This is a classic dessert that I swear I’d make in my kitchen – some day. I have the shallow gratin dishes and a kitchen torch that I purchased a while ago just to make the crème brûlée. Somehow I never get around to make it. That some day has arrived. Glad I’ve finally gotten my act together. I made it with the Cook-the-Book-Fridays group this week, when this David Lebovitz’s recipe was featured.
Crème brûlée is much easier to make than I’ve thought. The ingredients list is short. This custardy dessert is similar to making ice cream. Starting with preparing the creme anglaise, which is a mixture of cream and milk (320 and 140 grams or 1 1/3 and 2/3 cup), egg yolks and egg (60 and 45 grams or 6 yolks and 1 egg) and sugar (50 grams or 1/4 cup). The mixture is heated through on the stovetop over medium heat until it thickens (internal temperature reaching 180°F with a thermometer) and then bake in the oven in a hot water bath, or a bain marie. As with any egg dishes, accurate temperature control is crucial for making a custard with just the right texture.
Instead of the conventional vanilla bean to flavor a creme anglaise, David uses instant coffee (1 tablespoon) and Kahlúa (2 teaspoons) to add an intense coffee flavor to the custard. I like a good cup of latte, a coffee break is always a welcome distraction at anytime. So far so good.
My biggest issue is with sugar. Satisfying the sugar fix in a healthful manner is a very different matter. There is no way to avoid sugar entirely when it comes to crème brûlée. I made a partial effort by substituting sugar, that went into the custard mixture, with an equal amount (in grams) of raw honey. To caramelize the custards, I sprinkled the custard tops with turbinado, or raw cane sugar. No one is fooled, only me!
By now you should know that I’m a geek in the kitchen. My most priced possession in the kitchen is a convection steam oven. I use it all the time, sometimes several times a day, to proof dough, bake cakes, reheat breads, roast vegetables, steam fish, cook grains, steam fresh pasta, or dehydrate fruits. I’ll be lost without it. I need to figure out a way to do a bain marie and cook the custards in this oven.
So instead of pouring hot water into the baking sheet, onto which the four custard-filled gratins dishes were loaded, I used the combination convection/steam feature to bake the custards for 20-25 minutes. No water bath is necessary. Just put the tray of custards in the oven. This is the bain-marie-equivalent setting in the oven that seems to have worked in setting the custards:
Convection/steam at 275°F, uncovered on a perforated steam tray, at 60% humidity.
Next, the custards went into the refrigerator for a few hours. They got firmer and were ready to be caramelized with the kitchen blowtorch. With no hot water bath to transfer in and out of the oven and the risk of splashing hot water on the custards or yourself, making crème brûlée can be a cinch.
The steaming/baking step is accomplished with a simple press of a button. What? Is it all heading in the same direction as the driverless car?
Quick tips for a foolproof crème brûlée:
- Key ratios: 3 egg yolks to 1 cup of heavy cream to 1/8 to 1/4 cup of sugar.
- Scald the cream and sugar mixture to just below boiling at 180°F. Then steadily whisk into the egg yolks.
- Bake for about 30 minutes in a hot water bath until the custards are just set and still wobbly when shaken.
- Chill thoroughly before caramelizing the custards.
- Use brown sugar (lower melting point) for the caramel top. It browns more predictably when torched.