Saturday, 1 October 2011

Creme Brulee

French for burnt cream. This dessert needs no introduction. A rich silky vanilla custard topped with a caramelised crust and typically served in a ramekin. I don't know about you, but the best part about this dessert to me is shattering the layer of caramel. The cracking sound it makes as you hit your spoon against the top layer only to be greeted by the soft, creamy custard underneath it. This somehow reminds me of the anatomy of a tooth! Haha. The caramel representing the harder outer enamel layer while the custard is the softer inner layer of the dentine. And instead of a spoon, we use a high speed drill to get into that inner layer! 

Many people might not know this, but creme brulee might actually not be of French origin! There's a debate as to who invented the dish first; the English or the French. To me, it doesn't matter whoever it was who came up with it. Just like the brouhaha in 2009 about a Malaysian minister who attempted to "reclaim" what was/has been Singaporean dishes. 

The creation of a dish is a thought process of a chef who is influenced by the things around him. You take a little bit of that, borrow ideas from someone, make use of local ingredients and there you have it! An iconic dish that represents you as a chef and perhaps in the long run the nation's as well. Instead of arguing who owns the rights to a dish, we should be focusing on the future. Many chefs today like 
Heston Blumenthal and Wylie Dufresne are recreating old dishes, transforming classics into avant garde dishes. Although I'm a strong proponent for classic, traditional dishes, I am always amazed at the things these guys come up with.

This dessert requires you to invest in a blow torch if you want that caramelised top layer. Now, there's probably not much use for a blow torch at home and I admit, I've only used it once (not counting the time I tried lighting up the bbq pit with it). But if you're as hardcore as I am and willing to splurge on this one-dish-contraption, I'll advice you to buy yours at the local hardware shop instead. It's much cheaper compared to those "special chef blow torch" you'll find at any kitchen appliance store. They are after all, the same fire spitting gadget. 

The recipe below is by Alton Brown whom I talked about in my previous post. The recipe is a classic vanilla creme brulee. I would recommend that you skip the extract and use a real vanilla bean for this as an extract won't be able to provide that vanilla kick this dessert needs. I buy my vanilla bean from eBay as it is much much cheaper. You can choose to either get the AAA stuff or the cheaper "extract quality" bean. Either way, a bean is much more superior than any extract you can find. This recipe calls for vanilla sugar, but ordinary sugar is fine.

*To make your own vanilla sugar: Dry the vanilla bean, which was cooked in the cream mixture, and place it in a container full of sugar. That's pretty much it! The sugar can be kept for a long time, just give the container a shake occasionally. You can add more used vanilla bean into the container over time. 

As you can see from this recipe, a creme brulee requires lots of egg yolks. What to do with the whites? Make macarons! If not, they store well in the freezer. I usually portion them out in small ziplocks so that I only defrost what I need. If you don't have any ramekins, use those disposable aluminium bowls like what I have done. 

Crème brûlée by Alton Brown
Makes 6 servings


950ml heavy cream
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
1 cup (225g) vanilla sugar, divided
6 large egg yolks
hot water


Preheat the oven to 160 degrees C.

Place the cream, vanilla bean and its pulp into a medium saucepan set over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat, cover and allow to sit for 15 minutes. Remove the vanilla bean and reserve for another use.

In a medium bowl, whisk together 1/2 cup sugar and the egg yolks until well blended and it just starts to lighten in color. Add the cream a little at a time, stirring continually. Pour the liquid into 6 ramekins. Place the ramekins into a large cake pan or roasting pan. Pour enough hot water into the pan to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake just until the creme brulee is set, but still trembling in the center, approximately 40 to 45 minutes. Remove the ramekins from the roasting pan and refrigerate for at least 2 hours and up to 3 days.

Remove the creme brulee from the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes prior to browning the sugar on top. Divide the remaining 1/2 cup vanilla sugar equally among the 6 dishes and spread evenly on top. Using a torch, melt the sugar and form a crispy top. Allow the creme brulee to sit for at least 5 minutes before serving.

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