Crème Brûlée (without a torch)

I don’t think I’m built to run, but I run, so I can eat a lot all the time. A good running partner is surprisingly hard to find – too fast, too slow, too inconsistent. So when you find a match, you can run together so you can eat lots of calories together 🙂

My regular running buddy, G, requested crème brûlée without a moment’s hesitation when I asked what dessert he wanted for his birthday. Crème brûlée is a rich custard topped with a hard crust of caramel (burnt sugar).

Chef Uy: Happy birthday! You can eat all of it, but you’ll have to wait after I took photos. Sorry, it took a while to caramelize and I’m running behind.
G: You can do a rain dance for all I care as long as I get to eat it.

G also figured out the real reason why I constantly give him food – my nefarious plan to fatten him up so I can finally outrun him, hehe. No matter how much I try, I have to take three steps for every one of his strides. He always taunts me during our runs, but instead of pushing him into the river (as I wish), I bake him crème brûlée.

It’s really quite unfair when your legs are short, but ah, such is life.

The crust is traditionally made with a torch, but who has that? So here’s a way to get around that – use the broiler setting in the oven. It’s not as evenly caramelized as using a torch, but it gets the job done.

This was originally posted 10/2013, but I had to tweak this recipe (adapted from Allrecipes and Joy of Baking) with a couple tries. Perhaps for the first time ever, the original recipe didn’t have enough sugar for my taste. Also, I tried to cheat the calories by using half and half, but heavy cream is a necessity to get that rich texture. And then I tried to reduce the number of eggs yolks, but you need it for the custard to actually set.

Well, now you can learn from my trials and errors and flawlessly have your very own “fancy French dessert” right in your kitchen using this winning combo.

Crème Brûlée 101:
– Do not overbake the custard – the middle should be wobbly and the edges just set
– The custard can be made ahead of time (custard should be set at least several hours prior), but the crust is best made right before serving. The crust will keep at least several hours before softening
– Before making sugar crust, dab the custard with paper towels to remove any condensation/moisture
– Use superfine sugar (ground white sugar), not brown sugar (contains too much moisture) or confectioners sugar (contains cornstarch). Smaller and uniformly sized crystals of sugar will caramelize more quickly and evenly
– For the most even coating, generously fill the top with several tablespoons of sugar and simply shake off the excess
– Keep the custard as cold as possible right before broiling, and place in an icewater bath to avoid further cooking the custard. 
– Place the ramekins as close to the broiler as possible for the fastest, hottest heating (I stacked the water bath tray on other trays to raise it up) and keep the oven ajar to let heat escape. 
– Make sure to avoid burning your roommate’s butt or setting your mitt on fire *cough*

Crème Brûlée (without a torch)

4 large egg yolks (may add one more yolk for thicker custard)
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
superfine sugar, for topping

Preheat oven to 300 degrees F.

Beat egg yolks, sugar, and vanilla in a mixing bowl until thick and creamy. On stovetop, pour cream into a saucepan and stir over low heat until it almost comes to boil, then remove the cream from heat immediately. Stir cream into the egg yolk mixture; beat until combined.

Optional: pour cream mixture into the top of a double boiler to thicken. Stir until mixture lightly coats the back of a spoon; approximately 3 minutes. Remove mixture from heat.

Pour cream into ramekins places in a water bath, pouring enough hot or boiling water so it comes halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake in oven for 35-45 minutes, until custard is just set with a slight wobble in the center**. Remove from oven and cool to room temperature. Refrigerate for several hours, or overnight.

When ready to serve, set oven to broil. Add 2-3 tablespoons sugar per ramekin, then shake off excess gently to make an even layer over the custard**. Place ramekins under broiler in an ice bath** until sugar melts, about 2 minutes. Watch carefully to avoid burning. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Refrigerate until custard is set again.

** see creme brulee 101 tips above

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