- Easy to make in advance
- High impact factor
- Right amount of sugar important
- Use a bain-marie
- Invest in a blow torch
When we talk about desserts, the term “mouth-feel” often comes up. Crème brûlée is a dessert that’s all about mouth-feel. What you want is a cold, subtle, not too sweet custard that melts in the mouth. On top of this, you want a warm, thin, crisp covering of golden-brown melted cane sugar that cracks under the spoon and crunches between your teeth.
What does crème brûlée mean?
Like most classic restaurant desserts, crème brûlée comes from France. The word crème has to do with the decent amount of cream that this dessert contains, while brûlée means burnt, as in the crunchy lid. “Burnt cream” basically.
A simple dessert
If you follow the recipe, plan ahead, have a bit of patience and own a chef’s blow torch, crème brûlée isn’t difficult to make in your own kitchen. But it still has the ability to make a big impression on guests.
Everything you can do in a restaurant can be done at home.
– Kin Tsui, 39Wäst
The right amount of sugar
There shouldn’t be too much sugar in a crème brûlée (in the custard itself, that is) as that can easily make this dessert slimy. But because sugar doesn’t just provide sweetness but also affects the texture, you need to think ahead before reducing it. Keep a recipe in front of you the first twenty times before you start experimenting.
Pastry chefs don’t count eggs
For professionals, “one egg” is not a unit of measurement. Everything has to be weighed, especially eggs, which can vary in weight between 45g and about 73g. If a recipe to feed 20 suddenly has to be recalculated for 40, the differences will be too big if you’ve stuck to rounded measurements and numbers of eggs. For the sake of simplicity, here at PS, we’ve assumed medium-sized eggs weighing 53g–63g. Look for boxes marked M.
That’s why there are recipes and we go on and on about them all the ****** time.
– Christophe Buchet, Bleck
Cook in a bain-marie
Crème brûlée must be cooked in a bain-marie. It distributes the heat evenly through the egg custard and the temperature can be lowered when necessary. If you put the ramekin dishes into the oven as they are, the custard can split and go grainy, like scrambled egg. Use a fan oven if possible, which spreads the heat evenly.
Use a blow torch for a crisp surface
Use a blow torch to melt the cane sugar and heat it to form a thin, hard caramel topping. If you don’t have a blow torch, sprinkle cane sugar over the top and put the china ramekin dishes under a grill heated to 250°C. Not a degree lower. The oven needs to be hot. And then you’ll need to be quick and observant – and still run the risk of your custard being less creamy. And you’ll lose the effect of the cold custard meeting the warm topping.
It’s best to invest in a blow torch really. They’re not that expensive. And you can use it to produce the perfect browned surface and flavor on all manner of ingredients.
Two layers of sugar for the perfect topping
Sometimes you’ll find grains of cane sugar on your brûlée. That’s failure on the part of the chef. To avoid this happening, sprinkle a very thin layer and melt it with your blow torch. Once it’s completely melted and slightly browned, repeat the procedure. This will give your browned sugar topping a proper crunch when attacked with a spoon. Crème brûlée is eaten with the ears too, after all.
Crème brûlée should be wobbly
When the crème brûlée is starting to be ready in the oven, its consistency should be wobbly. Shake the dishes slightly. If the contents move in the middle but don’t form a new crust, they are done. Remember that the custard will firm up more as it cools. Leave the dishes to cool at room temperature, not in the fridge. It can take a few hours.
Crème brûlée needs to take its time.
– Christophe Buchet, Bleck
Prep in advance
Crème brûlée is perfect to prepare ahead of time. Once the custard has cooled, put the ramekins in the fridge, preferably covered with clingfilm so the custard doesn’t absorb the flavors of other food in the fridge.
Don’t get the blow torch out until the last minute
After the main course, take the custards out of the fridge, sprinkle with a thin layer of cane sugar and singe the top – twice, see above – to form a crisp lid. Serve immediately. That way, your guests don’t only get to enjoy the creamy custard against the hard topping, they also get the cold of the former against the heat of the latter.
Flavor your brûlée
Once you’ve got the crème brûlée process down, you can start to vary it – be aware that different types of sugar and liquid will affect how it behaves. Start by replacing the cane sugar with muscovado to bring out deep, licorice notes. Then you can try variations on the custard. Lemon zest (boil with the cream and then strain it out), licorice powder and flavored milk chocolate (aim for about 50% cocoa content) make a completely different dessert.
The only barrier is your imagination.
– Kin Tsui, 39Wäst, on flavoring crème brûlée
Crème brûlée recipe
Serves about 6
6 egg yolks
1 vanilla pod
300ml whipped cream
68g granulated sugar
cane sugar for the top
- Preheat the oven to 150°C. Put the egg yolks in a round-bottomed bowl. Cut the vanilla pod in half lengthwise and scrape out the seeds.
- Bring the cream, milk, sugar, vanilla pod and seeds to the boil. Simmer on a low heat for a few minutes, stirring all the time.
- Lightly beat the egg yolks.
- Fish out the vanilla pod and pour the hot cream and milk over the egg yolks. Start with just a small amount and stir vigorously. Pour in the rest while continuing to stir until the custard has thickened.
- Pour into ramekins. Put the ramekins in an ovenproof tray with high edges and fill the tray with boiling water almost up to the top of the ramekins.
- Bake the custards in the bain-marie in the center of the oven for 30 to 40 minutes. Once the custard has set, take them out of the oven and leave to cool.
- Then put the ramekins in the fridge. You can prepare them this far the day before.
- Before serving, sprinkle a thin layer of cane sugar on top and brown with a blow torch. Repeat this stage. Serve immediately and enjoy.