My lovely niece, Emilea, is a talented dessert maker at a well-known restaurant. She shared this recipe with me and taught me how to use a kitchen torch to "brûlée" the sugar into a lovely crunchy caramel shell. It's super easy to prepare, using only the simplest ingredients. In fact...
2Pour the heavy cream into a large saucepan. Whisk in the 1/2 cup of white sugar. Cook over medium heat until the cream starts to boil, whisking often.
**If you are using a whole vanilla bean, split it in half and scrape out the seeds with the back of your knife. Put the seeds and bean pod into the pot of cream & sugar, then whisk well before cooking.
3While the cream is heating, separate 8 eggs, keeping the yolks. Whisk together well.
4Also while waiting for the cream to heat up, place 6-8 ramekins into a baking pan with at least a one inch rim. Set aside.
5After the cream comes to a rolling boil, remove from heat and strain into a large measuring cup IF you need to remove the vanilla bean & seeds.
If you will be adding vanilla extract later, you won't need to strain the cream, but the measuring cup idea is still handy.
6Begin whisking the egg yolks as you add a small amount of hot cream to "temper" the eggs. (You don't want to cook the egg yolks!) Trickle in more cream and stir until all is incorporated.
7Add the vanilla extract to the custard, if you didn't use a vanilla bean in Step #2. Mix well.
8Strain the custard back into the measuring cup (just in case there are any egg solids to remove) and pour it into the prepared ramekins. Set the rimmed baking sheet on an oven shelf.
9Carefully pour HOT water from a pitcher into the space between the ramekins, taking care not to get water into the custard. (Don't ask me how I know this...) The water should come about halfway up the sides of the ramekins. The fancy French term for this water bath is a "bain marie." Say it a few times in conversation to impress your friends.
10Bake for approximately 30-45 minutes, depending on how "deep" the ramekins are. Check early. The custard should still be "jiggly" in the center, but thicker around the insides of the ramekins and starting to come loose from the sides, and NOT browned.
11Remove the ramekins carefully from the pan of water and let cool slightly before transferring them to the refrigerator for at least 3 hours. The next day is also fine, but you might want to cover the ramekins with plastic wrap to keep the custard fresh.
12When it is almost time to serve the crème brûlée, take the ramekins from the refrigerator and remove the plastic wrap. Sprinkle each top with sugar, rolling it around to make sure it is covered, then add a little more.
13Fire up the kitchen torch and carefully melt the sugar in a circular motion, stopping when it starts to brown. (How brown you like it is a personal decision, so suit yourself here.) =^..^=
There are some great YouTube videos on how to use a cooking torch, if you feel the need to check them out.
14Serve immediately. When your spoon crunches through the thin layer of crispy sugar before reaching the creamy richness of the custard, prepare for one of the greatest tastes on either side of the Atlantic Ocean. Bon Appétit!
15When you are ready for other flavors, check out these variations from Emilea's repertoire:
CHOCOLATE Crème Brûlée: Grate or break up a 4 oz. Ghirardelli premium milk chocolate baking bar (or 4 oz. of "good" milk chocolate chips) and use only 6 egg yolks. All other ingredients & directions stay the same. Add the chocolate to the cream mixture as it starts to boil, but before tempering.
PEANUT BUTTER Crème Brûlée: Use only 6 egg yolks, then stir in 1/4 cup of smooth peanut butter to the tempered mixture. Crumbled Oreos in the bottom of the ramekins before adding the custard would make this treat super yummy.
FRUIT Crème Brûlée: Make custard according to recipe, but add fruit to the bottom of the ramekins before adding the custard for baking. Cherries and different berries are especially delicious.
BLACK FOREST Crème Brûlée: Make Chocolate Crème Brûlée, as noted above. Spoon cherries or cherry pie filling into the bottom of the ramekins before adding the chocolate custard and baking.
**Some people might prefer these variations of Crème Brûlée without the burnt sugar topping, but it's your call. =^..^=