Crème brûlée, California style

Crème brûlée, California style, serves 4 to 5.

Another classic dessert, very simple but delicious. And: how much more fun can cooking get, when it involves swinging a butane blow torch around? One of my favorites, in particular when served ‘flambant’ (see below); pairing savory and slighty pyromaniac delights.

I’m not sure why I called this a California-style crème brûlée – let’s assume it’s for the inclusion of (blue)berries, which are grown all over the place in the golden state. When done right, it’s a fine showcase of contrasts: the crunchy texture of the caramelized sugar crust to the smoothness of the custard below; the silky but strong aroma of the vanilla to that of the burnt sugar (or burning alcohol); the hot surface outside to the cool custard inside; the sweetness of the sugar to the acidity of the berries.

Of course, try to use real vanilla; it’s better in taste and spotting the black seeds in the custard will provide some added entertainment to your guests; extract will probably work as well though. Also, depending on the thermal conductivity of the ceramic of your ramekins, I recommend using oven mitts to hold the ramekins during the torch action. Try not to overcook the custard, it’s supposed to come out perfectly smooth and silky.

The delightful richness of this crème can and probably should be traded off to portion size, depending on how close you’d like to keep your calorie intake in check.

Creme Brulee

Ingredients:

  1. half of a vanilla bean
  2. 450 ml of (whipping) cream (or, about 2 cups)
  3. a quarter cup of sugar (more or less, to taste)
  4. 4 egg yolks
  5. a little bit of salt
  6. additional sugar, for crust
  7. assorted berries (blueberry, raspberry and/or blackberry)

Tools:

  1. a blow torch!
  2. set of ramekins (assortment of small ceramic bowls)
  3. large baking dish (the ramekins need to fit in, for a bain marie)

Procedure:

  1. Preheat oven to 300F (150C)
  2. Scoop out the seeds of the vanilla bean and mix them in with the cream into a cooking pot
  3. Put on low heat, until the cream simmers
  4. Remove pot from stove, let the cream cool down a bit
  5. Mix egg yolks and sugar in a separate container; do your best to remove the chalazae (the strings attached to the yolks); add bit of salt
  6. Add cream slowly to container with yolks, stir until smooth
  7. Pour mixture into ramekins
  8. Put baking dish in oven, pour in some water and put ramekins in (bain marie)
  9. Bake in oven until done (about 30 to 40 minutes)
  10. Remove ramekins from oven, let them cool down, cover and store them in fridge for a few hours
  11. Now the real fun begins: just before serving, do the following:
  12. Coat surface of custard with a (liberal) amount of sugar
  13. Pull out blow torch and let the caramelizing begin. Burn, baby burn!
  14. Add rinsed berries in ornamental fashion on top of crust
  15. For added effect, pour some liquor of high alcohol content (e.g. rum) onto crust and set on fire

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