Monday, January 19, 2009

Vanilla bean creme brulee topped with blueberries and vanilla sugar

I can't believe that over a year has passed since I started this blog (!!) and I've still never told you about my favorite dessert. It also happens to be one of the easiest desserts to make for a 4-8 people dinner party (coincidence? I don't think so). Creme brulee is not fussy or complicated, but it's elegant and smooth like George Clooney in a tux, has depths of flavor, a crackly sugar crust and is infinitely adaptable (I've infused it with edible lavender or pieces of banana, just to name a few ways). And people, I'm all about things you can prepare 24 hrs in advance and finish off with a blowtorch.


So if this dessert is so amazing, you say, how come Irene has never peeped a word about it on this blog? Well... You see... I've been saving it for you, so to speak, until I could make it at the height of perfection -- and we all know that this means a real vanilla bean. Sure, I've made this with vanilla extract at least 10 times and it's always been phenomenal, but using a real vanilla bean just elevates it in ways that you can't really describe until you inhale the elusive scent of this pod of the vanilla orchid and just know that there is something different here, something special. Fresh blueberries and a sprinkle of vanilla sugar give this dessert an extra decadence, as if it needed any.


There are only two secrets to a successful creme brulee, and they are, well, not rocket science. (1) Don't curdle the egg yolks, and (2) bake the custard in a water bath. However much you are tempted to rush these steps, don't, because the smooth, silky creaminess at the end will all be worth it.


Creme Brulee
(recipe from a Williams & Sonoma cookbook - serves 4)

2 cups (16 oz) heavy cream
4 egg yolks
pinch of salt
1/4 cup plus 4 tbsp of sugar
1/2 vanilla bean (or 1 tsp of vanilla extract)
optional for topping: about 1/4 cup of blueberries, 1 tbsp vanilla sugar

Preheat an oven to 300°F. Have a pot of boiling water ready. Line a baking pan that is 2 to 3 inches deep with a small kitchen towel (I've skipped lining the pan with a towel lately and it didn't seem to affect the finished product).

Using a paring knife, split the vanilla bean lengthwise down the middle and scrape the seeds from 1/2 of the bean into a 2-quart saucepan. Add the cream, stir to mix and set the pan over medium-low heat. Warm the cream until bubbles form around the edges of the pan and steam begins to rise from the surface. Remove from the heat and set aside to steep, about 15 minutes. (Note 1: If using vanilla extract, warm the cream as directed without the vanilla bean - you can use the cream right away without steeping) (Note 2: if using a vanilla bean: at this point, store the half of the bean that you didn't use and submerge the empty half in a cup of sugar for a few weeks to get vanilla sugar).

In a large bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, salt and the 1/4 cup sugar (and vanilla extract, if using) until smooth and blended. Drizzle about 1/4 cup of the warm cream into the egg yolks to temper them (so that the yolks don't curdle), whisking all the while, then gradually add the rest of the cream, whisking until blended. Pour the custard through a fine-mesh sieve set over a bowl. Divide the custard among four 5- or 6-oz. ramekins and place the ramekins in the prepared baking pan. Add boiling water to fill the pan halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Cover the pan loosely with aluminum foil and bake until the custard is set around the edges and jiggles only a little bit in the middle, 35-40 min (note: this has taken me anywhere from 40 - 60 minutes, so check every 5 minutes after the 35 minute mark).

Transfer the ramekins to a wire rack and let cool to room temperature. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or up to 3 days.

Just before serving, sprinkle 1 Tbs. of the sugar evenly over each custard. Using a kitchen torch, melt the sugar according to the manufacturer's instructions. Serve immediately.

(Note 3: To top, toss 1/4 cup of blueberries in about a tablespoon of vanilla sugar and divide among the 4 ramekins. Even if you've just submerged your vanilla bean when you started making the custard, your sugar will already smell like vanilla and you can use it. However, leave the rest of the sugar to infuse for 2 weeks to get the amazingness that is real vanilla sugar).

22 comments:

Gretchen Noelle said...

Lovely creme brulee! Love the berries. And I really love the wood table in the egg shot.

Helene said...

I love crème brulée. Looks really good. Over a year, congrats!

onesilentwinter said...

looks delicious!! beautiful pictures

Brentwood Kitchen Shopper said...

Yummy! You have the perfect touch when it comes to desserts

joey said...

That does look like the height of creme brulee perfection!

Lisa said...

this looks amazing, I love the blueberries on top!

maggie said...

So beautiful. I am intimidated, but would love to make these some day.

Peg said...

Oh, Irene! If I lived closer, I'd be right over. I love Creme Brulee and I love blueberries. Mmmmmm....

With the terribly cold winter that we've been having (1 night our temps were colder than at the north pole), it does a world of good to pamper oneself with delicious treats like this.

cook eat FRET said...

you know, i have a torch and ramekins and i've ever made this...

???

Passionate About Baking said...

Just beautiful...taste, flavour, write-up & pictures! WOW. You know, the first time I laid my eyes on a vanilla bean, I was SO disappointed. I never imagined it would look this wizened & twig-like...LOL!

Tartelette said...

Sorry I have been MIA commenting...been reading though! Creme brulee will always make me de-lurk!!
Your food photographs are more brilliant each day!

Chanel said...

Just made these - super easy but they did take an hour to cook like you said they might - I love the blueberries with them, I also used the vanilla sugar to caramelise the top as well. Will definitely be making these again :)

Irene said...

I'm so glad you liked it! This is definitely my go-to creme brulee recipe and everyone always loves this so much that I haven't had the heart to try that many other recipes. :)

Delia said...

I just found you through Smitten Kitchen and after taking a gander, I am impressed! I can't wait to try these. Everything is so beautifully photographed. I look forward to keeping up with this blog...and trying my hand at creme brulee.

Anonymous said...

Hi, your website is fabulous!

I just made the Vanilla creme brûlée & its texture wasn't smooth on top as I pulled it from the oven. It has little air pockets, I'm assuming from whisking. Is that okay?

Irene said...

Yes, that's totally ok and even expected. That's why you cover it with sugar and torch the top :) The important thing is that the texture of the inside part is smooth. If it's not, let me know and we can try to figure out what happened.

Amy said...

Thanks, Irene! I appreciate your feedback. We had the creme brûlée tonight & it was terrific! No need to worry about those air pockets! The texture was super creamy & smooth.
Love your site. We're hooked on it! Many thx.

Pat Bateman said...

Mine took a really long time to set, as I had to bake it for almost 1.5 hours. The centre was not fully smooth, with a slightly curdled texture. A little bit of clear liquid on the centre as well. Thoughts?

Irene said...

Mine took a really long time to set, as I had to bake it for almost 1.5 hours. The centre was not fully smooth, with a slightly curdled texture. A little bit of clear liquid on the centre as well. Thoughts?

Hi Pat, sorry for the late reply. Unfortunately, it sounds like you cooked the egg yolks, which is why they curdled and there was excess liquid. Next time, make sure when you add the hot cream to the egg yolks, and then when you add the eggs to the rest of the cream, do it veeeeery slowly so the eggs don't have a chance to cook. That usually takes care of the problem.:)

Sharon said...

I regularly make creme brûlée with perfect results each time. However on one try I got six dishes in the oven on the first round and they came out perfect. The final two dishes went in afterward and they were curdled. Then this week my whole batch came out curdled even though it was smooth going into the oven. Any idea what could cause it to curdle in the oven. I always use a 350 F oven.

I think the reason for the towel under the dish is to keep it from sitting directly on then baking pan and get a little water under it. An advantage is that the dishes are more stable when sliding them in and out of the oven so you don't get water sloshing into you creme brûlée.

Irene said...

Hmmmm... this is a tough one. Generally, as it sounds like you know, curdled custard comes from not mixing the eggs with the cream slowly enough and thus cooking the eggs before baking. In this instance, though, the only thing I can think of is maybe that the final two dishes were sitting close to the oven while the first four were baking so that they inadvertently got a little cooked as well from the oven heat. Could that have been it? Without knowing more, I unfortunately can't say why the next batch was curdled. This is my go-to recipe for vanilla creme brulee, but as you know, recipes don't work the same way for everyone because of weather conditions, ingredients, differing ovens, etc, so if you already have a foolproof recipe, I'd just use that one. :)

By the way, I think you are totally right on the reason for the towel.

Irene said...

Sharon - I noticed that you use a 350 degree oven. This recipe calls for a lower baking temperature - 300. This could be the reason for curdling, because the custard cooked too quickly. I hope you try it again with the lower temperature.