Now it’s official. You may consider me a bona fide foodie. Sure, I’ve been interested in cooking for as long as I can remember. I own my fair share of cookbooks. I spend way too much time watching Food Network and have subscriptions to Bon Appetit and Gourmet magazines. But I was always more of a curious bystander in the world of food. I rarely cooked anything from those magazines and cookbooks. I preferred to go to restaurants than cook at home, even though those restaurants somehow always ended up being the same old, same old. Real foodies, I figured, didn’t eat cereal for dinner or go into withdrawal without a weekly fix of Cool Ranch Doritos.
All of this changed a couple of months ago when the downturn in the economy left me with a lot more time on my hands–much of which I’ve been spending in the kitchen. I’ve learned to bake bread, make a souffle and other authentic French dishes, and have perfected my favourite restaurant dessert–creme brulee. Last week I even became the proud owner of a pastry torch.
This is serious business, I know. Who do you know that owns a pastry torch? I don’t know anybody. I thought about making this purchase for two years. Why buy a pastry torch when you can stick the creme brulee under the broiler for a few minutes? Besides, I reasoned, if I actually had a pastry torch I’d be making creme brulee all the time; my waistline would not appreciate it. But no matter how many times I tried, broiling the tops just wasn’t the same. I didn’t get the delightful crunch of caramelized sugar that seems to contrast so perfectly with the silky custard underneath.
Finally, I buckled. I took the torch home with trepidation. I had images of gassing myself or blowing up my apartment trying to fill it with butane. After a struggle with the strange English on the instruction sheet, I managed, and decided to try out my new torch immediately.
I have had company over for dessert several times since then and I can tell you nothing impresses like a homemade creme brulee. It’s so easy to make, and with the flourish of an authentic caramelized sugar topping, I promise you your friends will think you’re a genius.
Vanilla Creme Brulee
Makes 4 servings
2 egg yolks
3 tablespoons white sugar
1 1/2 cups whipping cream (heavy cream)
1 tablespoon good quality vanilla extract
4 teaspoons sugar, for caramelizing tops
Preheat oven to 300F.
Beat egg, egg yolks, 3 tablespoons sugar and the vanilla in a bowl until thick and creamy.
Scald the cream in a saucepan, stirring occasionally. Do not let it boil.
Remove the cream from heat and wisk a very small amount into the egg mixture. Add the rest in a slow, steady stream until well combined. Do not work too quickly or the eggs will scramble.
Scoop off and discard any foam that has risen to the top. Pour the mixture into 3-inch ramekins and place in a pan or ovenproof baking dish. Fill the pan or dish with boiling water halfway up the sides of the ramekins. This will ensure slow and even baking
Bake until the brulees jiggle slightly in the middle, about thirty to forty minutes, depending on your oven. Remove the pan from the oven and let the brulees cool off in the water bath for 15 minutes.
Cover with plastic wrap and allow to further set in the refrigerator for at least one hour.
To caramelize the tops before serving, sprinkle 1 teaspoon of sugar evenly over each creme brulee. Heat each with a propane torch until the sugar bubbles and browns. Let stand for a few minutes before serving.
If you don’t have a propane torch put the ramekins under a broiler for a few minutes until the tops brown.