Saturday, June 9, 2012

Crème Brûlée & Life Changes

Amélie is a shy young woman with a pronounced taste for all life's small pleasures: immersing one's hand in a sack of grain, craking the crust of a crème brulée with the back of a teaspoon or skipping stones on the Canal St-Martin.

Amélie (2001) {one of my favorite movies & soundtracks}

In my nearly 7-month absence from this blog, there have been many life-changes happening.  Most of them have been pretty major.  And most of the changes have occurred in the last month or so.

At the end of April, I finished teaching my final semester at the Culinary Institute of Charleston.  On May 18th, I got married!   After a brief honeymoon, we started packing my beloved Charleston apartment.  Last week, I said goodbye (for now) to Charleston and my many dear Charleston friends, and I moved to southwest Texas to be with my husband.  So yes, just a few changes!

Life is really full of unknowns right now... One of the most pressing unknowns being whether or not the moving company will successfully and safely transport all my possessions to my new home in Texas!  But I am excited to see what this new Texas life holds.

I am currently without my kitchen equipment/tools/books/dishes, other than my knife kit which we were able to cram into my car, so much of my "normal" baking is a bit of a stretch.  I did move into what has previously been a bachelor's kitchen :)

But there is a silver lining!  Several weeks before the wedding, when I was being inundated with packages on a daily basis & was starting to feel like I was living out of boxes (only I had yet to start packing), we changed the addresses on our wedding registries to the Texas address.  So upon arriving here in Texas, there were many wedding present boxes to open!

 One gift, from Preston, a friend of a friend who I met in France 2 years ago and who ironically is from South Carolina, included the cookbook Barefoot in Paris by Ina Garten.  Another gift, from my next door neighbors growing up in North Dakota, included the gorgeous Ocean-colored Le Creuset gratin dishes from one of our registries.

This weekend we're having dinner with some friends and I volunteered to make dessert.  As I was brainstorming ideas (something easy... something comforting... something I had the equipment & ingredients on hand to make.... a crowd pleaser), crème brûlée popped into my head!  What a perfect way to use the new gratin dishes AND to use a recipe from the new cookbook.

I checked around online and on my favorite time-wasting categorizing site Pinterest, I discovered that crème brûlée isn't as popular on the blogosphere as I thought it would be.  To be honest, it isn't a dessert I have made often since my days at The Sanctuary either.  But it should be one I make more often!

Crème brûlée doesn't require a crazy amount of ingredients—I actually had all the ingredients already.  It is very adaptable to the flavorings you have on hand (or just wish to include).  It isn't difficult to make (though it does require chilling time before you brûlée it).  It bakes at a low temperature, so you do not need to worry about over-heating your home on a hot summer day.  It always reminds me of Amelie, one of my most favorite movies!  And honestly, who doesn't like creamy pudding with a caramel crust on top! 

Most often, I like to serve crème brûlée with something crunchy.... a cookie, or a tulle, or a biscotti...  Just to add a variety of textures to the dessert.  But this time, I decided to go a more simple route & just include some delicious strawberries instead.  Mmmm.... so yummy!  I can hardly wait for our upcoming dinner!

Creme Brûlée tips & tricks
  • You can easily change the flavor of the base custard by changing the extract or liqueur.  You can also infuse the cream with a variety of different things, such as coffee,  tea (earl grey is particularly nice), citrus, herbs/spices, nuts, etc., by gently simmering the cream with the desired ingredient, turning off of the heat, covering the pot, and allowing the cream to steep.  Then strain out the ingredient, reheat the cream & continue with the remaining recipe.  
  • Creme brûlée needs to be baked in a water bath.  I suggest placing your empty gratin dishes or ramekins into an oven-proof pan that preferably has sides (to help contain the water).  I used several glass pyrex baking dishes.  Portion the custard into the gratin dishes or ramekins, then pull out your oven rack and place the pan onto the rack.  THEN pour hot water (slowly) around the gratin dishes.  
  • Try not to get any of the water bath liquid into the custard.... Tends to ruin them :(  
  • Bake the custards until they are just set.  They should jiggle underneath the top skin that has formed during baking, but they should not ripple.  
  • Don't overbake creme brûlée, or else the egg proteins and the liquid will separate, which not only looks bad, but also tastes terrible!  
  • Instead of purchasing a tiny "creme brûlée torch," do yourself a favor: visit your favorite hardware store & pick up a propane torch.  They're more affordable, much more efficient at brûléeing things than the sissy small torches, and most will self-light.  Plus, you look much more impressive with the big torch :)  
  • But, at the same time, try not to torch the cloth napkin next to the custard!  It doesn't mean good things for the napkin, and you don't want to start a real fire.... 
  • You can easily freeze crème brûlée by wrapping the baked custards individually, and then freezing.  When you're ready to serve them, just remove from the freezer, let stand a few minutes, sugar, and torch!  The heat of the torch usually thaws them enough so that they are icy cold, but not frozen.  

adapted from Ina Garten's Barefoot in Paris
yields 6 to 8 servings, depending on size

650 g (3 cups) of heavy cream 1 large egg
120 g egg yolks {this took about 8 yolks.... Ina's original recipe called for extra large eggs & yolks, which I did not have, so I converted the formula to grams instead}
100 g (1/2 cup) granulated sugar
1 tsp Vanilla Extract (I used Vanilla Bean paste)
1 Tbl Grand Marnier (or other liqueur of your choice)
additional sugar for torching the top

1.  Preheat oven to 300 F. Heat the cream to a simmer in a non-reactive sauce pan.  You can tell when the cream is simmering by the presence of bubbles around the edges & a slight amount of steam.

2.  Meanwhile, whisk the egg, yolks, granulated sugar, and flavorings until well combined.  When the cream is simmering, temper it into the egg mixture, but slowly pouring the hot cream into the egg mixture while gently whisking constantly.... We don't want to make scrambled egg custard!

3.  Portion the custard evenly into either gratin dishes or ramekins that have been placed inside another baking dish.  Stir to keep the vanilla beans from the paste well dispersed throughout the custard.  Pull out the oven rack, carefully place the dish full of custard-filled dishes onto the rack.  Pour hot water into the large dish, being careful not to pour water into the custard.  Ideally, the water should reach a third to half way up your dishes.  Gently push the rack back into the oven.

4.  Bake until the custard is just set.  This time will depend on how deep your dishes are. Check the custards after 20 minutes. For me, the baking time took between 25 and 30 minutes.

5.  Once set, remove the custards from the oven & carefully remove them from the water bath.  Don't burn yourself on the water bath water!  Cool completely, cover, and store in the refrigerator overnight.

6.  Just before service, remove the custards from the refrigerator.  Sprinkle sugar over the surface.  You want enough sugar to cover the custard, but not mountains of it.  Pour off any excess (preferably onto the next custard!).  Start your torch and brulee until golden.  Remember, color is flavor :)

7.  Serve immediately.  Make sure to listen for the satisfying "snap" of the crust cracking!


  1. I'm so glad you're able to blog again!

  2. I love making creme brulee! I have to broil the tops to make the crust because I don't have a torch...but it is still delicious. One of my favorite desserts! Hope you're getting settled in your new life.

  3. This looks amazing. I will try it soon!

  4. How long can they stay frozen before use?

    1. I've eaten creme brûlée that was tightly wrapped & frozen almost a month, but I'd probably keep it within a week or two, if possible.

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