The classic crème brûlèè is just cream, egg yolks, sugar and vanilla but I use a combination of cream and milk, which makes a rich custard without the heaviness of using only cream. In summer I often put a small handful of raspberries or blueberries (or a few halved strawberries) into the bottom of each ramekin before completely submerging them in the custard.
– Pour the cream and milk into a pan. Split the vanilla pod in half lengthways and scrape out the grains. Add the pod and grains to the cream and milk. Bring to a boil, turn off the heat and remove the pod from the pan.
– Combine the egg yolks with the sugar in a bowl, then slowly pour in the hot cream, whisking continuously. Do not over-whisk as you want to avoid creating too many bubbles.
– If you have time, pour the custard into a bowl, cover with cling film and refrigerate overnight. This gives the vanilla grains more time to flavour the cream and milk.
– Preheat the oven to 110ºC. Divide the custard between six wide, shallow ramekins and place in a roasting tin. Pour cold water into the tin to come halfway up the ramekins. Bake for 30-40 minutes or until the custard is set around the edges but still slightly wobbly in the middle. Remove the ramekins from the water and set aside until cooled to room temperature. Cover the ramekins with cling film (don’t let it touch the custard), and refrigerate for at least four hours, or overnight.
– When ready to serve, make the caramel topping. Uncover the ramekins and check to see if condensation has collected on the custards. If it has, gently place paper towels on the surface to soak up the moisture. Mix the two types of sugar together and sprinkle a nice even layer over each custard. Do this by holding the spoon at least 30cm away from the ramekin – sprinkling from a height is the best way to create an even layer of sugar.
– Place the ramekins on a metal tray. For best results, use a hand-held blowtorch and hold it 10-12cm away from the sugar. Move the flame slowly around the sugar, maintaining a slow and even motion.
– Stop torching just before the desired degree of caramelization is reached, as the sugar will continue to cook for a few seconds after the flame has been removed.
– If you don’t have a blowtorch, take a large metal spoon and hold it in a gas flame until very hot (it will turn blue, almost black in colour). Place the spoon on the sugar and move it around so that the heat of the spoon caramelizes the sugar.
Why not try something different instead of vanilla?
The key is to add dry ingredients or just a teaspoon or two of liquid flavouring (e.g. almond extract, orange flower water, rose water) to the cream and milk before bringing to a boil – any more liquid and there’s a risk of the custard not setting.
Here are some ideas!
– 1 teaspoon dried lavender (strain it out before combining the cream and milk with the egg yolks and sugar).
– Finely grated zest of 1 unwaxed orange or lemon.
– ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon and ¼ teaspoon ground ginger.
– ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper or Indonesian long pepper (this goes particularly well with raspberries in the crème brûlée).
– A pinch of saffron threads.
– The custard can be made up to 4 days in advance, but the caramel topping has to be done just before serving. Caramel becomes soft with time, due to the humidity in the air.
– You need wide, shallow ramekins to get a high caramel to custard ratio, which is key for a successful crème brûlée.
– If you’re not using the leftover egg whites straight away, freeze them in an airtight container with the date on the label and use within a month. They can also be kept in the fridge for several days.
Resting time: 4 hours–overnight
Rachel’s book, The Little Paris Kitchen is £20, published by Penguin/ Michael Joseph Hardback.
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