If I could only make one dessert for the rest of my life, although God forbid that should ever happen, it would be this one. This stuff is absolute magic. I’m serious – if it wasn’t for crème brûlée, I might not have a husband.
You think I’m kidding, I’m not. This is the first dessert I ever made for my husband (when we first started dating). It saved me from the disaster that was his first birthday supper with me. I’m convinced that it was what made him decide I was the one he needed to marry. Once you taste this, you’ll understand why.
Now, I know there are those of you out there who don’t like white chocolate. I’m not one of you. No, it’s not “real” chocolate, but it’s still good. Try it anyway. I’ll admit – on most days I’ll use Nestle, but I dream of what it could be like using a Green & Blacks white chocolate bar. And even if you leave out the white chocolate, don’t leave out the vanilla bean. It imparts flavor and presentation you won’t forget. As with most recipes you hear these days, use the best ingredients available to you – because it is so simplistic, whatever you use in this dessert will shine through in the end. (Be not afraid. Like I said, I use Nestle white chocolate chips and more often than not, ultra-pasteurized heavy cream from the local Kroger. I will not judge you. Please do not, however, try to use candy bark in place of white chocolate. It will not work. Bark is not the same thing as white chocolate – I didn’t believe it either, but it’s true. Bark = bad plan.
TIP: If you’re worried about only using yolks and having leftover whites (fear of wasting food – I has it), save the whites for macarons (Mrs. Humble has a beautiful set of 101 walkthroughs for Italian AND French meringue) or angel food cake(s) or Swiss meringue buttercream if, like me, you so happen to have someone in the house who prefers difficult frostings to simple ones on his cakes.
White Chocolate Crème Brûlée
4 egg yolks
1/3 cup sugar
4 oz white chocolate
2 cups heavy cream
1 vanilla bean
1 tsp vanilla (optional)
4 tbsp sugar
Preheat the oven to 300F. Split vanilla bean and scrape, adding scrapings and whole bean to heavy cream in a medium saucepan. Heat cream on medium-low to medium and bring to a simmer, never boiling, stirring occasionally. When cream makes a simmer (and small bubbles have formed around the rim of the cream), add in white chocolate and stir until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth. Remove from heat and set aside.
Combine yolks and 1/3 cup of sugar in a medium bowl; whisk until pale and creamy, but do not overmix (fluffy yolks make for puffy, if still tasty, custards). Strain the cream mixture and temper with 2-4 tablespoons of the hot cream mixture, whisking constantly. Gradually add cream in small doses (to avoid scrambled eggs), whisking constantly, until total mixture is liquid and smooth. Add vanilla if necessary. Pour into 7″ ramekins placed in a baking dish, then fill the baking dish with warm water to 1/2″ to 1″ deep (about halfway up the ramekins). Bake for 45 minutes at 300F or until centers no longer jiggle violently. Remove ramekins from baking dish (without getting water into any of the custards), let cool on a wire rack for an hour, then transfer to refrigerator to chill for at least four hours.
To caramelize sugar for brûlée topping, heat 1 tablespoon sugar per custard in a small, dry pan over medium to medium-high heat. Stir or swirl pan occasionally if necessary. The sugar will eventually begin to melt on its own; you may stir (preferably with a small object, such as a chopstick or wooden skewer) to be sure all the sugar melts evenly. When the sugar has turned a nice golden brown, pour the melted sugar over the chilled custard and swirl the custard gently to coat the entire surface. Let harden before serving.
This is a recipe that takes a bit of practice to master, fortunately. Don’t let it scare you like it used to scare me. Your testers will be thrilled to have so many attempts to savor, because even the failures are delicious. If your custard doesn’t set properly within a set amount of time, leave it in the fridge another 2-4 hours – and then eat it anyway. If you don’t feel like waiting on the sugar to melt, top it with homemade whipped cream and fresh berries, maybe a chiffonade of fresh mint and go for it. If you have to make more than four servings, I recommend doing it in batches – don’t try to extend the recipe (unless you’re an experience baker, at which juncture you probably don’t need to be listening to me in the first place). I’ve seen some recipes that say to bake the custard in a tart pan and make one big one. If you want to try it, more power to you (I may, in the name of experimenting), but I just can’t see how you’d serve a slice of crème brûlée and not fluke the experience. Besides, everyone likes to be served as individuals. And there’s less fighting over that last bit of custard in the tart pan.
I think my favorite part may be the crack of the sugar shell before digging into that sweet creamy custard. Although now that I have a basic tutorial for French macarons, my favorite part may be having egg whites left over for macaron experimenting.
Do you have a favorite flavor of crème brûlée?