Crème Brûlée: A Tutorial

Crème brûlée has a reputation that frankly, I think, is undeserved.

I would compare it to Cady Heron in Mean Girls. Crème brûlée started out as a nice, simple dessert, wanting only to please people and make friends. Somewhere along the way, though, its reputation became twisted, and it turned into an evil, conniving custard ready to torch home cooks with its difficulty (did you get that?).

The whole “this is a super smooth custard/where do I buy vanilla beans/omg how can I make a perfectly crackable sugary shell without a kitchen torch” setup is quite deceptive. But this is all a scam.

Crème brûlée requires only 4 ingredients: Heavy cream, egg yolks, sugar, and vanilla.

Certain recipes use vanilla beans, which honestly look very pretty in the custard and lend an intense vanilla flavor to the dessert. However, you can use vanilla extract to replace the beans – and I promise, the end product will still taste amazing. (Just by the by, if you do want to use real vanilla beans, I found mine at the ever lovely Costco!)

Without further ado, let’s make some crème brûlée!

Step 1: Preheat your oven. Just do it. 325 degrees F.

Step 2: Put heavy whipping cream in a pot over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Cream boils pretty fast so keep an eye on it! Then, remove from heat, cover, and allow it to sit while you’re whisking the egg yolks.

Step 3: Whisk the sugar, vanilla extract, and egg yolks until the egg yolks turn pale yellow.

Like this!

Step 4: Pour hot cream a little at a time into the yolk mixture. Be sure to whisk while pouring or you will have some lovely scrambled eggs. This process (called tempering) brings the temperature of the eggs up slowly while making sure that they do not cook.

Step 5: Pour the mixture into ramekins. Place ramekins into a baking pan, then pour enough hot water in to meet the level of custard inside the ramekins. The water creates a more stable cooking temperature for the custard and allows it to cook slowly.

Tip: If you don’t have ramekins, don’t panic. You can simply use a shallow oven-safe pan in place of the ramekins.

Step 6: Cover loosely with aluminum foil (I forgot to do this and the tops were a little browned whoops)! Bake until the custard is just set, but still jiggles in the center (about 40 minutes). Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 3 hours.

Step 7: Caramelizing the sugar.

*Warning! I’ve found this to be the hardest part of making the crème brûlée. *

Torch Method: If you have a kitchen torch, you are a lucky duck. Simply sprinkle 1-2 teaspoons of sugar on top of the custard, hold the torch about 4 inches from the top, and melt the sugar until a crispy top is formed. The sugar will continue to cook a bit after you stop torching, so stop just short of your desired crispiness.

Sometimes, I get so excited about kitchen torching that I set my crème brûlée on fire. Not that that occurred here.

Broiler Method: If you don’t have a torch, you can use your oven broiler. However, there are certain important rules to follow here so you don’t end up with crème brûlée soup.

  • Sprinkle only enough sugar to cover the top of the custard. If you sprinkle too much, it’ll take longer to caramelize, increasing the chances that the custard underneath will melt.

  • Ice bath! Pour water into a pan with the ramekins (just like before), but this time, add ice! This will stop the custard from melting in the heat of the oven. I know this may seem like an annoying step, but please please please do it. I still have nightmares of two Thanksgivings ago, when a fabulous crème brûlée dessert just minutes from caramelized sugar heaven turned into…liquid. I can’t even type about it without being sad. Also, I melted three more crème brûlées while making this for you. Agony.

We haven’t yet figured out our ice machine Our ice machine is broken, so I froze a bag of ice! I must really love you guys.

  • Place the pan on the top rack of the oven. This ensures maximum broiling power and minimizes time in the oven.

  • Make sure the oven is as cool as it can be before placing the pan in the oven. Turn the broiler on only after the pan goes in, so the entire oven doesn’t become too hot for the custard.

Ok, now you can broil them! It’ll take about 3 minutes for the sugar to melt and start caramelizing. Keep a close eye on them. Also, the sugar will continue cooking for a little while after removal from heat, so take it out just before they’re done. The top may not be completely crispy upon removal, but it should continue to caramelize.

Tip: If the custard underneath melted, refrigerate until solid and then serve. It’ll still be good, I promise. I just tend to get weepy/frustrated if it melts because I am an impatient, hungry person. Always.

Crack! (so satisfying) the top with a spoon and eat! Mmmm.

Yes, these are two different crème brûlées. I ate made a lot in my quest for perfection. Sometimes blogging life is hard.

P.S. Today (Saturday) is the last day to enter the drawing for cookie mail!

Crème brûlée (adapted from Creme Brulee ii)

Yield: 6 four ounce ramekins

Ingredients

  1. 2 cups heavy cream
  2. 1/4 cup & 6 teaspoons granulated sugar (for initial custard recipe, then melting)
  3. 1 teaspoon vanilla extract (To replace with vanilla beans, put half of the bean scrapings in the pot with the cream)
  4. 3 egg yolks
  5. 1 pot hot water

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 325 F.
  2. Set cream over medium-high heat and bring to boil. Remove from heat, cover, and allow to sit while whisking sugar.
  3. In medium bowl, whisk 1/4 cup white sugar, vanilla extract, and egg yolks until egg yolks turn pale yellow.
  4. Pour cream a little at a time into the yolk mixture, whisking all the while so the yolks don’t scramble (a technique called tempering).
  5. Pour liquid into ramekins (if you don’t have ramekins, any shallow oven-safe pan will work just fine). Place ramekins into baking pan, then pour enough hot water in to meet the level of the custard inside the ramekins. Cover loosely with aluminum foil.
  6. Bake until custard is just set, but still jiggles in the center (about 40 minutes). Remove ramekins and refrigerate for at least 3 hours.
  7. Before serving, sprinkle 1-2 teaspoons sugar over each custard. Use a kitchen torch or oven broiler to melt the sugar until the top is crispy and slightly brown.

To Broil:

  1. Sprinkle just enough sugar to cover the top of the custard.
  2. Place ramekins in pan, then pour enough water and ice to meet the level of the custard.
  3. Place the pan on the top rack of the oven.
  4. Turn oven to broil (after placing pan in oven – no preheating!).
  5. Broil until sugar starts to caramelize (about 3 minutes, and keep a close eye on it!).

Enjoy the fruits of your labor!

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The Best Meal I Ever Ate: Lau Fau Shan

Not surprisingly, I am a Food Network junkie. Recently, as I was watching Food Network stars talk about the single best thing they’ve ever eaten, I was, of course, thinking about my most spectacular eating experience. I usually avoid picking a favorite food. Given my rather indiscriminate passion for food – not to mention the amount I’ve consumed, even in the past month alone – it seems a rather impossible venture. However, in this case, my mind kept wandering to a place that my family has frequented for years: Lau Fau Shan. Continue reading

Homeward Bound

Is there a place you always visit when you go home? Perhaps a park, or a restaurant, or just a spot in town that reminds you of a special moment in time.

For me, it’s the library. I have a routine. One month before I’m scheduled to go home, I go onto the Wichita Public Library website, search for all of the books that I’ve been wanting to read, and add myself to the waiting list so that I’ll (hopefully) be at the top of the list when I arrive. Seriously.

Being incredibly indecisive, though, I do have more than one home “must-see.” Well, okay, it’s actually more like a list. And, not surprisingly, besides the Rockwell Public Library and the Barnes & Noble Booksellers, all of the places serve food. Braum’s for a chocolate soft serve or cookies n’ cream (or, better yet, both!) waffle cone. Dog n’ Shake for chicken rings and a 50/50. Freddy’s for frozen custard and fries. QuikTrip for a diet vanilla coke. Mega yum. I think I just drooled.

But anyway. It seems that I’ve also managed to develop a few favorites in Oxford, which I’ve been fortunate enough to seek out in the past couple of days. Here’s the rundown:

Number 1: Ben’s Cookies.

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Continue reading

Eating Like the Queen

I like to indulge myself. Perhaps you already noticed this, as I did manage to plan an entire trip solely around eating and baking. But, just in case you haven’t, I’m freely willing to admit it: I enjoy life’s luxuries…probably more than I should. Pedicures, for instance. A perfect hour in a massage chair, warm water bubbling around my feet, flipping through magazines…you get the idea. Or, the $8 bucket of popcorn at the movie theatre with a free refill (because, really, one just isn’t enough), topped with 50 cents of real butter. One of my very favorite indulgences, though, surpassing even movie theatre popcorn, is high tea.

High tea. Ahh…even the name just sounds so posh (sorry, had to throw that word in somewhere). It conjures up images of long-plumed feathers sticking out of ostentatious hats, dainty heels and spacious gardens, and of course, the tea itself! Towers of tiny cucumber sandwiches and scones with clotted cream, pots of earl grey accompanied by sugar cubes, miniature forks for dainty fruit tarts. The truth of the matter is, though, that reality could never live up to the expectation because, well…I don’t own a fancy hat. But, not to worry, the food is just as imagined. This particular trip, in order to provide ample material for you lovely readers – and because my relatives are amazing and know my weakness for high tea – I had the opportunity to go to tea twice!

Yesterday, we went to tea at Old Bank Hotel in Oxford. The afternoon tea came with little cakes and cookies (including a macaron!), sandwiches, and my favorite, scones with strawberry jam and clotted cream!

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Blackcurrant macaron, coffee éclair, sugar cookie, and a mini layered cake! The macaron wasn’t exactly my favorite (it actually took me about a minute to find the macaron flavor), but still quite enjoyable. Continue reading

As the Future Becomes the Present

4 days ago, I wrote this post on an airplane:

34,000 feet in the air, and for once, I’m speechless. As much as I hate flying, I must admit that the experience is unparalleled. The roaring of the engines and feel of an invisible hand pushing you back in your seat upon takeoff, then soaring over the deep blue sea, passing swiftly through the clouds, but always wondering if the blanket of them could support you on the way down. More than actually being in the air, though, the idea of flying and airplanes always strikes a chord with me. A plane can take you home, or to a location far, far, away. Flying, then, can represent a return to the life you know, or a major life change.

Dallas –> Paris in 9 hours. Chicago –> Hong Kong in 16. It’s unbelievable how quickly life can change. For me, right now, it’s Athens –> London in 4. When I arrive, I’ll be heading to Oxford to visit my Aunt and Uncle for 10 days, and then back to the States, where more life transitions await. Santorini was technically the last stop on my Goliard pastry tour, which hopefully explains my ruminating (though perhaps you’re thinking it’s incessant droning) about feelings of transition.

I took a break in writing this post as my plane touched down, but haven’t been able to finish it since. It could be that my newfound addiction to Downton Abbey (seriously so good, plus I’m hoping to pick up a British accent) and the two-day drama of the French Open final (helloooo Rafa “Muscles” Nadal) have prevented me from sitting down to write. Another truth, though, is that I’ve been rather conflicted. What could I possibly say to sum up such an incredible journey? What should become of my blog? And, perhaps the largest conundrum of all: What should become of me? Continue reading

“Wait…there’s more food after this?”

These words were uttered as we looked on in dismay (ok, and in my case, not a small amount of excitement) at the feast already laid out in front of us: hot, freshly fried tomato fritters, bowls heaped with classic Greek salad, a fava dip accompanied by thick slices of fresh bread, and chilled white wine to wash it all down. That hunger would be conquered tonight was not a question on anyone’s mind. After we had sufficiently gorged ourselves on the “appetizers,” we returned to cook our entrées for the evening. That’s right…cook. Because today, I had the wonderful opportunity to take a Greek cooking class!

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Santorini, I Think I’ll Stay

This post is dedicated to my grandfather, Yat-Kwong Ho, who passed away today in Hong Kong at the age of 96. Thank you so much for raising such a remarkable son, and for giving me all the opportunities in the world. May you rest in peace in the presence of God.

There’s something so special about seeing a town at its sleepiest. That time when the sun is just peeking out, but the cool of night still remains in the air, along with the anticipation and promise of the coming morning. You see the preparation for day that often falls unnoticed into the background…owners arriving at their stores, waiters shaking out restaurant cushions before the breakfast rush. As you cross paths with other early risers and acknowledge each other with a slight smile, you feel like you’re part of a secret club eluding those still warm in their beds. Silence feels sacred in the air, broken only occasionally by a passing car, a bird chirp, or the jingle of a donkey bell.

Or rather, a whole host of donkey bells. Yes, this morning I arrived on the gorgeous island of Santorini, renowned for its gleaming white houses, volcanic rock beaches, and cliff stair-stepping donkeys.

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