Consider the noble crème brûlée; in its individual ramekin, fortressed against the world with its flambéed shell of sugary glass jealously guarding the wholesome custard from thine whetted mouth. Ah... with the stamina such a dulcet surprise would promise one could be rather steadfast in the composing of poesies in the name of such a splendid and sweet end to any meal.
My father, a gentleman of jolly disposition and good breeding, in a bout of fancy took my family to France in the summer of my sixteenth year. A Francophile byproduct of French colonialism via Lebanon, my father is a French-speaker and lover of French culture and a gourmand of imposing knowledge and exemplary tastes.
On this trip we had the pleasure of lunching at the Au Pied de Cochon brasserie in les Halles, just a short skip from the Rue du Louvre. A fantastic meal by any standards and thoroughly French; slow and multi-layered. While I've never been one for sweets or rather, for ruining such savory splendors with the vulgarity of dessert, I was becoming rather annoyed by the old man's insistence that I "make room for dessert."
At first, while enjoying a table red I was bemused by his describing of the sugar-missive as the end-all-be-all of all desserts. By the time I was working my salade et plateau de fromages I was getting annoyed in the way only a teenager can get annoyed with their parents while in public. Jesus H. Christ on rollerskates! What was it about this goddamned crème brûlée that had caught his spirit so?
Annoyance yielded inevitably to considerate curiosity... I needed to have this crème brûlée, I need to swirl its promise of saccharine salvation on my tongue and take its sacrament like an obedient and blindly-believing devotee of its confectionary order!
I learned a valuable lesson then. One I try to employ in daily life when appreciating flavors, sounds and visuals. I owe my dad a lot and this was one of his best lessons. Granted, he might've completely turned me away from desserts immediately after a meal, but hey, that's not such a bad thing. That was one of the best summers of my life.
Follow the jump for three variations on the classic crème brûlée you might want to try at home.
If you've ever been in a Cuban or Spanish restaurant, chances are you've seen this on the dessert menu. A crème brûlée by another name, here's a simple recipe for you:
5 cups whole milk
10 thin strips lemon peel
3 thin strips orange peel
2 cinnamon sticks
1 cup of sugar
8 large egg yolks
½ cup of cornstarch
6 tablespoons of brown sugar
In a heavy medium saucepan combine the milk, lemon and orange peels and cinnamon sticks bringing them to a boil. Lower heat and simmer for ten minutes, stirring gently occasionally. Remove the saucepan from the heat and remove the peels and cinnamon sticks. With a mixer, beat the eggs and sugar in a large bowl until you get a soft cream color, add the cornstarch and continue beating. Gradually whisk the hot milk into the mixture with care of not upsetting the consistency.
Return to pan and heat until boiling while whisking gently for ten minutes. Divide into your ramekins and refrigerate overnight. With broiler ready, cover them evenly with the brown sugar and broil until the sugar caramelizes.
This Portuguese version is very similar to its Iberic cousin with a few small differences. Here's what you'll need to do:
6 egg yolks
¾ of a cup of sugar
4 cups of whole milk
3 tablespoons of cornstarch
4 thin strips lemon peel
1 cinnamon stick
Mix the eggs and cornstarch until a creamy consistency is achieved. Add the sugar and continue to whisk until the mixture yellows a bit. Add the milk and continue to whisk. Add this to a saucepan, add the lemon and cinnamon and heat on medium-low for ten to twelve minutes. It should be very creamy at this point. Remove the peels and stick and add to the ramekins.
Let them cool at room temp for ten minutes and refrigerate for three hours. Sprinkle the Turbinado sugar on the ramekins and burn with a kitchen torch going for an uneven, hardened caramelized shell.
Cambridge Burnt Cream
There's a wild theory that the Cambridge Burnt Cream precedes the French recipe by roughly half a century, placing its creation within the British Isles in the early 1600's. That might sound like complete rubbish but who knows where they stole it from to begin with? Here's how you can burn your cream:
1 1/2 cup of double cream
3 cups of whole milk
1 large vanilla bean, split and scraped
2 tablespoons of sugar
5 egg yolks
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Pre-heat the oven to 300 degrees. Put the cream, milk and vanilla in a pan and bring to a simmer over low heat. Beat the eggs and sugar, discard the vanilla from the pan and combine the slowly while stirring gently to combine the mixtures. Separate into the ramekins and place them in a deep tray filled with warm water up to the three quarter mark of the ramekin sides. Bake for 40 minutes or until the custard has set.
Leave the ramekins to cool at room temp and then refrigerate for a minimum of two hours. Cover them with sugar and broil the ramekins until the sugar caramelizes.
Now enjoy your dessert and take the time to truly enjoy life and the company of your friends and family, wherever you may be and regardless of how weird they may be acting; they mean well, for the most part. Remember to savor the simple joy of cracking the sugary shell with your spoon... even if it's a fancy flan after all.