This week’s Food for Thought quote comes to us from Ambrose Bierce, who was, apparently, not a fan of custard.
I thought the custard my mom would make when I was a kid a fine dessert, but given the choice today, I would more than gladly exchange her sprinkling of nutmeg over the top for a layer of turbinado sugar, melted with a kitchen flame thrower (what? you don’t have one?!?) or, if you really do not have your own flame thrower, your oven’s broiler. Heavenly.
I should note: this is the first time I’ve attempted to make crème brûlée, and I made a few mistakes – baked it too long, then left it under the broiler a bit longer than I should’ve (ermmm, my flame thrower failed to ignite – oops!) – but it still came out tasting creamily delicious – and that melted sugar on top? Cracked beautifully with the rap of a dessert spoon to give us hard sugar shell bits mixed in with maple and vanilla cream.
And, pretty simple to make, with the help of a microwave.
Y’see, you need to scald the cream, which you could do on top of the stove, but it is so much simpler in the ‘wave. But first, let’s get to the recipe, courtesy of Jacques Torres.
•1 wooden skewer
•2 cups heavy cream
•1/2 vanilla bean
•1 small egg
•3 large egg yolks
•7 tbsp Grade B maple syrup
•Turbinado sugar, for topping
•6 (4-oz) brulee molds
Note: I didn’t bother buying a dozen ‘small’ eggs – I just used what I had in the fridge, one whole large egg and the yolks from three other.
Heat your oven to 325º and, if you have one, set it for convection.
Pour the cream into a ‘wave-safe bowl and place the wooden skewer in it as shown. The skewer, by breaking the surface of the cream, will help to keep it from superheating in the ‘wave and bubbling over.
Slice open the half vanilla bean and scrape the seeds into the cream with the tip of a knife. Chuck the bean in, too.
Pop into the ‘wave and cook on high for one minute. Remove the cream and give it a stir, then return to the ‘wave for one more minute on high. If an instant read thermometer reads 185º, you’ve scalded your cream and you’re good to go. If it doesn’t, pop the cream back into the ‘wave and hit 30 seconds. Stir and check the temp and continue, if needed, in 30 second bursts, until you’ve reached the magic 185º number.
Fit the whisk attachment to your stand mixer and combine the egg, egg yolks, and maple syrup until nicely mixed.
With the mixer on low, slowly pour the scalded cream mixture into the mixing bowl until it has all been added.
Pour this mixture through a fine meshed sieve to strain out any bits of cooked egg and the vanilla bean and seeds.
Note: as Chef Torres pointed out in his recipe, things will be much easier for you if you strain the mixture into a large container with a pouring spout – my two quart measuring cup worked a treat.
Arrange your brûlée molds on a rimmed baking sheet and fill each half way (this makes transferring the pan to the oven a bit easier.
Once each mold is half filled, transfer to the oven and fill the brûlée molds the rest of the way up.
Note: if you have a convection oven, and have turned that setting on, you can slide the custard into the oven and set your timer. If you don’t, you will need to add water to the rimmed baking pan about half way up the side of the brûlée molds.
Cooking temps and time are the same for convection or regular baking, 30 to 40 minutes. Chef Torres said 40 minutes, but as you can see, mine were a touch over browned on top. Next time, I will start checking at 30 minutes – the custard should wobble just a bit when shaken gently and there should be no liquid under the top skin.
Remove from the oven and transfer to a cooling rack for 30 minutes.
Stash the custards in the fridge for at least two hours, or for up to three days.
When ready to serve, gather your flame thrower – or heat your broiler – and sprinkle the top of each custard with the turbinado sugar to cover evenly.
Heat under the broiler for four minutes – or apply the flame thrower to each dish – until the sugar has melted into a hard shell on top of the custard.