Crème Brúlée, also known as ‘Crema Catalana’ in Spain is one of those desserts that seem to put off a lot of people since you usually find them at restaurants and not at home.
However, this is a total misconception.
If I can make it, anyone can make it and I even have a nifty trick to produce the crunchy sugar topping without having to go out and buy an expensive blowtorch or risk burning your Crème Brúlée under a hot grill!
So, what is Crème Brúlée and what makes this recipe so easy and delicious?
Essentially, Crème Brúlée is good, old fashioned custard except it is more richly flavoured and has a set creamy texture. The ‘ brûlée’ element stems from the fact that there is caramelised sugar on top which is essentially slightly burnt to produce the golden top. The mark of a good creme brûlée is for this topping to be thin but solid, making a distinct crack when you come to take a spoonful and for the custard underneath to be exceptionally smooth and not curdled, which is probably one of the trickier parts of this recipe.
Excellent Crème Brúlée starts with a good double cream which should have around 40% butterfat (most supermarkets stock this and a low heat to bake it without overcooking it.
The next best part of a Crème Brúlée is the caramelized crunchy layer on top of it, which is usually created using a blowtorch but since most people don’t have blowtorches lying around in their kitchen, it is easier to simply use a spoon. It is literally as simple as placing a metal spoon on your stove top with the flames on high for 5 minutes before serving. Then, sprinkle 1 tbsp of sugar on top of each Crème Brúlée and burn the top of it by slowly sliding the hot spoon over it. As soon as the spoon cools off you have to wash it thoroughly and scrub it to remove the bits of caramel from underneath it in order to re-heat it again.
It’s as simple as that!
- 450ml double cream
- 50ml whole milk
- 2 vanilla pods, split, seeds scraped out (I actually used 2tbsp of Nielsen Massey vanilla bean paste because it gives the gourmet ‘flecked’ effect without using an actual pod)
- 5 free-range egg yolks
- 75g caster sugar
- One large orange (this is optional, oranges are in season right now and they add a warming twist to this recipe-perfect for cold winter’s nights)
- Preheat the oven to 150C/300F/Gas 2. Pour the cream and the milk into a heavy-bottomed
- pan over a medium heat and gently bring to a simmer. (Do be careful not to let it boil or it will overflow all over the stove top)
- Split the vanilla pods down the middle with a sharp knife, if using. Scrape out the seeds with the knife and add the seeds and the pods (or the vanilla extract) to the cream and milk mixture. If using the orange, now is the time to grate the rind into strips and to add it to the warm milk and cream mixture. Stir well to combine.
- Pour the caster sugar into the bowl with the yolks. Whisk together the egg yolks and the caster sugar until well combined. The sugar should mostly be dissolved into the yolks and the mixture slightly paler in colour.
- When the cream and milk mixture is coming up to a simmer, pour it through a strainer (to remove the orange rind and/or vanilla pods) into the bowl with the egg yolk mixture. Stir thoroughly for a minute or two to completely dissolve the sugar.
- Ladle the brûlée mixture into four medium sized ramekins, or if you would prefer, one large serving dish.
- Place the crème brûlée dishes into a deep baking tray and pour hot water into the tray, until the water reaches halfway up the sides of the dishes (this is called a bain-marie).
- Place the bain-marie into the preheated oven and cook the crème brûlée for about 30-35 minutes, until set firm but still with a slight wobble. Allow to cool. You can place the brûlées in the fridge at this stage if you’re not serving them immediately.
- Immediately before serving: Place a metal spoon on your stove top with the flames on high for 5 minutes.
- Sprinkle 1 tbsp of sugar on top of each Crème Brúlée and burn the top of it by slowly sliding the hot spoon over it. As soon as the spoon cools off you have to wash it thoroughly and scrub it to remove the bits of caramel from underneath it in order to re-heat it again.
Serve cold or at room temperature. The Brúlée only maintains its crunchiness for around an hour, so serve as soon as prepared.