When we flick through Amélie Poulain’s favorite things – skipping stones, dipping her hand in a sack of grain – the most visceral, for me at least, is cracking a creme brûlée with a teaspoon. Tap tap tap. The crisp burnt sugar gives way to a voluptuous and seductive custard, and there’s nothing left to stop that wanton glint in your eye. It must be devoured. NOW.
…At least, that’s how I feel about it.
The thing about creme brûlée is that it seems super fancy, but is actually very simple to make. It’s six ingredients, chilled over night, and finished in seconds. People practically coo when you bring out the butane torch, eyes roll in ecstasy, spoons are licked clean. It’s really quite a response. You should try it, now.
4 cups heavy cream
3/4 cups sugar
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
8 large egg yolks
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
12 tablespoons baker’s sugar (superfine sugar)
Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
Pour the cream into the saucepan. Add half of the sugar, the scraped vanilla seeds and pod and simmer over low heat for 7 to 8 minutes (don’t let it boil!). Meanwhile, whip the egg yolks with the remaining sugar and salt with a whisk until pale and thick, about 3 to 4 minutes. While still whisking, drizzle a small amount of the hot cream into the eggs, and then keep drizzling more. Drizzle in about a cup’s worth of hot cream and then slowly pour the yolk mixture back into the saucepan of hot cream. By adding a little hot liquid at a time, you’ve tempered the eggs so they don’t scramble while cooking. Stir together until the custard is slightly thickened and coats the back of a spoon. Strain this custard into a pourer and set aside.
Meanwhile, place the ramekins in a roasting pan or deeply rimmed baking sheet. Pour the custard into the ramekins, place the pan in oven and then pour boiling water into the baking sheet until the water comes halfway up the ramekins. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and use a metal spatula (or tongs, but a spatula was easier for me) to remove the ramekins from the hot water. Cover the ramekins with plastic wrap and chill in the fridge for at least 2 to 3 hours.
To serve, sprinkle each ramekin with about 1 1/2 tablespoons of baker’s sugar (super fine). Using a butane torch, carefully caramelize the sugar by holding the flame over the custard and passing slowly over it in a circular motion. The sugar will bubble and turn deep brown. I love it when there are some extra dark, burnt spots, so don’t worry if you have some dark spots. Serve immediately (the sugar will harden).
If broiling the brûlée, chill the custards in the freezer for at least 20 minutes before serving.