about bliss

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


  1. What a fantastic description! Your brulee looks beautiful and so is your writing!

  2. I love that your did an espresso variation! Looks delicious.

  3. you and Steve are dessert twins! His litmus test for restaurant desserts is also creme brulee. Or, failing that, tiramisu. I've made creme brulee for him several times, but not deviated from the original. I just might have to for espresso creme brulee, though. Heaven!

  4. thanks, teanna! and yes, sweet charity, the espresso is divine.

    hey, i want to make this again! we should have a creme brulee swap night, wishokie:)

  5. Your creme brulee sounds wonderful- what a great post. Keep it up! :)

  6. This post took me on the journey with you! Thanks for the ride. Off to read part 2 now...

  7. Wow, gorgeous writing. What a pleasure to come here. I loved reading your profile also. What do you teach? I teach PT Humanities at the state college-soon to be U- in southern UT. Your favorite books could have been stolen from my list! I love them all. I'm coming back and often!

  8. thanks, everyone! this was such a fun recipe.

    prudy, i teach English, both writing and American literature, and I'm an Edith Wharton junkie:) thanks for stopping by!