Probably one of the most popular desserts in the culinary world. The crème brulée is a symphony of cold, creamy custard and a hard, hot layer of burned sugar. The contrasts titillate the tongue and if prepared correctly, brings the hardest anti-dessertists to their knees. No surprise therefore, that you will find several variations of this dessert all across Europe.
However, there is only one true crème brulée and because this dessert needs to be prepared with great care, many people shy away from making it at home. Instead they seem to occasionally enjoy it only when they visit restaurants - but even that is not a guarantee that you'll be getting the perfect crème brulée.
So for this session of Cooking School I thought I could encourage those, who hide behind their aprons when they hear "make Crème brulée", but innerly are craving large spoonfuls of smooth creaminess and sweet caramel. One does not have to wait till they are out eating in a fine restaurant, one can really enjoy this dessert at home too. Homemade!
My little twist is adding a handful of mixed berries to it, an irresistible little trick I picked up when I visited Kelly's version. The berries I used were homegrown from my mother-in-law's garden. She has a huge patch where she grows every kind of berry I can imagine - from strawberries to gooseberries, raspberries to black currents and many other interesting sweet and fruity berries.
I also decided to enter the loveliness in cream and caramel to this month's Sugar High Friday hosted by the lovely Johanna. She chose a great and very interesting theme - going local. The real idea behind this was actually to find a local dessert - however, I do hope Johanna will accept my compromise - I stayed on the continent and used local ingredients. There are many interesting German sweets and desserts but nothing that I could say I have a real passion about.
With the Crème brulée it is a different story. I have a passionate love affair with this dessert, often finding it irresistible to pass up whenever I see it on a menu or when entertaining.
Crème brulée in English means "burned cream" and there are certain disagreements about the true origins of it. Whether the origins are in France or England or Spain (the Crema Catalana), it is unclear. The very first recipes for crème brulée date back from the seventeenth century taken from a French cookbook that was written by François Massialot, who was born in Limoges in 1660. Massialot was a cook who was hired by dukes and duchesses, princes and princesses to prepare menus for special occasions. He prepared meals for Monsieur Philippe, duke of Orleans, brother of Louis the fourteenth, Madame princess Liselotte, wife of Monsieur, the Dauphin, and several dukes and marquesses.
To simply describe the crème brulée one could say it is a custard, which is cooked and cooled. A small amount of sugar is sprinkled on the top of the cooled custard and the sugar is caramelized using a small torch or beneath a broiler. A classic custard acquires its' delicate flavor from the simple mixture of cream and eggs. A traditional crème brulée will not use any additional flavorings such as vanilla, liqueur or fruit.
The tricky part of this dish is the thickening of the sauce with raw egg yolks and the burning of the sugar. However, once you have conquered these issues you are rewarded in the most exquisite way.
So, let's get down to making a fruity and creamy crème brulée.
Shake it, stir it or blend it - let's get this party rocking with your tempting drink creations. Liquid Dreams is all about mixing up some of the most delicious drinks and bringing it to this months mingle.
Deadline: September 10th!
For the custard
500g heavy cream
1 vanilla bean - insides scraped out
5 egg yolks
60g fine sugar
200g mixed berries of your choice
For the caramel layer
50g fine brown sugar
Pre-heat the oven to 150 degrees C. In 6 oven-proof ramekin dishes (1/8 liter content) place a few berries on the bottom. Place these individual ramekins in a larger, tall-sided oven proof dish. Set aside.
Pour the cream in a pot and scrape the vanilla bean out into the cream. Put the pod into the pot and gently bring the vanilla cream mixture to a boil over a low heat. Whisk frequently. When the cream starts to steam, remove from the heat.
In a mixing bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and sugar until well blended.
Now comes the first tricky part. Adding the hot cream to the egg mixture without curdling them. The best way to do this is to temper the eggs. This simply means, you slowly bring the temperature of the eggs to just about the same temperature of the cream by adding the cream in small portions.
I use a ladle and pour some cream (about 1/2 a ladle-full) into the egg yolks while whisking vigorously. Repeat this process until the eggs have warmed through. This process slowly heats the yolks, reducing the chance of curdling them.
Once this is done, start stirring the cream, and steadily pour the yolks into the cream while stirring continuously. I recommend using a silicon spatula for this as you do not want to actually whisk the cream, bringing too many air bubbles to the mixture. This will cause the custard to be bubbly.
Before I distribute the custard into the individual ramekin dishes I sieve it to make the liquid as fine as possible. It also removes a lot of the access air. Another way to release the air would be by tapping the bowl on the counter-top a few times.
Equally divide the mixture in the individual ramekins. Chill the mixture overnight. This is an extra step, which you can skip if you are pressed for time. But I would recommend it as it gives best results.
Pour simmering water into the tall-sided oven-proof dish about halfway up the sides of the individual ramekins.
Bake the custard for about 35 to 45 minutes. Take out and allow to cool at room temperature, then place in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 hours.
Just before serving, sprinkle the top of each serving with a thin, even layer of brown sugar.
Now comes tricky part two: You have a couple of options of how to burn or caramelize the sugar. Either you do it under the built-in grill of an electric oven or you use a food torch.
If you are using the food torch, heat the sugar with the flame until it begins to brown. Stop when it reaches a golden color. It should not get too dark.
If you are using the oven grill, broil for 20 to 30 seconds within at least an inch of heating element.
The dis-advantage of burning the sugar under a grill is the custard heats up too. The crème brulée is best when the custard is still at room temperature or cold. This can be best achieved with the food torch, which caramelizes the sugar quickly without heating the cream.
Serve the crème brulée immediately. If you do not, the caramelized sugar will turn soft as it absorbs moisture from the crème underneath. The most appealing part of the recipe is the contrast between the crisp, hard layer of sugar and the soft creamy custard.
Tips and tricks:
- To test if the custard is done, simply and carefully reach in the oven and gently shake using tongs or an oven mitt. It's perfect when the edges are set but the rest of the custard wobble. Cooking the custards past this point will lead to a harder, pastier consistency.
- Despite the name, the sugar on top does not have to be actually burned. Only cook it to a golden color. Any darker and it will taste bitter.
- The finer the sugar the better the results of the caramel. Regular granulated sugar works well. Brown sugar makes a tasty crust. Do not use coarse sugar - it requires too much time to caramelize and makes too thick a crust. (I used rather coarse brown sugar which melted well but was slightly grainy)
- Use a jug, measuring jug or any container with a spout to pour the simmering water into the baking pan - it's easier to pour and less likely to splash into the custards.
- As the custards cook make sure the tops are far from the heat source. This will prevent them from overcooking or turning brown. In an electric oven with a top-heating element, place a sheet pan on the top rack to protect the custards from direct heat.
- If you are using the grill to brown the sugar, watch the ramekins carefully. Avoid burning the sugar and take out as soon as the sugar reaches the golden color.
About Cooking School
I started the Cooking School sessions last year with the purpose to cook popular and well known dishes from around the world. Soon I realized that so many of you were encouraged to try these at your own homes too and so it became a regular, almost monthly session here on WFLH. I wish to make this session more interactive with my readers, where your ideas, thoughts, tips and tricks in the comment section of the posts will help beginners learn the process and give experienced cooks more ideas. The recipe does not have to end with my post - if you have recipes of your own share them in the comments.
The index on the right sidebar under the section "Cooking School" will provide you with many great recipes and ideas for popular dishes. Hope you enjoy them.
I love taking my spoon and dipping it into my ramekin. The crack of the caramel releases the wonderful aromas of vanilla and berries found inside the cream. A dessert that offers an experience for all of your senses. The crunchy caramel against the smooth cream and the tart soft berries is incredible. A traditional crème brulée is a lovely experience but with the addition of the berries, we found it exciting to taste the different berries, each time surprised by a new flavor.
Sugar High Friday Treats:
Tropicana Cream with Berries
Strawberry Mille Feuille
Raspberry Dream Cream
I am glad to announce the winner for my little teaser in my earlier post. I admit it was not an easy one and I was beginning to think that no one will get it. But Neha of The Literate and Liberal Foodie guessed it right. Congratulations Neha! Now all you need to do is pick out any one picture you'd like and send me an email with the name of the picture! It'll be heading towards California soon afterwards.
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