If mashed potato (and sometimes polenta – see here) is the comfort food of the savoury world then surely, surely, the oh-so-chic crème brulee is the comfort food of the pudding world?
There are a lot of competitors out there itching to make the #1 grade: Apple Crumble, Sticky Toffee Pudding, Steamed Pudding and lets not discount a solitary tub of Haagen Daaz, are all without a doubt, good contenders. They’re just not good enough to bag the #1 spot.
The fact that creme brulee is made entirely of custard has something to do with it. It’s also one of those very rare opportunities in life when you get to weld a blowtorch and then there’s the whole ‘cracking the caramelised sugar topping with the back of a spoon’ business to contend with. In short, a creme brulee is not only a comforting, custardy cuddle, it’s whole lotta fun too.
While most of us may head straight for this wee fella in a restaurant I worry not as many of us approach it with the same gusto when baking at home. Asides from the blowtorch (which you can pick up from any department shop or kitchen supplies store) you don’t need any other fancy equipment to make a creme brulee. The ramekins are indeed authentic but Nigella Lawson advocates using a casserole dish as an alternative to the ramekins. And who isn’t tempted by a creme brulee of casserole sized proportions?
Classic Creme Brulee
This recipe will make 3 creme brulees in ramekins. If you don’t have ramekins, take a leaf out of Nigellas book & use a shallow dish of around 20cm in diameter. Feel free to double, triple or halve the quantities to suit your entertaining or greed needs.
A quick word of warning: I recommend only using eggs at room temperature, so don’t embark on this if your eggs have been stored in the fridge. The custard is more likely to curdle if the eggs are cold.
Heat the oven to 150C and boil the kettle.
Pour the double cream into a saucepan. Using a small sharp knife, score the length of the vanilla pod. Now using the side of the knife, scrape away the vanilla seeds from the pod and add to the cream. Drop the pod into the saucepan too.
Warm the cream over a low heat. Do NOT let the cream boil or bubble so keep an eye on it. Once the cream is warmed, remove the pot from the heat and set aside.
Now you need to separate the eggs. You will only need the egg yolks however you can freeze the egg whites and make a Pavlova on a later date if you like. Click here for a Pavlova recipe.
Measure the caster sugar into the bowl of egg yolks and beat with a whisk until combined.
Remove the vanilla pod from the cream but don’t throw the pod away, you can use this to make vanilla caster sugar (see below).
While beating the egg yolks with a whisk, pour the vanilla infused cream over the top. Continue to whisk furiously until it starts to foam slightly. Provided you are doing this off the heat, the custard should not split.
Strain the custard through a sieve into a jug or bowl with a pouring lip.
Sit the ramekins inside a roasting dish or tin and pour the strained custard into the ramekins.
Now carefully pour hot water, from the kettle, into the roasting dish until it reaches halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Be careful not to splash water inside the creme brulees.
Bake in the oven for 1 hour. Then chill for 6 hours or overnight.
When ready to serve, sprinkle 1tsp of brown sugar over the creme brulees in an even layer. Then sprinkle with a little water using your fingertips. Blast each ramekin with the blowtorch until the sugar dissolves and caramelises. Serve immediately with small spoons.
Cooking for Kids: You can serve this to babies or young children if you leave out the caramelised topping.
Make it Vegan: Uh, if you find a way of making an egg and double cream based pudding vegan, please let me know.
Change it Up
- Drop raspberries into the bottom of the ramekins before pouring over the custard, for a fruity hit.
- Infuse the custard with a few cardamom pods for a middle eastern flavour
- Play around with fruit zests in your custard: oranage, lemon and lime will all add a tangy hit
- Serve with good shop-bought or home-made Madeleines for dunking
Vanilla Caster Sugar
If you’re going to the expense of buying a vanilla pod, you may as well save it to make Vanilla Sugar too.
Save the used vanilla pod and pat it dry with a little kitchen paper. Then drop it into a jar of caster sugar. After a couple of days the sugar will take on the warm vanilla scent and flavour. Any sugar you later add to this jar will also take on the scent and flavour. If you replace the vanilla pod perhaps once a year, you will always have a ready supply.
This is one of the simplest things to make but it will make a massive difference to your baking. Use it in any recipe, whether it calls for vanilla or not, and it will bring a subtle vanilla infusion to your baking.