Modified from Bon Appétit
After my last episode of playing with fire in the kitchen, you might be surprised to see me back in there with a blowtorch. Rest assured, nothing was engulfed in flames!
This is my go-to recipe for crème brûlée that I found on Epicurious years ago. I’ve since modified it to use coconut palm sugar, which has several benefits over refined sugars. Perhaps due to less processing, coconut palm sugar contains more micro-nutrients than other common sugars. Also it reportedly has a lower glycemic index than refined sugar, meaning that it has a lesser impact on your blood sugar levels after eating. The best reason to use coconut palm sugar, however, is the taste. It is not quite as overly sweet as many sweeteners, and it is more complex in flavor – it notably tastes of caramel. That caramel is especially welcome in crème brûlée!
I have to admit that for the topping, I used a sprinkle of organic, unbleached cane sugar – I just wasn’t too sure of how the coconut palm sugar would handle being fired on with a blow torch. I’ll try that in the future. Part of the fun of making this wonderful dessert is blasting the sugar on top into a thin, crisp, glassy sheet that will crack like ice when you first tap it with your spoon. It is a nice contrast to the creamy custard underneath. I’m still working at getting it right – there’s a fine line between getting the sugar to caramelize and bubble up into a thin, amber glaze, and scorching it into black craters. Some people use a broiler to do this – I find you have to watch too carefully and it may or may not be evenly melted. I use a blow torch – the kind you get at the hardware store. If you turn the flame down low, and use plenty of patience, it will give you more control when melting the sugar.
This recipe is incredibly easy, but gives the impression that hard work was involved. Serve this dessert topped with fresh berries – or just by itself. It is that good!
Ingredients (Makes 4 individual servings. Can be doubled.)
- 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
- Several strips of citrus peel (lemon or orange recommended)
- Scant 1/3 cup coconut palm sugar
- 3 egg yolks
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- pinch of kosher or sea salt
- topping: 4 teaspoons organic, unbleached cane sugar or brown sugar
- optional: fresh berries
Preheat oven to 325F. Arrange 4 ramekins (6-8 ounces) in a metal baking pan.
Combine the cream and citrus peel in a saucepan and bring to a simmer. (I used the peels from 2 mandarin oranges.) Remove from heat.
Whisk sugar and egg yolks in a medium-sized bowl for a couple of minutes, until well-blended and thick. Gradually drizzle about 1/2 cup of the hot cream into the egg mixture, whisking briskly (try to say that 3 times) to temper the eggs. Then whisk the egg-cream mixture slowly into the remaining hot cream in the saucepan. Mix in vanilla and salt. Let stand for 10-15 minutes.
Strain the custard into a large measuring cup (one with a spout for easier pouring), using a fine mesh strainer to remove the lemon peel and any lumps that might have formed. Divide the strained custard among the 4 ramekins.
Fill the baking pan with water to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins, being careful not to splash water in the custard. (Note: some recipes say to use hot water, but the last 2 times I made this I used room-temp tap water and everything worked out just fine.)
Bake custards until just set in the center, about 45 minutes. Remove custards from water bath and allow to cool.
Now the fun part – I like to torch the sugar before refrigerating the custards, so that it is all chilled when serving. Sprinkle about 1 teaspoon of sugar evenly on each of the 4 custards. (It helps if you have a small sifter or strainer.) Fire up the torch and adjust to a low flame. Slowly move the flame back and forth over the sugar until it bubbles up and melts, being careful not to scorch the sugar. This takes some patience. Repeat for the remaining custards. Alternatively, if you don’t have a blow torch handy, you can place the custards on a baking sheet and stick them under a preheated broiler. Watch carefully, and broil until the sugar melts and browns (about 2 minutes).
Chill the custards for at least one hour before serving. The topping should be crisp. Top with fresh berries, if desired. Enjoy!
Two recent finds, both artists I’ve never heard before now. First, English singer Maggie Bell with Queen of the Night. Formerly the singer for Stone The Crows, Bell came to New York and made this great album with Jerry Wexler. From Dan Penn’s “A Woman Left Lonely” to a smokin’ version of “After Midnight”, she sings the heck out of this record. Criminally undiscovered!
Speaking of undiscovered we give you Black Ace with I’m the Boss Card in Your Hand. Playing slide guitar across his lap, this is the real deal blues. Haunting and strong stuff.