And yet, I'm really torn about sharing this recipe with you, and here's why: the custard itself is kind of amazing. The original recipe comes from Larousse--how could it not be? But the execution ... eh, a little tricky. In fact, I've been through two batches and have yet to really master it. At least I get to eat the end result, however mangled.
The trouble, you see, is that crispy brulee topping. You need the right kind of sugar. You need some flames. In fact, you need enough heat to cook and crystallize that sugar without turning your custard--that custard you spent all day waiting on--into a weepy mess. There seem to be two ways of achieving spoon-cracking perfection, either with a torch (the preferred method) or under your broiler.
If my experience is any indication, those of you with an electric oven better go ahead and order that a torch--or just order creme brulee every time you go to a restaurant--because I couldn't get it done at home. Those of you with a gas oven or a torch, you're in better luck, though you still have to be pretty aggressive about getting your ramekins right up against the flame. Don't be shy. And electric oven owners, feel free to prove me wrong.
This will make enough to fill a 4-inch round ramekin, which was just the right amount for David and I to share; if you're feeling especially dessert-hungry, it should be enough for you. Takes 5 hours or overnight to wait for chilling. Only about 5 minutes of active time.
2 egg yolks
1/4 cup powdered sugar
3/4 cup half and half, light cream, or a equal parts milk and heavy cream
1 vanilla bean, scraped - OR- 1 tsp vanilla extract
raw or turbinado sugar for topping (big crystals: not granulated)
- Preheat oven to 350º. Put a kettle or saucepan on to boil with several cups of water.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together yolks and powdered sugar. Gradually add milk, then whisk in vanilla. Pour into a ramekin or ramekins of your choice.
- Now, for the bain marie (water bath), which is essential. It's an extra step, but it keeps the temperature of the custard steady and ensures even cooking without curdling or cracking. Set your ramekin inside a larger pan with high sides. When your water starts to boil, pour it into the pan, taking care to avoid the creme, until it comes about halfway up the sides of the ramekin. Using potholders, slide carefully into to the preheated oven. Bake 45-55 minutes, checking often, until sides are firm but middle is still giggly.
- Remove from bain marie and set out on a rack to cool. Once you can handle it, transfer it to the fridge overnight or--if you are impatient like me--into the freezer for a couple of hours. It should be firm and cold.
- When you are ready to get your brulee on, fire up the torch or preheat your broiler. Sprinkle a thin layer of sugar over the whole surface of the custard. Torch or broil NO MORE than 1-2 inches from heat source for just a couple of minutes--until brown, crackling, and deliciously crisp. Tap tap away with your little spoon and enjoy.