Saturday, January 11, 2014

52WoC Week 1: Eggs - Crème Brûlée

Well I've finally decided to try my hand at reddit's 52 Weeks of Cooking challenge, and week one's theme is eggs. Eggs are so versatile that you could really make almost anything, but I decided to take Julia's new blow torch1 for a spin by making crème brûlée. And damn was it tasty—crispy-crackly caramelized sugar yielding to ridiculously rich, eggy vanilla custard—need I say more?

I've never made crème brûlée before (or any other baked custard for that matter), but despite the fancy name it's actually a very simple dish, right down to the minimal ingredient list of cream, egg yolks, sugar, and vanilla. Oh yeah, and the blow torch.

Crème Brûlée

from James Peterson's Cooking

2 cupsHeavy cream
  1. Heat the cream and split vanilla bean to a simmer, then turn heat down.
1Vanilla bean
6Egg yolks
  1. Beat yolks with the first half-cup of the sugar until slightly pale, about 2 minutes.
  2. Remove vanilla bean from cream, scrape out the seeds and add them back in. Slowly pour cream into eggs while whisking, making sure not to curdle the egg.
  3. Pour into ramekins, place in a water bath, and bake at 300°F for about 40 minutes, until the custard barely jiggles when gently shaken.
  4. Let ramekins cool on a rack for about 1 hour, then refrigerate at least 1 hour.
½ cupSugar
6 tbspSugar
  1. Sprinkle the remaining sugar on top of the custards, then use a blowtorch to caramelize the sugar.

If you're using the vanilla bean, split it in half lengthwise, toss it in a saucepan with the cream, and put on medium heat until the cream starts to simmer. You can use vanilla extract instead, but don't add it yet. Turn the heat down if the cream begins simmering before you're ready to use it. Meanwhile, beat the egg yolks and the first half-cup of the sugar with a whisk until it turns pale, about 2 minutes.

Now pull the vanilla bean halves out of the cream and scrape out the seeds with a spoon or a paring knife, and toss those seeds back into the cream. If you're not using the vanilla bean, now is the time to add 2 tsp of vanilla extract. Slowly pour the cream into the eggs while whisking pretty fast. Notice I said slowly—we're not looking to make vanilla scrambled eggs here. If you're either anal-retentive or you fucked up and curdled your eggs somewhat and are too lazy to make another batch, you can run the mixture through a fine sieve.

Pour the mixture into six ramekins, or however many you want depending how big you want the custards to be. Place these ramekins into a deep baking dish and fill with hot water until it reaches about halfway up the ramekins. Now toss this in the oven at 300°F and bake for about 40 minutes, or until the custards barely jiggle when you shake them. And shake them you will.

Let these guys cool on a rack or countertop until they reach room temperature, about an hour, then cover and stick in the fridge to chill for at least another hour. They'll keep for a few days in the fridge if you can hold out that long. Then, shortly before serving, sprinkle each custard with a tablespoon of sugar, forming a thin layer. Use a propane or MAPP blowtorch2 to melt and caramelize the sugar, but make sure you don't truly burn the sugar. This can be tricky. Try to run the flame in a circle around the outer edge of the custard, otherwise the center will burn before you get the edges done—a lesson we learned the hard way. Don't worry too much if you fuck this up, as long as you don't burn your house down, the custard's creamy center will be more than enough to console you. Let the sugar harden into a crackly layer, then serve.

  1. Who got her the blowtorch? That'd be me. Yeah, that's right, I got her a present and appropriated it two days later. 

  2. If you don't have a blowtorch handy, you can brûlée the top using your oven's broiler or, better yet, caramelize the sugar in a saucepan, then pour a thin layer atop each custard. But really, what's the point of making crème brûlée if you're not gonna torch it? 

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