Baked custard topped with torched sugar to form a lovely crunchy crust. That is creme brulee.
My family loves leche flan. They like the custard to be smooth and creamy but they’re not very particular about the caramel syrup topping. So, I thought I’d introduce them to another kind of topping. Made from sugar just like the traditional syrup but something crunchy that actually forms a crust. In short, I made creme brulee for Noche Buena. It was really all we had for Noche Buena because we were still too full from the ox tongue with corn that we had for dinner just a few hours earlier.
The custards were prepared and cooked hours earlier. They had been chilling in the fridge since before dinner time and, by 11.30 p.m., they were nicely firm and waiting for the crunchy sugar topping. We took a break from our Scrabble game, Speedy and Sam took turns in torching the sugar while I took photos.
Note that there are many ways of forming the crunchy topping. If you don’t have a kitchen torch, you can place the sugar-topped cold custard under the broiler to melt and caramelize the sugar. Or you can flambe the custard by pouring brandy or rum over it and setting the alcohol to flame. This recipe uses a kitchen (butane) torch.
- 2 cups cream
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 4 heaping tablespoons white sugar
- 4 egg yolks
- 4 tablespoons brown sugar
- Preheat the oven to 325F.
- Start by scalding the cream and the vanilla extract. “Scalding” means gently heating, over low heat, and without allowing to reach boiling point.
- While the cream scalds, add the white sugar to the egg yolks.
- Mix together the egg yolks and sugar until the sugar is fully dissolved. DO NOT BEAT.
- Take about half a cup of the heated cream and pour into the egg-sugar mixture. Mix. You are tempering the egg yolks at this point so that they do not cook and curdle. When the mixture is smooth, pour in the rest of the cream. MIX WITHOUT BEATING so that bubbles do not form. Bubbles are the most serious nemesis of custard and you really want to keep them away.
- Pour the mixture into ramekins. Dot the surface with a tissue to get rid of bubbles formed while pouring.
- Place the ramekins in baking dishes and pour boiling water into the baking dishes halfway up the height of the ramekins. Be careful not to let any water drip into the ramekins.
- Bake the custards for 30 to 35 minutes. Immediately remove from the water bath and cool for about 10 minutes before putting in the fridge. Chill for at least three hours.
- Spinkle the brown sugar over the cold custards. Level off with the back of a spoon.
- Turn on your kitchen torch and start melting the sugar. Use circular motions, going slow and watching the sugar as it melts and caramelizes. It’s an amazing process, really, seeing the sugar turn to the color of amber then getting darker. The tiny brown spots grow bigger and darker as you keeping spraying the surface of the custard with heat. It’s fun torching the sugar, that’s why Speedy and Sam took turns doing it, but remember that there is a thin, thin line between perfectly caramelized sugar and burnt sugar, and burst sugar tastes terribly bitter. So don’t have too much fun with the kitchen torch.
- As soon as one custard is done, move to the next. And repeat the process… Going ’round and ’round until the topping is nicely covered with brown spots.