Creme Brûlée

A timely fix to having too many egg yolks after making angel food cake fell on this Thanksgiving weekend, where time and company allowed for this first attempt at creme brûlée. Actually, our family didn’t do anything elaborate this year (we were still sated from last weekend’s Chinese mid-Autumn Festival), but having my sister back for the holiday, dinner with the whole family was still much enjoyed.

It took me a while to find the equipment and recipe to make a basic creme brûlée, because I don’t have a torch with which to caramelize the top, and so I wasn’t sure which ramekins could be used in an oven broiler. I ended up getting medium-sized porcelain ramekins from the Loblaw Superstore (where would we be without Loblaw ..) and found a “straightforward and unpretentious” recipe online from this woman who crowns herself the undisputed Queen of Creme Brûlée.

The recipe is surprisingly easy, but the tricky part is in the oven. The baking time was too short, or put another way, it’s hard to tell when the pastry cream (another alias for creme brûlée, as a similar recipe is used as vanilla cream in cakes) is set when you can’t slit a knife and break the top surface. My sister had a good trick where upon contact, the pastry cream should bounce back a little if it’s done. Also, they say it’s best to make creme brûlée one day before serving, so that it can chill for at least 12 hours in the fridge before caramelized and served. The pastry cream turned out really light, and melted in your mouth! I don’t like it when the texture is too gelatinous and custard-like — the creme brûlée here is nice and light.

Classic creme brûlée Recipe adapted from Debbie Puente

  • 8 egg yolks (which can be stored and frozen .. I’ll be writing about this later)
  • 1/3 cup white sugar
  • 2 cups or 500 mL of heavy cream (35% MF)
  • 1 generous teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  1. Preheat oven to 300ºF.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together egg yolks and sugar until sugar has dissolved and the mixture is thick and pale yellow. Add cream and vanilla, and continue to whisk until well blended.
  3. Strain into a large bowl, skimming off any foam and bubbles.

    Strained and silky smooth!

  4. Divide mixture into 4 porcelain ramekins. Place ramekins in a water bath (large pan filled with two inches of hot water). The easiest way to do this is set the ramekins into the pan first, and fill a kettle to pour in the water.
  5. Bake until set around the edges, but still loose in the centre, about 60-75 minutes. You can’t really puncture the pastry cream like you would a cake, otherwise you’d loose the smooth texture. In this case, lightly touch to see if the pastry cream sets back.
  6. Remove from oven and leave in the water bath until cooled. Remove cups from water bath and chill for at least 12 hours, or up to 2 days.
  7. When ready to serve, sprinkle some white sugar on the surface for a caramelized top. If the custard has been chilled for 12 hours, put ramekins in a cold oven and turn on the oven to broiler setting (heat from above), heating until sugar caramelizes. If the custard has been chilled less than 12 hours, put the dish in a shallow pan and surround with ice. Place under hot broiler long enough to let the sugar form a caramelized crust. Another tip that Joy of Cooking offers is to do this step with the oven door open, keeping a close eye on the dish. The sugar will caramelize really quickly! No more than five minutes .. even less than that probably.
  8. Serve at once! But warn your guests that the ramekin will be a tad hot.
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