Creme brulee: the French really got this right

Foodies - Ian Leatt
Foodies – Ian Leatt

The birth of creme brulee all started with a Frenchman, Francois Massialot, and his 1691 recipe book. But a few decades later, in his Cuisinier roïal et bourgeois book, Massialot changed the name of his own recipe from creme brulee to “creme anglaise.” (I guess it didn’t stick.)
In the early 18th century in England, it was sometimes called “burnt cream,” and later labelled “trinity cream.”
Whatever you want to call it, this custard dessert is so light that it could truly be enjoyed at any time of the day – even in the morning, with your regular cafe creme fix. Having been introduced many years ago to this delicate treat, I always hanker for a little of the sweet stuff.
Custard being a makeup of eggs, cream, milk and sugar (or salt), it’s fun to make in all its forms. From apple pie and custard to creme caramel, to simple bread and butter pudding, it is enjoyed in many fashions, though a great number probably don’t realize that it’s custard they’re eating.

2 cups of whipping cream (36%)
½ cup of 3% milk
1 vanilla pod
5 large egg yolks
⅛ cup of fine sugar (confectioner’s), plus extra for topping
1 teaspoon of mixed spice
1 carton fresh, cleaned raspberries

Place the egg yolks and sugar in a mixing bowl and whisk for 1 minute or until paler in colour and a bit fluffy. Pour the carton of cream into a non-stick pan with the milk.
Lay the vanilla pod on a chopping board and slice lengthways through the middle with a sharp knife to split it in two. Use the tip of the knife to scrape out all the tiny seeds into the cream mixture. Drop the vanilla pod in, then put the pan with the cream on a burner at medium heat and bring almost to a boil. As soon as bubbles appear around the edge of the pan, remove from the heat.
Pour the hot cream into the beaten egg yolks, mixing with a wire whisk as you pour. Place a sieve over a large wide-mouthed jug or bowl and pour the hot mixture through, straining it. Using a big spoon, scoop off all the pale foam that forms on top of the liquid (this could be several spoonfuls) and discard. Give the mixture a final stir.
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Sit four ramekins in a deep roasting tin at least 7.5 cm deep (or a large deep cake tin). The tin must be deep enough to support a baking sheet well above the ramekins when the baking sheet is laid across its top.
Pour in enough hot water (from the tap is fine) into the roasting tin to come almost halfway up the side of the ramekins. Pour the hot cream mixture into the ramekins, filling them to the top.
Put them in the oven and lay a baking sheet over the top of the tin so it sits well above the ramekins but completely covers them. Leave a small gap at one side of the tin to allow air to circulate. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes until the mixture is softly set.
To check, gently sway the roasting tin. If the creme brulees are ready, they will wobble a bit in the middle like a jelly. Don’t let them get too firm. Remove from the oven.
Lift the ramekins out of the roasting tin with oven gloves and set them on a wire rack to cool for a couple of minutes only, then put in the fridge to cool completely. (This can be done overnight without affecting the texture.)
When ready to serve, add some raspberries to the mixture, wipe around the top edge of the dishes, and sprinkle some fine sugar and mixed spice over each ramekin, spreading it out with the back of a spoon to completely cover. Spray with a little water; use a fine spray to just dampen the sugar, then use a blow torch to caramelize it. Hold the flame just above the sugar and keep moving it round and round until the sugar is caramelized.
Serve when the brulee is firm, within an hour or two. Add some raspberries on top and a sprig or two of mint to finish.

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