Contributed by Bryce Lambert There are few sounds in the culinary world more satisfying than the crack of caramelized sugar as you dig into a creme brulee. And there are few kitchen gadgets more exciting to use than the kitchen torch. So, we set out to make this dish that has a reputation for being something you order off prix fixe menus or while on vacation in Paris.
But, like most French bistro food, it's actually incredibly easy to make at home (once you get the hang of the torch) from basic ingredients you probably always have on hand. What keeps most people from making this delicious restaurant-style dessert is their lack of the necessary equipment. Because while the ingredients are common, creme brulee's signature wide shallow ramekins and the essential sugar-caramelizing torch are not.
It's for this reason that one often sees low-priced "creme brulee kits" for sale. These include a couple ramekins, a torch, and sometimes even a baking pan with a kind of canning-rack-like contraption to lift hot ramekins out of it. Don't buy this, unless you're only interested in a single use. The ramekins are cheap and the torches are worse, often leaky and underpowered (even compared to the same model that's sold individually).
Really, there's no reason your creme brulee apparatus should go the route of your fondue pot and hand crank ice cream maker. So don't buy it as the kind of novelty these kits make it out to be. A good kitchen torch is great for melting cheese, searing meat, and quickly roasting peppers. And you might not be into Sous-vide yet, but if you ever experiment with low-temperature cooking, a torch is an essential piece of gear.
Didriks carries the Rösle kitchen torch, a high end, compact torch that packs a punch...but unlike some high-powered kitchen torches, doesn't kick out so much butane that it blows the sugar around in your creme brulee, making it difficult to caramelize properly. It's comfortable in the hand and the flame is easy to adjust.
As for the ramekins, they're useful too. The wide, shallow ramekins used for creme brulee are great for oven-to-table dishes like individually-sized quiches, baked eggs, and tarts and other desserts. Our creme brulee was cooked & served in a Pillivuyt Pillenium ramekin. Pillenium is Pillivuyt's new-age porcelain compound that allows for strong, while thin-walled, dishes with high heat conductivity. The Pillenium ramekin is also quite a dainty dish that holds a small portion of creme brulee just to our liking beautifully inside its sculpted edges.
- 2 cups heavy (or whipping) cream
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 3 egg yolks
- extra sugar for topping
- Set oven at 300°
- Combine cream and 1/4 cup sugar in a large saucepan and bring to a light simmer, whisking lightly...about 5 minutes over medium heat.
- While the cream is cooking, beat the the egg yolks and whisk in the vanilla in a medium mixing bowl. (Use a bowl with a spout if you have one...it makes pouring the cream mixture into the ramekins much easier.)
- Slowly pour the hot cream into the bowl with the eggs, whisking quickly as you go to keep the eggs from cooking. Continue to whisk until you have a light froth and pour the mixture into 4-6 ramekins.
- Place ramekins in a baking pan (or pans, depending on how they fit) and fill the pan with very hot tap water, so that the ramekins are about halfway under water. Cover the pans with tinfoil, tearing two holes in the foil to let the steam vent.
- Bake for 25-30 minutes at 300°.
- Remove from oven and, using an oven mitt, remove the ramekins from the baking pan so they don't overcook while sitting in the hot water. The custard should be well set, about the consistency of pudding.
- Chill ramekins in the fridge for at least 5 hours.
- BEFORE SERVING, let the ramekins come up towards room temperature for about 20 minutes.
- Sprinkle about 1 tablespoon of sugar evenly over the top of the custard.
- Bring a kitchen torch in close to the custard and, moving it in small circles, heat the sugar as evenly as you can. Once it starts to brown and bubble, pull the torch back and, still with a circular motion, continue to caramelize the sugar until it's reached a medium-dark brown color.
- Enjoy the delicious smell of caramelizing sugar.
- The sugar will still be hot and soft, so give it about a minute to cool and harden before serving and cracking it with a spoon.