I’ll never forget my first crème brûlée (aka burnt cream). My family and I had reservations at Stanley and Seaforts for Christmas Eve dinner and Mom had been going on and on about this amazing dessert I just had to try. I, being around 10 at the time and addicted to sugar, was totally down.

Dinner had never seemed so long. Finally, our waiter spoke those wonderful words: “Would you care to look at our dessert menu?”

Mom was ready, “Oh we already know what we want, a burnt cream.” Brought to our table was a small, white ramekin filled with the mysterious delicacy. It appeared innocent enough and smelled faintly of roasted marshmallows. I went to take a dip with my spoon and was surprised by the hard crust on top. Mom explained that it was sugar that had been caramelized to form a crust.

With a little more pressure, I broke through. And with that first crack my heart fell. Hard.

My favorite thing about this dish is the contrasts hidden beneath its crisp top. Hard caramel to soft custard, warm crust to cold interior, smoky to sweet. It is simple in theory yet luxurious; the perfect end to any meal.

Since that day, I am unable to resist a crème brûlée’s alluring call from the dessert menu. You can imagine how excited I was to find the prep instructions in my Mom’s old recipe box.

I’ve been hesitant before to attempt the beauty that is a crème brûlée. Kitchen stores sell blow torches specifically for this task for goodness sake! I figured anything with its own torching device must be a bruiser to make.

The ingredients are basic enough: cream, sugar, egg yolks and vanilla extract. But hold on, you don’t get off that easy. There is a tricky factor and it involves the dreaded potential outcome of any egg-based dessert – curdling! The traditional way to prevent this is by heating the cream first and then adding it (gradually!) to the egg mixture.

However the stove top is not the only place your custard can scramble; ovens can also be a culprit, which is why your ramekins must be placed in a hot water bath. Thank goodness Mom was around because the recipe card DID NOT MENTION THIS!

All you have to do is add 1-2 inches of hot water to a large baking dish, which your ramekins sit in to cook. I recommend placing your desserts in the baking dish first, then adding the water. Otherwise you might experience some overflow.

Transferring your goods to the oven can be tricky too. You do not want water getting inside your custard – it will ruin it. Try placing your baking dish on the stove top before adding the water, that way you have less distance to travel.

After that it’s smooth sailing. Once your custards have set (they should still jiggle) remove them from the oven and chill in the fridge for at least 2 hours. Burnt cream, I also learned, is a great make-ahead dessert, which can sit for up to 24 hours.

Now comes the fun part, caramelizing! The best thing to use is a chef’s torch. But, if you don’t have one on hand you can use your broiler. However, the downside of using a broiler is that the custard will warm and lose some of its firmness. You can re-chill it, but then you lose the hot crust. I used the broiler first and then went all MacGyver on it with my nifty stand-in blow torch (i.e. a high-powered candle lighter).

And you know what? It tasted just as good as anything I’ve had in a restaurant. My mom did a great “What About Bob?” impression while eating it. If you haven’t seen the scene where he’s eating dinner with his psychiatrists family YouTube it now! And then go eat some crème brûlée.

~Brittni

Crème Brûlée
Adapted from the Clinks, family friends

This particular recipe calls for the use of 6 oz. ramekins; however, you can use any size on hand. Our 2 oz. ones were a wee bit small so I used 12 oz. ramekins, which serve two. You may have to adjust your cooking time for smaller ramekins. I found that 45 minutes was plenty for the larger 12 oz. size.

You will need:
1 pint whipping cream
4 egg yolks
½ cup granulated sugar
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
Super fine sugar for topping

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350.

Heat cream over low heat until bubbles begin to form around the edge of the pan.

Meanwhile, beat egg yolks and sugar until thick, about 3 minutes.

Gradually (key word here) add the hot cream to the egg mixture, stirring until combined. Add the vanilla and stir some more.

Pour custard mix into four, 6 oz. ramekin dishes.

Place the filled ramekins in a large baking dish. Pour hot water into the baking dish until it reaches half-way up the ramekins. Take care not to get water in your custard.

Carefully place your baking dish in the oven and cook for 45 minutes or until set. The custard should still jiggle when you give the pan a gentle shake.

Once done, remove the ramekins from the water and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to 24.

When you are ready to serve, sprinkle each custard with 1 tsp. sugar. If using an oven, set it to broil and place ramekins on top rack. Remove when medium brown in color. Chill. You can also use a chef’s torch and serve immediately.

Yield ~ four 6 oz. servings

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