Back when my husband and I were still just sweethearts, I wanted to surprise him, so I decided to make his favorite dessert - Creme Brulee. I'm sure I'm not the first person to have qualms about making such an intimidating dessert for the first time... And I was nervous.
But I did some research and found quite a few recipes, bought a blowtorch, and decided to conquer this custard.
Now, I still make this dessert, but with a twist. The chocolate / chili lining come together in a sweet and spicy tango with the thick, creamy custard housed beneath a crunchy caramelized top.
First, there is some equipment that you will need for this recipe. (1) You'll need 8 ramekins (7 oz) (2) a kitchen blowtorch (I know "they say" that you can caramelize the top using the broiler, but try as I might I have never been able to accomplish this without destroying the custard beneath the sugar topping - which is just a crime. Even if you only ever get a blowtorch for this recipe - it'll be worth the $15-$25).
Place 2 tablespoons of the chocolate chips into each of the ramekins. Carefully melt the chocolate chips in the microwave, stirring every 20-30 seconds, until you can stir the lumps out (about 1 1/2 minutes each).
Drop in 1/8 teaspoon of Cayenne Pepper and mix it into the chocolate until well blended. Then, using a small spatula, spread the chocolate out in an even layer up the sides and along the bottom of the ramekins. You want to leave some room at the rim, so stop about half an inch or so down. Then place the ramekins into the refrigerator until you're ready for them.
Preheat the oven to 325 and move the rack into the center of the oven.
To prepare the vanilla bean, use a paring knife to carefully slice it in half lengthwise; then you can use the paring knife to scrape the seeds out of their pods and get ready to infuse the milks with their flavor.
Pour the whipping cream and the whole milk into a saucepan. Add the vanilla seeds and the pod and bring to a simmer over medium heat, being sure to stir constantly.
Once the milk is simmering, reduce the heat to low and allow it to simmer while the vanilla flavor is infused. This usually takes about 12-15 minutes. You do not have to be stirring it constantly while you do this, but do make sure you watch it carefully and do not let a skin form on the top.
Meanwhile, in a mixing bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and the kosher salt until well blended. Then slowly add the sugar while continuing to whisk.
Once the milky mixture finished, remove the vanilla pod. Get a kettle or another sauce pan filled with water over high heat and start that to boiling while you assemble the custard.
Slowly pour the milky mixture into the eggs, making sure to whisk the entire time.
Once everything is whisked together, use a spatula or large spoon to carefully skim any foam or bubbles from the top of the custard. Then retrieve your ramekins from the refrigerator and arrange them in a large, deep baking pan. I use a 11x15x2 cake pan.
Carefully ladle the custard into the ramekins so that each receives an equal amount. It should come just to the edge of your chocolate lining.
This is when you're going to build your water bath. Place the entire pan onto the rack of your oven (you'll need to pull the rack out a little bit to allow yourself enough room to work). Then carefully pour the boiling water into the pan (hence the use of the kettle; if you don't have a kettle, use a sauce pan to boil the water and move the water to a pitcher before pouring into the pan. This will give you added control). Do not let any water get into any of the ramekins. Fill the cake pan with the water until it comes up to about halfway up the sides of the ramekins.
Bake in the oven for 45 minutes to an hour. I usually start check at the 40 minute mark. You're looking for the custards to be set, so as you pull them out of the oven you should not see them jiggling very much.
Carefully move the custards from the water bath and into the refrigerator. Chill uncovered for 3 hour. You don't want to use a cover to chill these at first, because condensation will form and wreck their beautiful texture.
After the 3 hours pass, use plastic wrap to cover the custards. Make sure that the plastic wrap actually touches the top of the custard - which will ensure that no air is getting through.
At this point, you can serve whenever you're ready. The custards will keep for a a week or two in the refrigerator like this, but you'll probably want to dig in before that.
To serve, top each ramekin with 1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons of the turbinado sugar. You can tilt the ramekins to spread the sugar out evenly. Then, get ready to torch them. Make sure you hold the blowtorch about 2-3 inches away from the sugar - and keep moving. If you leave the torch sitting over one spot for too long, you'll puncture through to the custard which is not what we want. Continue to evenly heat up the sugar until it melts together into a caramel colored crust. This is only going to take you about a minute or two per serving.
Once you've caramelized the top, you can place the custards back into the refrigerator for up to 10-15 minutes. You really should serve them right away, though; after a few minutes, the caramelized sugar will start to soften and you'll lose some of that crispy drama.