Monday, September 29, 2008
twd: creme brûlée, part one
pre-bruleed espresso custard
Florida heat shimmered outside in counterpoint to the air conditioning blasting inside. A group of five diverse grad school friends, tense after two days of Fort Walton Beach escapades, sat down for a lovely meal at a restaurant whose name escapes me. The tranquil, marine themed ambience soothed the jagged edges of a too-long mini-break with too-many strong-willed women.
My friend S. ordered creme brûlée for dessert, and when it appeared, crackling and beckoning from its shallow ramekin, I edged my spoon closer. The magic of that crack of the sugar crust and the give of the custard, the pure vanilla bliss of that first bite, revealed a whole new world beyond cakes and pies and cookies. I was smitten.
Over the years I've baked creme brûlée at home with mixed success--the trick of any custard is tempering and not scrambling the eggs. Dining out, I used creme brulee as a litmus test of restaurants' dessert menu.
And so, this week's TWD recipe, a classic creme brûlée, chosen by Mari of Mevrouw Cupcake, revived memories of creme brûlées past. I decided to follow Dorie's recipe and cooking directions fairly closely to see if her method was more successful than hot stove top stirring and water baths of my previous attempts at creating a perfect custard.
I made just a few modifications:
1. I halved the recipe and set out three small porcelain ramekins
2. I followed the espresso variation, dissolving instant espresso rather than infusing the milk with freshly ground beans
3. I used one yolk from a jumbo farm fresh egg
4. I used skim milk in place of whole
Because of these changes, the custard didn't set quite as firmly as I would've liked, but Dorie's directions, unsurprisingly, produced the smoothest custard I've ever made. I'll definitely follow her tempering directions again.
I refrigerated the individual custards after baking, and last night after dinner I set one out to warm slightly before sprinkling with raw sugar and sticking under the broiler, as my kitchen torch is on the fritz.
I watched and waited, moving the ramekin with tongs to evenly brown under the broiler. The sugar crystals slowly fused into a slick, caramel expanse.
I hovered over the dish with my spoon, awaiting that magical moment of cracking the crust...
fabulous. The slight bitter acidity of the espresso contrasted and even accented the voluptuousness of the custard in a way that pure vanilla does not. I fought the temptation to a) lick the inside of the ramekin and b) fire up the broiler for another serving.
Dorie's recipe for creme brûlée is simple and rewarding--sheer elegance and depth of flavor achieved with minimal labor. Another delicious revelation!
creme brûlée bliss