Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Fun with Open Flames

It's been an unacceptably long time since I've blogged, but between coming back to Brown and the holidays and all that nonsense, I've just been super-duper busy! But don't worry, I will be more consistent from now on. Because I know that was the biggest worry on everyone's mind, just ahead of global warming and Mideast peace.

I feel like I should start with the big excitement, which was the purchase of...(drumroll please)...a blowtorch! Ohmygod it is so much fun. If anything in this world can turn me into a raging pyromaniac, it's the blowtorch. "And what will you do with it besides make creme brulee?" ask my friends as they note the manic gleam in my eye and slowly step away from the flame. Yeah, you can brown meringue and melt cheese on top of onion soup, but let's face it, the blowtorch is pretty much good for one thing. But man, is that one thing good.

I was fortunate enough to be able to travel around Europe when I was studying abroad, and none of this would have been possible without the generous hospitality of my wonderful friends: Jennie and Evan in Israel, Rebecca in Paris, Mike in Bologna and Maya in Berlin. In order to thank them in some small way for hosting me, I made them a dinner with themed dishes appropriate for each country (except I couldn't find any good German vegetarian cuisine so I just bought some Riesling and called it a day). The obvious dessert, considering my new baby, was some French-ass creme brulee.

Of course I went straight to Dorie, but I have to admit that I kind of regret it. Not because it wasn't delicious - it was! - but because it was sort of nontraditional-tasting for my first attempt at creme brulee and it was a lot of aggravation. The custard was supposed to take an hour maximum to set up in the oven, but after ninety minutes I had had enough and just stuck the ramekins in the fridge. There, they set up fine, but I combed through some of the Tuesdays with Dorie posts about this recipe and a lot of people said the low heat and lack of water bath meant it took a lot longer than expected to cook. That said, making the custard itself was as simple as can be, and the creme brulee was very tasty. When I say it's non-traditional I mean that it tasted a lot lighter and less dense than a typical creme brulee, which was good because the dinner had been so large, but I think next time I'm going to try a different, higher-heat recipe and see how it turns out. After all the fun I had with my blowtorch, there's no doubt I'll be making creme brulee again!

Oh, and I used the leftover egg whites to make cocoa almond meringues. Delicious as always.

Creme Brulee
From "Baking from My Home to Yours" by Dorie Greenspan

1 ¼ cups heavy cream
½ cup whole milk
3 large egg yolks
1 / 3 cup sugar
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
About 6 tablespoons sugar or sifted light brown sugar, for topping
Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 200ºF/ 93ºC. Put the six baking dishes on a baking sheet lined with parchment or a silicone mat.
Bring the cream and milk just to a boil.
In a 1 or 2-quart glass measuring cup or in a medium bowl, whisk the egg yolks, sugar and vanilla together until well blended but not airy. Still whisking, drizzle in about one quarter of the hot liquid---this will temper, or warm, the yolks so they won’t curdle. Whisking all the while, slowly pour in the remainder of the cream and milk. Give the bowl a good rap against the counter to de-bubble the custard, then strain it into the baking dishes.
Bake the custards for 50 to 60 minutes, or until the centers are set---tap the sides of the dishes, and the custards should hold firm. Lift the dishes onto a cooling rack and let the custards cool until they reach room temperature.
Cover each custard with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 3 hours, preferably longer. (The custards can be kept covered in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.) For the sugar to be successfully caramelized, the custards need to be thoroughly chilled.
Makes 6 servings.
Serve the crème brûlée when the crème is really cold and the brûlée is still warm. You can serve the whole dessert chilled, but the sugar topping won’t have its characteristic crackle. And while I think crème brûlée should be served with nothing more then a spoon, you could offer berries and cookies as accompaniments.
The custard for crème brûlée must be made ahead so it has plenty of time to chill, but once you’ve caramelized the sugar on top, your storage time is over if your want the sugar to have crunch.

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