Downton Dish: Crème Brûlée

Ok, I was going to be all sensitive and PC and do something innocuous today, like scones. But since tonight’s episode revolves heavily around I guy with burns, I just couldn’t resist. I shrugged and said: “Eh, the hell with it. I’m doing crème brûlée.” What can I say? I have a rather morbid sense of humor sometimes. Besides, crème brûlée is delicious deliciousness, and it gives you the opportunity to wield a torch in the kitchen–how often do you get to do that?

Crème brûlée–which literally means “burnt cream”–dates back to at least 1691, when it was featured in Francois Massialot’s cookbook. At some point, after crossing the Channel, the name was changed to crème anglaise.

In the late Victorian period, a version of crème brûlée with the college arms burnt into the top was served at Trinity College, Cambridge and became known as Trinity Cream or Cambridge Burnt Cream. At the time, the recipe was attributed to a country house in Aberdeenshire and brought to the college by one  of the cooks.

Crème brûlée’s custard base make it an easy vehicle for many different flavors. This version is classic vanilla, but feel free to experiment–I’ve had excellent chocolate, pumpkin, and fruit crème brûlées in my day.

Crème Brûlée

2 cups heavy cream

8 large egg yolks

1/2 cup sugar plus extra for the caramel crust

3/4 tsp vanilla

Heat the cream almost to a simmer over medium-low heat.

Stir the egg yolks and sugar with a wooden spoon until just blended and gradually stir in the heated cream, taking care not to scramble the eggs. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl or a large measuring cup with a pour spout. Stir in the vanilla.

Carefully pour the custard into four 6-oz or 6 4-oz custard cups or shallow ramekins and place on a baking sheet with a lip around the edge. Add enough water to go about halfway up the sides of the ramekins and carefully set the whole pan in a 325 degree oven.

Bake until the custards are set but still slightly quivery in the center when gently shaken, about 30-35 minutes. Remove from the water bath and let cool to room temperature.

Cover each custard with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 8 hours or up to 2 days. Just before serving, gently blot away any liquid that has formed on the surface of the custard, sprinkle 1 1/2 to 2 tsp of white sugar evenly over the tops of the custards, and caramelize with a kitchen torch or by placing the custards under the broiler for a minute or two.*

* As my mother once discovered, a regular butane torch does not work well for this purpose. As I once discovered, kitchen torches and crème brûlée irons are bloody hot, so be careful!



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