Thursday, August 4, 2011

Fantabulous Food! Crème Brûlée

This is always a favorite recipe, but usually one people only get at a restaurant. I'm here to tell you that you can do it at home! The recipe that I will show the pictures of is a bit more complicated than some, but when you try it with an infused vanilla bean instead of just plain vanilla extract, you will never go back. Trust me. But, if you don't have the equipment/patience for the infusion, there are plenty of other recipes with just vanilla extract out there :)

Infused Crème Brûlée:
1/2 cup milk (at least 2%)
1 1.2 cups heavy whipping cream
2.3 cup sugar
pinch of salt
1 vanilla bean
6 egg yolks from large eggs
1/4 cup (generous) sugar for tops

1. First you need to split your vanilla bean.
On a cutting board, slide a sharp knife down the length of the bean to cut,
then go back and pry it open a bit.
It's ok if the bean breaks into pieces - they will all be strained out in the end anyway.
2. Combine cream, milk, sugar, and salt in a medium saucepan (I use a 2 qt size).
Take your sharp knife again and scrape the exposed inside of the bean out into the cream mixture.
It will look kind of like a dark paste - that is how it should look so don't worry. After the bean is scraped, put it into the mixture as well.
3. Heat saucepan over medium heat until just boiling.
Make sure you keep stirring it! This is especially important when it starts to get really warm - you don't want the cream to form a skin or burn on the bottom of the pan. I will be honest, you will be standing at the stove for about 20 minutes or more. I advise taking a bathroom break before beginning this step if you need to. Don't worry though, it will be worth it!
When the mixture begins to boil, remove pan from heat and let it cool. This is called "steeping", a.k.a. letting the flavor fully soak up into the cream.
4. While your cream is cooling, you need to separate your eggs. I know they do make an "egg separator" tool, but why buy one more kitchen appliance you will rarely use when nature has already supplied you with a built in separator. First, you will need 2 bowls (I got a tupperware container for the left over egg whites).
 Crack your egg at the middle and try to pull the shell apart into two equal sized pieces.
Now keep the egg in the shell and transfer the yolk into the other shell, letting the egg white drip into its bowl.
Repeat this and try to shake the egg white out more each time.
Keep going back and forth with the yolk until all of the white has fallen off into the whites bowl, then dump your yolk into the "yolks" bowl.
It takes a little practice, but if you mess up you can always do it the way my mother in law does it - put the egg in your hand and let the white drain through your fingers while you hold the yolk. It's messier, but if I ever accidentally don't crack the egg right, I do it this way and it works just fine.
When all 6 eggs are separated, cover the yolks with plastic wrap and return to the fridge to keep cool while you wait for the cream.
And cover your egg whites well to preserve them until you want to use them for a different recipe. I used a well sealed tupperware container and the whites will stay good for at least a week, sometimes more if they are kept well chilled.
5. When your cream has cooled for about 15 minutes, get a medium sized bowl (preferably one with a spout - I love the Pampered Chef large measuring cup with a spout and a handle!), and a fine sieve.
Gently pour all the liquid through the sieve making sure the vanilla bean pieces don't slosh out
- you want them to all stay out of the final mixture. Discard the pieces that remain in the sieve.
6. Now, using a hand mixer, blend the egg yolks into the cream mixture one at a time.
Make sure you blend everything really really well - you don't want to bite into cooked egg in the middle of your custard.
Now you are ready to bake :)
7. Preheat your oven to 300º F. Get out your ramekins - the six of your ramekins will effect the number of them you need. For my small, normal size ramekins I usually fill 4 and then end up using another of a different size to take up the remainder. This time, I used my slightly larger round ramekins and this recipe makes 4 servings.
You can use different shapes and sizes or ramekins as long as they are porcelain and oven safe.
8. Pour the mixture into the ramekins about 1 inch high.
I prefer it a little thicker, so I make it about 1.5" high.
Now we need to create a "water bath" - this will help the custard to bake more evenly instead of forming a crust along the outer edges. So you need some kind of dish that is about 2 inches deep and large enough to fit your ramekins and something to pour water into the dish.
Position your ramekins so that you have some room along the edge of the pan to pour in the water and carefully pour the water in the dish. Pour the water slowly so it doesn't splash and get into the ramekins - you don't want watery crème brûlée.
You want the water to come up the sides of your ramekins about halfway. Make sure the pan isn't too full or it will be very hard to put the dish into the oven without sloshing the water into the desserts.
*I actually ended up taking some of the water out of this pan after I took this picture because it was so full I couldn't move it without sloshing all over the place. So this picture is incorrect!
9. Bake your crème brûlées at 300º F for 35 to 45 minutes (since mine are deeper than 1 inch of custard, I have to cook at least the 45 minutes).
They are ready when they no longer jiggle like liquid., so after the 35 or 45 minutes, gently grab one ramekin with an oven mitt and shake it a little to check the consistency.
I let them sit for a few minutes before trying to take them out of the water bath to cool. Really you can just let them cool completely in the water bath, but they will take a long time to cool with all that hot water to insulate them. So, to remove them while it's still hot, take an oven mitt that you don't mind getting a little wet and gently lift them out one at a time by the edges.
10. Put your crème brûlées in the fridge and let them cool completely before continuing - at least 1 hour.
11. When your custards are completely cool, it's time to add the finishing touch that makes them into crème brûlée :) Take granulated sugar and sprinkle a thin layer over the top of each custard.
The amount of sugar you should put is kind of a trial and error process. Too much sugar will mean it takes longer to caramelize and therefor will have more of a burnt flavor on the top. Too little sugar won't give you the customary crack-into-the-shell experience you expect from a crème brûlée and could possibly burn the custard. So, just try them one at a time if you are unsure and adjust your amount of sugar as you see fit.
12. Using a butane kitchen torch like this one: BonJour Creme Brulee Chef's Culinary Torch with Fuel Gauge, Brushed Aluminum, hold the torch high enough above the custard so that the tip of the flame just hovers over your custards.
Keep the flame constantly moving in small circular motions to avoid burning the sugar. It will begin to bead up and darken gradually as you go.
I like to work my way around the dish clock wise while holding the torch at a 45º angle so I can better control the flame.
If the beads are getting really dark brown really fast, pull the torch a little further away so it's not black by the time you're finished. This is another process that just takes trial and error - you will figure out what you like best after making it a few times.
This one is actually a little more burned than I generally like, but believe me it's still tasty :)
13. Return the crème brûlées to the fridge for a few minutes - use an oven mitt or a towel because the edges of your ramekins will be very hot from the torch. This extra 5 minutes of cool time will allow the sugar to cool and full harden, so you get that signature crack when you start to eat it :)

So, there you have it! I know it seems like a lot of work, but it really isn't difficult. This dish is just one of those that you need a special appliance to make and takes a little bit of time and skill refining to get it just right. But hey - each time you try to hone in your skills you get to eat crème brûlée :) So it can't be too bad :)

Now grab your spoon and get cracking! It's the most satisfying part of making crème brûlée - and the taste isn't too bad either :)
Be adventurous and give this a try. You can do it!

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