Crème brûlée is the easiest fancy dessert,
and I challenge you to find an easier and simpler recipe for it than this one. It does
not require a kitchen torch, it does not require you to pre-cook your cream, it doesn’t even
require a water bath. The only unusual piece of equipment you need is the ramekins themselves.
This recipe is formulated for the standard 5 oz kind. Here’s the custard: One serving is one egg
yolk, one tablespoon of sugar, one teaspoon vanilla extract, and enough heavy cream to
give you one half cup total of liquid. That’s it, that’s ready to go into the oven. Today I’m gonna do enough for four custards.
Four egg yolks (you can Rocky-chug those whites later), four tablespoons sugar, beat that
up with a fork, and really give it a go. We’re not gonna bother straining the custard, so
you really wanna bash this up to make sure there’s no big globs of sugar or egg protein.
Four teaspoons of vanilla, that’s a tablespoon plus one teaspoon. Use less vanilla if that’s
too strong for you, but to me, it’s the star of this dessert. Then enough heavy cream to
give me two cups total of custard. Proportionally that’s less egg than people normally use,
but that ensures the custard won’t overcoagulate and go gritty, since we’re not gonna be using
a water bath. I mean, use a water bath if you want to. The
low maximum heat of water keeps the edge of the ramekins from getting too hot and overcooking
the outer rim of custard. But I always slosh it around, I always burn myself, I think it’s
a pain. I just do a low-protein custard base, and
a low oven temperature: 250 F. When you pour these in, you fill to that line. That line
is 4 ounces, or half a cup, precisely. Easy. Now before I put these in, watch what happens
when I kinda tap them, or nudge them. Just remember how those ripples look. You can put those right onto the middle rack,
250 F, done. They’ll take maybe 45 minutes in there, depends on your oven. Here’s how
you know if they’re done: You just open up the door and nudge them again. Just tap it
quickly, you’re not gonna burn yourself. See how it looks like a loose gelatin? Remember
how the ripples looked when it was totally liquid, and now compare how they look when
the custard is done. I know they seem underdone, but trust me, the custard will firm up solid
as it cools. If it wasn’t super wobbly like that, it’d be a hockey puck by the time you
ate it. When they’re cool enough to touch, you’re
good to move them to the fridge. They’ll be cool enough to eat after maybe a half hour
in there, but I prefer to chill them overnight, and when you chill them that long, you want
to cover them, otherwise they can dry out, and they can pick up funny odors from the
fridge. It’s the perfect dinner party dessert, because
you can do all this the day before. So traditionally, here’s what you do. You
spoon on some sugar and smooth it out. I’m on Team Very Thin Layer of Sugar. Then you
blast it with a butane torch and it helps if you kinda rotate it as as you go, that
gets you an even layer. That’s nice, that’s lovely, but say you don’t have a torch. Some
people put them under the broiler. Very high rack, very hot broiler. Leave the door open.
You want to minimize convective and conductive heat warming up the custard. You just want
the radiative heat from the broiler to caramelize the sugar, and in my oven, six minutes later
it was done. Problem is, the custard is now hot, and by the time you cool it down, the
candy top won’t be as crunchy, and it’s not that crunchy now — it’s more crumbly in
texture. I say forget the broiler. Get your smallest
pan, and throw in one tablespoon of sugar per custard, a tiny squeeze of honey to prevent
crystallization, and a few drops of water to get this thing started melting. Put it
on medium heat, stir around until it’s mixed up, and get rid of that spatula, you’ll never
stir this again. It doesn’t matter that there’s crystals on the side there. The honey will
stop the syrup from seizing. Corn syrup would do an even better job. Brits, your golden
syrup would work. Just wait like 10 minutes until it turns amber
and then it’ll suddenly go much more fluid. It’s hard to make caramel at home, because
it burns so easily, but guess what: We want this to burn! Brûlée means burned! When
it’s just getting dark you’ll see little wisps of smoke coming off it. Turn off the heat,
and then the only tricky part is judging how much caramel to pour on, because too much
is no good. You want a thin candy layer that you can easily crack through. I was obviously
too conservative with this one and had to keep pouring on more. You roll it around to
get it even and smooth, and note that I have the caramel on the still-hot burner while
I do this — that’s to keep it liquid. Heat’s off, it won’t burn. Move onto the next one,
and that time I judged the amount better. Only had to give it one more dose to get it
covered. Let that cool for a few minutes until it’s set hard, and there you go. Yes, compared to the torched version, that
is clear and glassy. But who’s to say that’s a bad thing? In the mirror universe where
the caramel version developed as the traditional method, me with a goatee is probably saying,
“Yeah, you know, this newfangled torch method doesn’t get you that clear, glassy effect
that tradition really demands, but it’s an OK substitution. Long live the Empire.” OK, time for that wonderful sound. Oh yeah, and look at that custard underneath,
totally smooth and soft, even without the water bath. The candy topping still totally
has that slightly burned flavor that contrasts beautifully with the sweet custard. So good,
and I love that the custard is still cold. Oh, and if you’re like, OMG, how am I gonna
clean this pan? Just let it soak in water for a few minutes. Sugar dissolves in water.
Done.