out of the oven because second degree burns are awful). I (somehow) don't have a roasting pan, so I used my trusty glass baking dish instead, which made it a bit on the heavy side, but I managed not to scald myself.

Vanilla Bean Crème Brûlée
makes 6, 5oz servings

What You Need:
    2 cups heavy cream
    1 cup milk
    1 whole vanilla bean, split in half lengthwise
    6 large egg yolks
    1/2 cup granulated sugar

The Process:
    Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Set a pot on medium-low heat and pour in the cream and milk. Scrape your vanilla bean seeds into the pot and then drop in the bean halves. Cover and let simmer on low heat for a good 20 minutes to get that nice vanilla flavor. Be careful not to scald it. Once the cream mixture is well heated, remove and discard the bean halves.

Combine your egg yolks together with the sugar. Add half the cream mixture to the egg mixture half a cup at a time, whisking together after each pour. This is tempering, which is slowly raising the temperature of a cold ingredient with a hot one. If you just pour in the whole pot of cream mixture, you prematurely cook the egg yoke and the consistency and taste will not turn out correctly.

Pour in remaining half of cream mixture and whisk briefly to combine thoroughly. Distribute evenly among your ramekins (or your oven-safe bowl of choice). Place your ramekins in your roasting pan and pour water into the pan until it covers about half of the dish's height. Bake for 30-40 minutes until custard is set.

You can tell if the custard is set by moving the pan a little at the end of 30 minutes. If the whole top jiggles, it's not quite finished. If the outside edge is set but the center wiggles a little, then it is ready to take out. It will solidify completely once it cools and it will not be over cooked or worse, burnt. Let the ramekins cool for about 20 minutes before transferring them to the refrigerator for an hour to chill completely.

Once they've chilled and you're ready to serve them, sprinkle about a tablespoon's worth of sugar evenly over the top of each ramekin. Get out your blowtorch and caramelize the top. Keep the torch moving around to prevent burning the sugar. Once it is well caramelized, it's ready to be served.

You can cover any unneeded ramekins with plastic wrap if you're going to keep them in the fridge for a day or two. Just sprinkle with sugar and caramelize right before serving. These are great make-ahead desserts, and they're already in individual containers.

You could easily make this recipe without the vanilla bean by substituting 2 tsp vanilla extract if you don't have 50 or so spare vanilla beans laying around like me.

Now that I've made it once, I think I will have to make some variations on it. The possibilities are endless: chocolate, almond, lemon, coconut... perhaps even pumpkin? I shall investigate.

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