Crème Brulée is one of those classic French dessert recipes that chefs seem to insist on "enhancing" - adding bits of fruit, nuts, or – worse still – oatmeal. I suppose their reasoning is that nobody could possibly be interested in such a simple dessert in these complex foodie days. They are wrong. Crème Brulée is Crème Brulée. It is beautiful. If you want to add foreign bodies to it, then it isn’t Crème Brulée anymore. Got it? Good!
Rant over. Now, I think the easiest, and possibly least stressful way to caramalise the topping is with a blowtorch. However, as most people don't own one, and calling out the plumber at nine in the evening could prove a tad expensive, just place the sugared puddings under a very hot pre-heated grill until golden and bubbling (watch them like a hawk, though). Remember to leave the desserts to rest for a while in order to let the suger harden and the ramekins cool down.
The Spanish have a dessert - called Crema Catalana - which is essentially identical, bar the flavouring: instead of vanilla, use a stick of cinamon, broken into pieces. In typical flamboyant Spanish style, they singe the top with a red hot iron!
500ml (18fl oz) double cream
1 fat juicy vanilla pod
approx. 100g (4oz) caster sugar (plus extra for the topping)
6 egg yolks
Pre-heat the oven to gas Mk1 (140C°/275°F)
Pour the cream into a saucepan. Split the vanilla pod lengthways and scrape the seeds into the cream. Chop the empty pod into bits, and add these too. Bring to boiling point, then lower the heat and simmer gently for five minutes.
Beat the sugar and egg yolks together in a large heat-proof bowl until pale and creamy. Bring the cream back to boiling point, then pour over the egg mixture, whisking all the time until thickened – this indicates that the eggs have begun to cook slightly.
Strain through a fine sieve into a large jug, then use this to fill 6 ramekins about two thirds full. Place the ramekins in a large roasting tray and pour in enough hot water to come halfway up their sides. Place on the centre shelf and bake for about 30 minutes, or until the custards are just set and still a bit wobbly in the middle. Remove from the water and allow to cool to room temperature.
When you’re ready to serve, sprinkle one level teaspoon of caster sugar evenly over the surface of each crème, then caramelise with a blowtorch.
Leave to cool for a couple of minutes, then enjoy one of France’s greatest contributions to eating pleasure!
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