Crème brûlée refers to a rich custard, served in a ramekin with a "hard" topping that comes from caramelizing sugar with a kitchen blowtorch. The first recorded recipe is from a 1691 cookbook! Crème brûlée should not be confused with Crème Caramel which, after baking/cooling, is inverted onto a serving dish resulting in glorious caramel oozing out/over. (I have two versions of such flans which I will share soon.)
This Crème brûlée recipe comes directly from Ina Garten's Barefoot in Paris, and appears online at Food Network with a video. I have tried others, but this has proven to be foolproof. She prefaces the recipe by saying it is "the ultimate 'guy' dessert. Make it and he'll follow you anywhere." Who knows if that's true, but I can say that it used to be Mr. KB's favourite restaurant dessert pick. I say "used to be" because now that it appears in the KB Kitchen - he uses eating out experiences to try other desserts that do not appear at home. This recipe is shockingly easy to make. Promise to never reveal this to guests - let them think you have fussed for hours. The "just before serving" blast with a kitchen blowtorch fills a room with the amazing aroma of burnt sugar and the blowtorch adds drama to the event. Bonus: after baking and cooling you must "refrigerate until firm", so that might as well be the day before - and thus this is a great "make ahead" - in fact, it can be made up to 3 days ahead!
Prerequisites - a kitchen blowtorch - easy to find these days and not too costly. Ramekins (or canning / jam jars) and a pan for the water bath. Tip: see my description of a Crème Brûlée Set, and read all tips below before you begin.
Preheat the oven to 300 F.
1 extra-large egg
4 extra-large egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
3 cups heavy cream
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 TB orange liqueur (recommended: Grand Marnier)
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix the egg, egg yolks, and sugar together on low speed until just combined. Meanwhile, scald the cream in a small saucepan until it's very hot to the touch but not boiled. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the cream to the eggs. Add the vanilla and orange liqueur and pour into 6 to 8-ounce ramekins until almost full.
Place the ramekins in a baking pan and carefully pour boiling water into the pan to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake at 300 F, for 35 to 40 minutes, until the custards seem "set" when gently shaken. Remove the custards from the water bath, cool to room temperature, and refrigerate until firm.
To serve, sprinkle about 1 tablespoon of sugar evenly on the top of each ramekin and heat with a kitchen blowtorch until the sugar caramelizes evenly. Allow to sit at room temperature for a minute until the caramelized sugar hardens.
Notes and Tips...
Eggs - as always, best if these are at room temperature. Note that it is easier to separate eggs when they are still cold. Remember you can freeze the egg whites. See my Tips page on this which includes links to recipes that use egg whites. Recipes that I list sometimes call for only 2 egg whites, so it may be best to freeze them in quantities of two whites per freezer bag.
Scalding cream - refers to heating cream over medium heat just to / before the boiling point. Best not to be too distracted in this stage. The cream will begin to steam, small bubbles will appear around the edge and just begin to form on the surface - that's the point where you remove the pot from the heat. Occasional light stirring helps ensure that a "skin" does not form on the surface, and can prevent sugars from burning on the bottom of the pan. Do not stir in a strenuous way that might scrape up impurities from the bottom of the pan.
Adding hot cream - adding scalded cream to a mostly egg yolk mixture introduces the danger of "cooking" the eggs. The trick, especially at first, is to drizzle in the hot cream very slowly - of course, with the mixer on low speed. As the egg mixture is tempered (slowly warming up from the addition of the hot cream) the cream can be adding a bit more quickly. Consider transferring the hot cream from the hot saucepan into something that makes controlled pouring easier - a measuring cup, for example.
Lumps? - I have been lucky and have never "cooked" the eggs, but if you noticed a few lumps, the mixture can be strained before pouring it into the ramekins
Foam? - Ina's tip is to skim off any foam that might form from the cream / egg combo
How many ramekins? - because I use the ramekin set, I end up with 8 servings, but if your ramekins are larger you may end up with only 6. No ramekins? Consider using canning jars - they are designed to withstand heat and can look great!
Water bath pan? - as per my tip below, it is better to have the ramekins in two smaller pans than one large roasting pan.
Water bath - also known as "bain marie". If you're not using the nice little ramekin set with the rack, you will be placing them in a pan - ideally with a tea towel on the bottom. Watch this video from @thekitchn and/or Google "bain marie ramekin" and click on the "image" results for various views of how this can be done.
Adding boiling water - to the water bath might seem easy, but I think it requires a bit of care - especially since you are working with boiling water. It's important to avoid having water drop / spill onto the surface of the custard in the ramekins. Pour slowly and into the largest opening - usually in a corner or at the side of the pan. I like to use a wide spatula as a protective barrier between the pouring and the closest ramekin.
Cooling to room temperature - the ramekins must be removed from the water as soon as they come out of the oven, otherwise they will keep cooking in the hot water. Lifting out a pan, filled with water and ramekins can be tricky, so be careful. If you don't have the ramekin set, it might still be better to put your ramekins into two smaller pans than one large roasting pan - makes it easier to handle taking it out of the oven.
Storing in fridge - once they are totally cooled, I cover each tightly with plastic wrap and store them in the fridge - can be done 3 days ahead!
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