Crème Brûlée

{Sigh}

Crème Brûlée has always had me reaching, not for the whisk, but my copy of Dirty by Sonic Youth. The song is a curiosity but Kim Gordon has the right elements of a female vocalist and this custardy confection – hard candy with a soft under. As a stretched out large sunglassed beatnik on the back cover, it would have a single me crawling across broken caramel to get to her. As shock art, the album fails only for the sumptuousness and beauty of the guitars, but the tray liner photo in the Japanese release is ummm well lets just say don’t look Big Ted (you’ve been warned).

Stretching the associations, 1992 would have been the year where, cooking for my then girlfriend and now wife’s 22nd birthday, I had my stepping out of the cave moment with a Crème Anglaise. Institutionally fed, custard had always been a flavourless yellowly liquid made from rehydrated powder. Slicing open my first vanilla pod almost had me running over to my neighbour’s house to say “Oi! Sniff this”. Creme Anglaise, along with the magnificent Italian Zuppa Inglise, may be a generous tribute or international baiting, is perfection. It also taught me two important lessons: better food was out there; and it was within my reach. Out of the cave and over the bridge I went.

Sweets are still my weak point but I was given a prod by Guamand Santos at the scent of green bananas. and her very excellent thing ch-ch-cherry bombs . The Rock Dinner steps a little further forward and I’m tumbling towards turning into a conceptual foodist.

Experimental Notes

To make Crème Brûlée properly you need a blow torch to caramelise the top. I didn’t get one for three reasons; they are very pricey, I’d be off scraping paint before you could say Australian Dream, and I wouldn’t have been happy with anything less than this.

My plan was to, instead make a flambe hybrid. Sugar on the top, soaked in brandy, and then up it goes. Fortunately, in a rare flash of common sense, I tried it out with some yoghurt in a ramekin first. A damp squib, so plan abandoned. A shame, it would have been spectacular, so if anybody has any better ideas on sparking this up, get back to me (and no dishwashing liquid and petrol is not going to happen).

Crème

Usual trick of using a few sources to come up with something. I went to this Recipe for Creme Brulee Recipe and this Creme Brulee » Recipe (which just seems wrong on a few points), and fudged around and came up with this

8 free-range eggs yolks; 3/8 cup of caster sugar; 1 vanilla pod (you could use vanilla essence but you wouldn’t would you? No didn’t think so); 500ml of double cream.

Egg yolks and sugar whisked until pale and creamy.

Vanilla pod spilt carefully with a knife, the innards scraped into the cream and then the pod put in as well. Gently heat the cream, just until bubbles start to form around the edges. Don’t boil.

Warmed cream slowly mixed into the egg and sugar and then the whole lot put into a ceramic bowl and heated over a saucepan of simmering water. Non stop stirring until the mix is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.

Ramekins (8) 7/8th filled with the mix and then put in a roasting tin, half filled with hot water. Covered with foil and cooked in a 170C for 40 minutes. Taken out and left to cool in the fridge.

Brûlée

Tricky bit not least for the fact the this was well into beer tasting over at a friends house. Each ramekin is topped up with a 5mm level layer of caster sugar. Friend’s oven was smokier than a Japan Tobacco conference room so I put a dish of water in there in the hope that it would absorb some of the smoke. Top element nice and hot and slid the ramekins under it, keeping a sharpish eye on them, moving them around to compensate for the irregularity of the heat.

And?

The caramel crust is a very fine balance to get and I had mixed results. The photo of the two leftovers represent the Diamanda Galas and Little Nikki Webster ends of the spectrum. A blowtorch would have helped a great deal with consistency. Enjoyed it but detected a tiny degree of tooth edginess of caster sugar and wondered if better results could have been had with normal sugar. The sugariness did seem to settle down from between off the stove and the finished product. Any ideas?

As for female vocalists, ichiban is Aiha Higurashi of Seagull Screaming Kiss Her Kiss Her and while I’m at it Mayumi Kojima. If you’re interested, mail me and I might just brûlée you a sample.

16 comments

  1. Santos’s avatar

    kim brûlée!

    i applaud you for likening ms. gordon to a temperamental egg product.

    my sonic youth disappeared somewhere between EVOL and protracted conversation about nannies with thurston moore on a nyc street.

    i am told that a large metal spoon (with a heatproof handle), held over a gas flame then run over the sugared surface in a circular motion should work out fine. should that plan not work, the alternative is selling your lovely fondue pot and using the proceeds to BUY A BLOWTORCH.

    i don’t need one, as i am a fire-breathing dragon boss lady, according to my disgruntled employees

    i have, however, your perfect starter to your rock dinner which i shall post someday soon. are tomatoes readily available (not to throw, but as an ingredient)?

  2. Anonymous’s avatar

    It is actually possible to get a very nice Crème Brûlée here in Romania. They make it at the French Institute in Bucharest.

    Their secret is to use large flat bowls instead of ramekins (which, I imagine, are very hard to obtain here). I guess this makes it easier to control the caramelising of the top, which breaks spectacularly, every time, like a thin glacier.

    Also,while I am at it, cheers for the link!

    Frank O’Connor (of albino neutrino), who can’t post under Blogger except as an anonymous person.

  3. Anonymous’s avatar

    Like Dirty, Creme Brulee without a blowtorch can’t rise to the high expectations of a daydream nation and can often leave you with nothing but goo.

    Pricey, I know but it’s the only way to do it right. Even with a torch you’ll have plenty of challenge getting a thin and even enough covering of sugar to make a crust. And yes use regular sugar not caster.

    ~ Sean
    http://sfd.typepad.com

  4. Anthony’s avatar

    Santos
    1.Cheers, I think music writing, more than any other has suffered from similes but I thought I might be able to get away with it. Cancer will now be replaced by Creme Brulee on the zodiac.
    2.Re:Thurston – get outta here! You must have had a positive effect because the picture of him holding his kid upside down in (album) Washing Machine is gorgeous. Talk about aging gracefully rockers.
    3. I’m going to sell my liver and have both (or is that kidney we have two of).
    4. Hmmmmm tomatoes – not yet but should take me that long to work out the association.
    Frank.
    Welcome. When will Eastern Europe rid itself of socialised food consumption and get with ruggedly individualised ramekins? V.welcome for the link and it’s to be taken as a compliment. Nonanonymousamonymous posting is fine here.
    Sean
    Sharp debut. Yes yes yes on the torch and the sugar (kane)

  5. Robert’s avatar

    Nice call on Sonic Youth.

    Another musical creme brulee link for your enjoyment: it was the name of Les McQueen’s band in The League of Gentlemen.

  6. Anthony’s avatar

    Big smiles here and, as always, in a gentlemanly premier league yourself. You should pop over to Santos’ before we run out of references

  7. Santos’s avatar

    re: thurston moore. a case of mistaken identity on his part. to this day, i can’t think of who he thought i was (i was not forthcoming–hey, i was talking to thurston moore!).

    seagulls screaming…isn’t that an xtc tune?

  8. Anthony’s avatar

    Re: Thurston. You wouldn’t believe the number of people who come up to me to say they thought I was crap in Troy. Thurston tho’ – serious cred points.

    Seagulls Screaming… is indeed an XTC song and where they got their name from I foubd out. They were a lucky find but a great band. J-Rock has got some great stars and it’s a shame it gets smothered by sickly J-Pop

  9. Andy’s avatar

    If you have gas why don’t you buy a 2nd hand salamander (commercial gas grill), will be hot enough to caramelise the top without stuffing up the Crème Brûlée. The flat dish as suggested by anon is a good idea.
    Below is a recipe for crema catalan which is made in a flat bowl and brown sugar is used. Crema catalan is caramelised under a grill or by using a heated branding iron. I have translated this from the spanish with google which makes for amusing reading, maizena as you will probably guess is cornflour.

    1 liter of latte
    8 egg egg yolks
    200 g of sugar
    45 g of maizena
    3 cane sugar spoons
    grattugiata peel of 1/2 lemon

    You blink egg yolks with the sugar, the maizena , the peel of lemon and add, little to the time, the latte ones.
    Poured all in a capiente pot and, to low fire, fairies to cook without never to stop to stir until when the cream is very rappresa. It then pours it to you in the appropriate ciotole of coccio, fairies to cool to ambient temperature and, before serving, spolverizzate with the cane sugar that caramellerete with the appropriate round iron. In lack of this, you put the cream nearly to contact with the grill of the furnace so that the sugar is melted in little second ones.

  10. Anthony’s avatar

    Thanks Andy

    The salamander is a (fairies to) cool idea and the translated spanish is a delight, I’m resolved to working rappresa and spolverizzate into my everyday vocab with appropriate “how you says”.

  11. Santos’s avatar

    will trade cd/md of sunny day mix for seagull screaming….

  12. Melinda’s avatar

    Hi!

    Just cruising the web, I love to blog’splore and I came across this entry from a year ago.

    I cook. A lot. And I LOVE creme brulee. There’s a trick to it I discovered after a lot of experimentation. It’s kind of cheating, but who cares??

    Melt the sugar.

    Just put the sugar into a sauce pan or double broiler and slowly heat it up until it starts to melt. Stir it until all sugar crystals have disappeared and the sugar has started to caramelize, which you know when it’s colour gets amber. Allow it to cool only a little, then drizzle it carefully over the creme. If you do this just right, you wind up with a perfectly smooth sheet of amber sugar on top.

    When I serve this at a nice dinner I cool the dessert a little in the fridge, then warm the brandy using a lighter under a brandy glass (make sure you roll the glass a lot!!). Once the brandy is well warmed it will light easily… light it in the glass and then pour the flambe brandy generously onto the creme brulee and serve while still flaming!

    Good luck!

  13. Anthony’s avatar

    Hi Melinda

    I’m glad you found me. This is a great suggestion, I’ll have to give it a try.

    Many thanks

  14. Jen’s avatar

    Your use of our language is amazing.

  15. Anonymous’s avatar

    I am just beginning this “creme brulee” journey. I am looking for a creme brulee dish that we found at the Bellagio Cafe in Las Vegas. They serve three different types of creme brulee in a divided, more or less rectangular dish. Because it was divided you could have three different treatments to the dessert. I have look everywhere for this serving dish. The Cafe says their buyer found the dishes and they do not know where. So far my search on the internet has not produced it. Any help you can give me? Donna

  16. Will’s avatar

    In order to avoid the blowtorch I find that using a ice bath with a broiler works well. Just put the ramekins back in whatever pan you had them in when you baked them in the water bath the first time, then load it with ice. I mean load it. Then fill the rest of the way with water so that the water line is halfway up and place the pan in the broiler. The sugar will carmalize while the ice bath will keep the bottom and outer rim of the ramekins cool. Once the sugar is carmalized then remove the pan and let the ramekins sit in the ice water for a minute or two. Just so the the ice can cool as much as possible but not so long that the top is no longer nice and warm. Then serve.

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