Was the torch the excuse for the creme brûlée, or the creme brûlée the excuse for the torch? I'm not sure, but I'm enjoying both!
I have made flan a lot, with the melted sugar at the bottoms of the custard cups that drizzles over the tops when you upend them on plates. But when I had creme brûlée at a restaurant once, I was taken by the similarity, yet elegant differences. I liked the rich silky texture, but the crunchy sugar top was so cool!
Tristan and I decided we wanted to do creme brûlée enough to buy a torch for, and so he got this one at Harbor Freight, and with coupons and sales, it worked out to about 12 bucks. We already had a little can of butane for filling the fuel tank, the same stuff you fill lighters with.
Creme brûlée is basically heavy cream and egg yolks, with some sugar and vanilla. I decided that I wanted to feel a little better about my ingredients, so I used half cream and half half-and-half. It was still excellent, and I would do it that way next time, unless I was trying to royally impress someone with all that whipping cream. My recipe called for a vanilla bean. Not going to happen. I used high quality real vanilla extract.
The tedious thing about making baked custard/flan and creme brûlée is the need to bake it in a water bath, to keep the outer edges from over-cooking before the center is set. I couldn't find one baking dish the right size to fit all four of my ramekins in, so I had to use 1-9x13, 1-9x9, and one round pie plate. A dishcloth went in the bottom of each, then the ramekins, then fill them with the custard, then put them on the oven rack, and then fill up around them halfway with boiling water. The hard part is sliding the rack in to the pre-heated oven without spilling anything! My racks scrape and rock when I push them in.
For the sugar topping, my recipe called for turbinado sugar, which I just happened to have, from making up a pork rub last fall. It is like raw sugar, coarse granules and traces of the cane syrup on it.
And then the fun!
Tristan was the best at it because he had that "welding technique" perfected. Finally, when it was melted enough for me, I cracked into it.
They said to stick it back in the fridge to chill, because the torch heats up a section of the top layer, but I like it like this. The contrast of the warm stripe of custard with the cold part at the bottom, the silky smoothness with the crunchy top. It was delicious!
1 cup heavy cream, 1 cup half-and-half, 1/3 cup white sugar, 1 tsp. Real Vanilla
Mix together, ensuring the sugar is dissolved.
6 egg yolks, beaten up.
Pour the cream mixture into the egg yolks, whisking as you do. Strain mixture through sieve. Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
Line a baking dish with a kitchen towel and set ramekins on the towel. Fill ramekins or baking cups (I filled four dishes halfway full) with custard, and then set baking dish on middle rack. Pour boiling water in dish, being careful not to get water into custard cups. The water should come to around halfway up the ramekin. Slide rack into oven and bake for about 25-35 minutes. Center will be lightly set. Best of all, use an instant read thermometer and test the centers for 170-175 degrees.
Remove from water bath, let cool somewhat on counter. Cover tightly with plastic and refrigerate. When you are ready to torch them, peel off plastic and blot any condensation with a paper towel.
Strew a couple teaspoons of turbinado sugar on top, shake around, and then pour off excess. Torch it. Eat it. That's it!