Citizens, I am inordinately fond of the French dessert known as crème brûlée (Burnt Cream), which combines the silken texture of custard with the crunch of a layer of caramelized brown sugar on top. That glass-like shell cracking as the spoon goes through it to reach the treasure below is like the sound of angels singing the praises of the Most High (at least, to my ears).
Crème brûlée is usually served in individual ramekins or dishes. Discs of caramel may be prepared separately and put on top just before serving (this is cheating), or the caramel may be formed directly on top of the custard, immediately before serving (this is not). To do this, sugar is sprinkled onto the custard, then caramelized under a broiler or with a butane torch.
The earliest known reference to crème brûlée as it is known today appears in François Massialot’s 1691 cookbook, and the French name was used in the English translation of this book.
In Britain, a version of crème brûlée (known locally as “Trinity Cream” or “Cambridge burnt cream”) was introduced at Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1879 with the college arms “impressed on top of the cream with a branding iron”, though crème brûlée itself was not invented at Cambridge. The story goes that the recipe was from an Aberdeenshire country house and was offered by an undergraduate, to the college cook, who turned it down. However, when the student became a Fellow, he managed to convince the cook to serve it.
Crème brûlée has become a classic staple of French cuisine and my version combines both the French and English DNA of this most celestial of desserts. My recipe is based on the inestimably delicious version served at the famous NYC restaurant, Le Cirque. I’ve modified it to include the flavors of lavender (from Provence, France) and Drambuie (A Scottish cordial made from Scotch whisky, honey and herbs) that I believe takes the dish to a whole new level and recognizes the dual heritage of this dessert.
Battle on – The GeneralissimoPrint
- For the topping:
- 1 cup firmly packed (4.8 ounces; 135 grams) light brown sugar
- For the custard:
- 4 cups (32 ounces; 960 grams) heavy cream
- ¼ cup culinary-grade lavender flowers, lightly crushed
- 3 tablespoons Drambuie
- 1 vanilla bean
- 1 large egg
- 6 large egg yolks
- ¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons (6 ounces; 175 grams)
- granulated sugar
- Prepare the topping: The brown sugar will be used to finish the dessert and it needs time to air-dry to remove the moisture it contains. To do this, spread the sugar on a large plate or baking sheet and let dry, uncovered, for about 3 hours. When it is properly dried, it will feel dry and sandy. Set aside.
- Prepare the custard: Pour the heavy cream into a nonreactive 1 ½-quart heavy-bottomed saucepan and place over medium heat. Add the lavender flowers and Drambuie.
- While the cream is heating, slice the vanilla bean in half lengthwise, using a sharp paring knife. Separate the seeds from the skin by scraping the bean with the knife. Place the seeds and skin in the heating cream. Scald the cream by heating it until bubbles start to form around the edge of the pan. Remove from the heat and strain, discarding the lavender and vanilla bean pod.
- In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the whole egg, egg yolks, and sugar until well blended. Continue to whisk while slowly pouring the hot cream into the egg mixture and whisk until the mixture is smooth and homogenous in color.
- Pour the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve to remove any bits of overcooked egg. You next step will be made easier if you strain the mixture into a large measuring cup with a spout.
- Preheat the oven to 200 degrees F (93 degrees C). Place the molds on a baking sheet with 1-inch-high sides. Fill the molds half-full with the custard and set the sheet in the oven (it’s much easier to transfer the sheet with the molds only half-full.) Now, finish filling the molds to the top. It is important to fill the molds to the top, as the custard will lose its volume as it bakes.
- Traditionally, Crème Brûlée is baked in a hot water bath to insulate the custard from the direct heat of the oven and to keep the eggs from cooking too fast, which would cause them to separate.
- Using hot water from the tap, pour enough water into the baking sheet to reach halfway up the sides of the molds. If you are using a convection oven, however, a water bath is not needed because the even circulation of the air insulates the custard from the direct heat.
- In either case, baking time is approximately the same, about 30 minutes. When baked correctly, the custard should tremble slightly when gently shaken. If you detect any liquid under the skin, the custard is underbaked.
- Put them back in the oven and shake them every 5 minutes or so until they are ready.
- Remove the molds from the water bath and place on a cooling rack for 30 minutes. Then refrigerate for 2 hours (or for up to 3 days) before serving; the custards will finish setting in the refrigerator. Let the water bath cool before removing it from the oven.
- To finish the Crème Brûlée: Preheat the broiler. Pass the dried brown sugar through a sieve to remove any lumps.
- Immediately before serving, spread a thin layer of the brown sugar over the tops of the custards. You have spread enough sugar when the custard is no longer visible, about 2 tablespoons. It is important to spread the sugar evenly; if it is too thick or too thin in places, the caramelization will not be even across the top.
- Place the molds on a clean baking sheet. When the broiler is hot, place the sheet about 4 inches under the broiler and broil until the sugar is caramelized. Keep a close eye on the Crème Brûlée during broiling. They are finished when they are light brown.
- Place each mold on a small dessert plate and serve immediately.
- Note: When working with sugar and egg yolks, it is important to mix them together quickly and evenly. When sugar comes in contact with egg yolks, a chemical reaction occurs, heat is produced, and the eggs begin to scramble. The scrambled egg will cause lumps in the final product.
- Calories: 324.69 kcal
- Sugar: 41.14 g
- Sodium: 46.0 mg
- Fat: 11.46 g
- Saturated Fat: 4.93 g
- Trans Fat: 0.0 g
- Carbohydrates: 44.46 g
- Fiber: 1.41 g
- Protein: 6.0 g
- Cholesterol: 334.13 mg
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