Creme Brulee is one of the most popular desserts we teach at Exeter Cookery School. And Devon produce plays a major roll in that popularity.
Crème Brûlée is one of those classic French dessert recipes that chefs seem to insist on “enhancing”: adding bits of fruit, nuts or even oatmeal! I suppose their reasoning is that nobody could possibly be interested in such a simple dessert in these complex foodie days.
Well, they are wrong. Crème Brûlée is Crème Brûlée. It is beautiful, it is perfect and it doesn’t need fiddling with. If you want to add foreign bodies to it, then serve it simply alongside some fresh raspberries or other hedgerow fruits.
The easiest – and possibly least stressful way – to caramelise the top is with a blowtorch. However, it’s perfectly acceptable to place the sugared puddings under a very hot pre-heated grill until golden and bubbling (watch them like a hawk, though, as sugar can burn very easily). Remember to leave the desserts to rest for a while in order to let the sugar harden and the ramekins cool down.
By the way, the Spanish have a dessert – called Crema Catalana – which is essentially identical bar the flavouring: instead of vanilla, they use cinnamon. And in typically flamboyant Spanish style, they singe the top with a red hot branding iron!
NB. Although accredited to Trinity College, Cambridge and called, somewhat unromantically, ‘Burnt Cream’, Crème Brûlée has been adopted by the French who added vanilla to the list of ingredients turning it into one of the world’s sexiest desserts.
Whatever its origins there is no doubt that, had a dessert called ‘Burnt Cream’ been on the world’s restaurant menus, it would not have achieved the classic French dessert status it enjoys to this day.
- 500ml (18fl oz) double cream
- 1 fat juicy vanilla pod
- 100g (4oz) caster sugar (plus extra for the topping)
- 5 egg yolks (at room temperature)
- 2 whole eggs (at room temperature)
Pre-heat the oven to gas 110C° (230°F)
Pour the cream into a saucepan. Split the vanilla pod lengthways and scrape the seeds into the cream. Chop the empty pod into bits, and add these too. Add the sugar. Bring to boiling point, then turn off the heat and put a lid on. Leave to infuse for five to ten minutes.
Bring the cream back to a rolling boil, then pour over the eggs whisking vigorously until thickened – this indicates that the eggs have begun to cook slightly (you should have a smooth custard the consistency of double cream).
Strain through a fine sieve into a large jug, then use this to fill six ramekins about two thirds full.
Place the ramekins in a large roasting tray and pour in enough hot water to come halfway up their sides. Place on the centre shelf and bake for 40 minutes to one hour, or until the custards are just set and still a bit wobbly in the middle.
Remove from the water and allow to cool to room temperature.
When you’re ready to serve, evenly sprinkle one level teaspoon of caster sugar over the surface of each Crème, then caramelise with a blowtorch. Leave to cool for a couple of minutes, then enjoy one of France’s greatest contributions to eating pleasure!