However, in the event that the establishment has Creme Brulee on the menu, all bets are off. Don't even bother pouring any kind of sauce over it, and leave any gratuitous fruit back in the kitchen, we don't want it. A creme brulee is done right, it doesn't need any embellishment, and if it does, well, you can keep it.
I still haven't officially signed up for the I Heart Cooking Clubs group, but I heard that they recently chose "comfort food" as their theme for a recent Nigella Lawson tribute. Usually, comfort food says "savory", "gravy", "pasta" or some other version of those things. But Creme Brulee....well, I don't care who you are, it just makes you feel good all over. I think this one qualifies equally well for this week's theme, "Midnight Sneaks". If, on the off chance that there was any of this leftover in my fridge, it would definitely be worth sneaking down to the kitchen for, late, late at night. So, Ginny broke out the torch I bought her a few years ago for this very purpose, and we were on a mission for Creme Brulee.
This recipe calls for eight (count 'em EIGHT!) egg yolks, which therefore left us with eight unused egg whites. We set those aside and saved them for another project that you'll be hearing about soon as well.
DISCLAIMER: The lovely pictures you are about to see were not out first attempt. We were overly confident and although I don't think either one of us can pinpoint exactly where we erred, but the first batch turned into a scrambled egg custard before we could get it in the oven.
It was disgusting.
But, try, try again, they always say, and we are not easily deterred from Creme Brulee, so we persevered. And our efforts were rewarded with this:
We were having my friend Whitney over for lunch that day, so we put the lovely thing in the fridge to chill and then broke it out after we stuffed ourselves with Basil Curry Chicken. I warned Whitney that we were big eaters, but I think we may have frightened her a bit when we pulled the pan out, put it in the middle of the table and laid out three spoons. There are some things about Nigella that I love, and this is one of them. In her recipe, she talks about how some people make creme brulee in little individual dishes, but that she likes to serve it as one large dessert, and I am SO with her on that. I'm not scared, and hey, what are a few cooties between friends when you get to end a meal like this?
2 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 vanilla bean
8 egg yolks
3 generous tablespoons granulated sugar
Approximately 6 tablespoons Demerara or granulated brown sugar
Put a pie dish of about 8-inches in diameter in the freezer for at least 20 minutes. Half-fill the sink with cold water. (yeah, ok, we didn't bother with the sink of water.) This is just a precaution in case the custard looks as if it's about to split, in which case you should plunge the pan into the water and whisk the custard. I'm not saying it will - with so many egg yolks in the rich cream, it thickens quickly and easily enough - but I always feel better if I've done this.
Put the cream and vanilla bean (she never talks about splitting the bean and scraping out the seeds, but we are not of the mind to waste a perfectly good vanilla bean, so we split ours and scraped out the seeds before adding it to the cream) into a saucepan and bring to the boiling point, but do not let boil. Beat the eggs and sugar together in a bowl, and, still beating, pour the flavored cream over it, bean and all.Rinse and dry the pan and pour the custard mix back in. Cook over medium heat (or low, if you're scared) until the custard thickens, whisking almost constantly: about 10 to 12 minutes should do it. You do want this to be a good, voluptuous creme, so don't err on the side of runny caution. Remember, you've got your sinkful of cold water to plunge the pan into should it really look as if it's about to split.
When the cream's thick enough, take out the vanilla bean, retrieve the pie dish and pour the creme into the severely chilled container.Leave to cool, then put in the refrigerator until truly cold. Sprinkle with Demerara sugar, spoonful by spoonful, and burn with a blowtorch until you have a blistered tortoiseshell covering on top.
Put back in the refrigerator if you want, but remember to take it out a good 20 minutes before serving. At which stage, put the bowl on the table and, with a large spoon and unchecked greed, crack through the sugary carapace and delve into the satin-velvet, vanilla-speckled cream beneath. No more talking: just eat.
And that's just what we did. We brought the chilled dish out of the fridge and then torched it there at the kitchen table until it was caramelly and gorgeous, and then we demolished it. Yes, the entire thing, in one sitting, between the three of us. I was proud of Whitney, the girl can throw down. She wasn't shy about going back for seconds, and I have a new respect for the girl.
Rock on, Nigella!