Crème brulee, a rich custard with a crunchy, burnt sugar topping. This decadent dessert has roots that go back centuries to European cuisine. Back in the 1980s, this custard was in demand at French restaurants. And several years ago, this decadent dessert was simply a pipe dream in my kitchen. But things change.
During late spring one of my fun-loving neighbors invited me, and my dog, over for a bar-b-que dinner. I brought a store-bought custard pie, the kind in the frozen food aisle that you bake. I didn't have the chef confidence to create an eye-opening crème brulee.
While slices of pie topped with whipped cream were doable, and the dogs whooped from non-stop play, I mumbled, "I should have tried to make the homemade custard and boldly torch the top." And I was teased for being afraid to attempt the real deal as I put the feat in a must-do mental file for another time.
This week, however, things are different. When I drove by my neighbor's home it was sold, as the dog-less unfamiliar occupant shared the news. And while left with many good-time, pleasurable outdoor cook-out memories, from roasted marshmallows to s'mores, I've grown to accept novelty on the South Shore.
So, it made sense to go out of my comfort zone and master the art of baking the French custard from scratch and boldly firing up the top for old time's sake.
Like a custard, a recipe calls for simple ingredients but the best are recommended. Cream, sugar, eggs and vanilla extract are must-haves. Other ingredients, from citrus like lemon or orange rind to spices such as cinnamon or nutmeg, can make it even more special and flavorful.
The custard is best put into round or oval shaped ramekins.
To make the sugar topping, you can use a broiler or butane torch. (Being a bit skittish, I took the safest method.)
2 cups organic half-and-half (premium brand)
½ cup organic low-fat milk
1/3 cup granulated white sugar
4 organic brown eggs, yolks only
1 capful pure vanilla extract
2 teaspoons lemon or orange rind
Nutmeg to taste (optional)
¼ cup light brown sugar, ground fine (a bit more if preferred)
1 cup each fresh strawberries and blueberries, sliced
Confectioners' sugar (optional) for dusting
In a pan heat milk on medium heat but do not bring to a boil. Set aside.
In a bowl mix white sugar and egg yolks. Pour in milk, slowly until mixed well. Add vanilla, and rind. Pour into 4-ounce ramekins. Sprinkle each with nutmeg.
In a pan of cold water place ramekins. Bake at 350 degrees for about 1 hour or until firm (use a knife to test and when the custard comes out clean and doesn't jiggle it is done). Remove ramekins from oven and cool. Place in refrigerator for a few hours.
When ready to serve take out of fridge, sprinkle tops with brown sugar. Place in shallow pan with cold water, put under broiler (watch carefully and make sure your ramekins are broiler-safe). In about a minute or two the sugar will be caramelized. Remove, dust with confectioners' sugar. Add berries.
If you desire more custard, use larger ramekins and make two.
This custard is rich and creamy and so good. The sugary top with a light crispy crunch is an added treat. It's fun and sophisticated. Fresh red strawberries and blueberries are perfect colors for Memorial Weekend or Fourth of July.
Not only does this custard look festive it's a dessert to love for breakfast, brunch, afternoon tea or after dinner. Served with iced tea or hot tea it promises to provide new entertaining food memories to treasure and you'll feel baking strong!
Cal Orey, M.A. Is an author and journalist. Her books include the Healing Powers Series (Vinegar, Olive Oil, Chocolate, Honey, Coffee, Tea, and Superfoods) published by Kensington. (The collection has been featured by the Good Cook Book Club.) Her website is http://www.calorey.com.