Creme Brulee Caramel-topped custard
Baking time: 30-40 minutes
Resting time: Four hours to overnight
On my first trip to Paris, I ordered a creme brulee and it tasted awful. In my virtually non-existent French, I tried to complain to the waiter that it tasted burnt, only for him to retort that it was creme brulee and was meant to be burnt.
Fortunately, my French is now good enough to explain that creme brulee is a rich custard topped with a hard caramel, not a burnt caramel.
The classic recipe comprises just cream, egg yolks, sugar and vanilla, but I use a combination of cream and milk, which makes a rich custard without the heaviness of using only cream.
In summer, I often put a small handful of raspberries or blueberries, or a few halved strawberries, into the bottom of each ramekin before completely submerging them in the custard.
YOU WILL NEED
300ml double cream
1 vanilla pod
6 egg yolks
100g sugar For the caramel topping 30g caster sugar
30g raw cane sugar
Pour the cream and milk into a pan. Split the vanilla pod in half lengthways and scrape out the grains. Add the pod and grains to the cream and milk. Bring to a boil, turn off the heat and remove the pod from the pan.
Combine the egg yolks with the sugar in a bowl then slowly pour in the hot cream, whisking continuously. Don't overwhisk as you want to avoid creating too many bubbles.
If you have time, pour the custard into a bowl, cover with cling film and refrigerate overnight. This gives the vanilla grains more time to flavour the cream and milk.
Pre-heat the oven to 110°C. Divide the custard between six wide, shallow ramekins and place in a roasting tin. Pour cold water into the tin to come halfway up the ramekins.
Bake for 30-40 minutes or until the custard is set around the edges but still slightly wobbly in the middle.
Remove the ramekins from the water and set aside until cooled to room temperature. Cover the ramekins with cling film, but don't let it touch the custard. Refrigerate for four hours, or overnight.
When ready to serve, make the caramel topping. Uncover the ramekins and check to see if condensation has collected on the custards. If it has, gently place paper towels on the surface to soak up the moisture.
Mix the two types of sugar together and sprinkle a nice even layer over each custard. Do this by holding the spoon at least 30cm away from the ramekin-- sprinkling from a height is the best way to create an even layer of sugar.
Place the ramekins on a metal tray. For best results, use a hand-held blowtorch and hold it 10-12cm away from the sugar. Move the flame slowly around the sugar, maintaining a slow and even motion.
Stop torching just before the desired degree of caramelisation is reached, as the sugar will continue to cook for a few seconds after the flame has been removed.
If you don't have a blowtorch, take a large metal spoon and hold it in a gas flame until very hot (it will turn blue, almost black). Place the spoon on the sugar and move it around so that the heat of the spoon caramelises the sugar.
Why not try something different from vanilla? Add dry ingredients or just a teaspoon or two of liquid flavouring to the cream and milk before bringing to a boil -- any more liquid and there's a risk of the custard not setting.
Here are some ideas: 1 tsp dried lavender (strain it before combining the cream and milk with the egg yolks and sugar); finely grated zest of 1 unwaxed orange or lemon; ½ tsp ground cinnamon and ¼ tsp ground ginger; ½ tsp freshly ground black pepper; or pinch of saffron thread.