Thursday, February 18, 2010

Crème Brûlée

I made crème brûlée for Valentine's Day. I don't know if it's necessarily a romantic dessert, but it was a good excuse for getting a tiny blow torch (anything that makes me happy is romantic, no?) The recipe is very simple, just cream, milk, vanilla, egg yolks, and sugar, which called for the best quality ingredients, especially the vanilla. And I mean a real vanilla bean, not extract or, god forbid, wood shavings in alcohol.

I got two beautiful glass vials of vanilla beans (ten total) at Costco for the price that one bean might cost in the supermarket. It was a little scary handling one for the first time. I've always read about the "split then scrape" drill, but this was my first time doing it. I didn't know that the pod will put up a good fight before you can wedge your knife in there and scrape out the precious, glittering black seeds. I also didn't realize that aside from the seeds, you'll also be scraping out bits of flesh. It's a good thing I had my very professional strainer setup.

The custard part of the crème brûlée is made by carefully whisking the hot infused cream and milk mixture into the egg yolks and sugar. The tempering process has always filled me with dread - what if I make egg-drop soup instead? Thankfully, frantic whisking and careful straining left me with a smooth, velvety custard.

After the custard has been baked and cooled, it's time to brulee.

Dorie Greenspan recommends using brown sugar. I only discovered later that I was supposed to sift the brown sugar, because brown sugar clumps.

And the clumps will burn.

For the second one, we used white sugar instead. It was much easier to caramelize the sugar evenly, although I find that white sugar needs a longer caramelizing time to reach the same smokey intensity.

The crème brûlée was delicious, especially with the vanilla seed-studded custard. It was rich and aromatic and silky. Very sexy, indeed.

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