Monday, September 28, 2009
My first crème brûlée
I sent out a plea for tried and true crème brûlée recipes and Chef Dorette responded first. And, as the brûlée was chilling and Steve was grilling our dinner, I was sitting on the deck leisurely reading the October edition of Our State magazine. I was reading an article about Celebrity Dairy and up popped Dorette's name! I immediately emailed her to see if she knew about it and she didn't. Perhaps I am just so new to this that I can hardly contain my excitement when someone tells me that they've read my newspaper article or this blog. (I did not grab the French teacher at the conference and hug her when she recognized me from my newspaper column, but I sure wanted to. I am proud of my self-restraint!)
Anyway, back to the brûlée... Chef Dorette says she loves this because it marries (my use of the wonderful expression from the French!) two of her favorite flavors, orange and lavender. It was simple to make, just plan ahead so that it has plenty of baking and cooling time. I used cheesecloth to strain it. I baked it in the little pottery dishes I brought home from France. Chef Érick and I bought them in a restaurant supply store, but grocery stores in France sell cheese in them! I plan to pick up a few more in March when I go back. Even though I read this morning that major airlines are now charging up to $50 for a second checked bag to Europe. I have to take a second bag to bring back a few of the things I didn't have room for when I left Arles in December plus the loot that I always manage to collect during my visits to France. C'est la vie, je suppose.
Enough of that. My Crème Brûlée #1 turned out quite well, I am pleased to report. I do not own a really cool blow torch, so my brûlée went under the broiler. (When we made this dessert in Arles, everyone wanted in on using the blow torch!) The broiler worked well, though, giving the nice crunch necessary to this dessert. As I explained to Steve, my trusted eater, it is the contrast between the crunch and the creamy custard that makes this so interesting. Grant, my 17 year old, said he thought he would like it better without the lavender flavor. Alexis, his girlfriend, said she loved it (she couldn't believe that Grant had never tasted crème brûlée before-- have I neglected his tastebuds up to this point?). Jake is coming home tonight from college to wash clothes and I'll see what he says. I enjoyed it tremendously.
Merci, Dorette, my gypsy friend.
Lavender and Orange Crème Brûlée
4 c. heavy cream
8 egg yolks
1/2 c. granulated sugar
Zest of 1 orange
Few sprigs of fresh or dried lavender
1 vanilla bean
2 tsp. granulated sugar for each crème brûlée
Slightly crush the orange zest and lavender against the side of a medium saucepan using a wooden spoon. Add the cream and the vanilla bean. Bring just to a simmer; remove from heat and let steep for 20 minutes. Strain vanilla, orange and lavender from the cream.
Preheat oven to 325 F. Adjust the oven rack to center position. Place 12 (4 oz) custard cups onto a baking sheet that has sides.
In a large bowl, beat egg yolks until slightly thickened. Add sugar and whisk until dissolved; mix in warm cream, stirring to mix well. Strain egg mixture into a bowl and skim off any foam which may have formed on top. Pour mixture into custard cups.
Carefully pour hot water (from the tap is fine) into the baking pan to come halfway up the sides of the custard cups. Note: the most common mistake people make in baking a custard is not putting enough water in the hot-water bath. The water should come up to the level of the custard inside the cups. You must protect your custard from the heat.
Bake 45-55 minutes or until set around the edges but still loose in the center. The cooking time will depend largely on the size of the custard cup you are using, but begin checking at a half hour and check back regularly. When the center of the custard is set, it will jiggle a little when shaken, that's when you can remove it from the oven. Remove from oven and leave in the water bath until cooled to room temperature. Remove cups from water bath, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 2 hours or up to 2 days.
When ready to serve, sprinkle approximately 2 tsp. of sugar over each crème brûlée. For best results, use a small blow hand-held blow torch. Hold the torch 4-5 inches from the sugar, maintaining a slow and even motion. Stop torching just before the desired degree of doneness 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 torch, place the crème brûlée 6 inches below the broiler for 4-6 minutes or until sugar bubbles and turns golden brown. Refrigerate crème brûlée at least 10 minutes before serving. Serve within 1 hour, as topping will deteriorate.