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Red Cup Cooks - Crème brûlée, or "How to Make Friends and Influence People"

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I garnished mine with a strawberry.
I garnished mine with a strawberry.

Guys, are you trying to impress a gal (the answer is, of course, yes)? Is she going on a second or third date with you, and are you hoping to turn that into a fourth, fifth, or sixth rendezvous? Would you like to do something that says "I'm cultured and know a thing or two about the sensibilities of the female palate?" Would you like to play with a torch while doing this?

Gals, are you trying to impress a guy? Is he likely the type of guy who has had seemingly every variety of tried and true baked good thrown his way by potential suitors? You know, chocolate chip cookies, cupcakes, and the like? You're looking to do something a little different and really get him to remember you, ain't ya?

Well that's just great, because I've got the dish for you.

While the name translates out of French as "burnt cream," crème brûlée is a custard - I suppose "custard brûlée" doesn't roll off of the francophone tongue all that well - with a caramelized sugar crust atop it. All one must really know in order to make a proper brûlée is how to prepare a custard. It's not tough. Seriously, it has like four ingredients and a few special techniques. It's something worth learning if you're gonna keep this dessert thing going. If you can get this recipe down, soon enough you'll be cranking out different pies, flans, and Bavarian creams left and right, wowing anybody you please.

Before we move on, let me address those of you who are likely thinking something along these lines:

"What? Seriously? French desserts? I came here to learn how to make a drink using bourbon and bacon bits, not some hoity toity mishmash from continental Europe."

Chill out. While you may have grown accustomed to our discussions of pork, beer, cheeses, and potatoes, there is a lot that can be said about a person who can go beyond their comfort zones of tossing something's flesh onto a grill or stuffing a bunch of shit into a caserrole dish. This is a classic dessert loved around the world and, guess what, it's really not tough to make. There are just a couple of little skills and tricks you'll need, as well as a few rarely used pieces of hardware. Just pay attention, follow the steps closely, and enjoy.

Simple Vanilla Crème Brûlée

Serves 4  

1 pint of heavy cream
1 vanilla bean split and scraped OR 1 teaspoon extract (buying the bean is the way to go for the best flavor)
3 egg yolks
8 tablespoons of sugar  

How to do it:
Preheat your oven to 325 degrees fahrenheit.  

Put the heavy cream in a medium saucepan with the vanilla bean and vanilla pulp (or extract, you cheapskate). Over medium high heat, bring to a boil before immediately taking it off of the heat. You're not cooking pasta here, you're just getting the cream hot enough to leech as much vanilla goodness as you can out of that bean. Seriously, as soon as it even begins to look like it's boiling get it off of your cooktop.

Let that cool for about 10 minutes.  

In a mixing bowl, put four tablespoons of sugar with your egg yolks and whisk until together. You'll know it's where you want it once the mixture is a much lighter yellow than the yolks were on their own. It will not look chunky or grainy or anything like that. If anything, it'll have the consistency of a runny cake frosting.  

Once the cream is cooled, pull the bean out (if you see eensy weensy bits of vanilla stuff floating in the cream, then you done good). Slowly mix this with the yolk/sugar mixture, adding a little bit of cream at a time as to not cause any curdling. PAY ATTENTION: This is perhaps the most important step in creating a custard. If you do not do this correctly the custard will have a shitty consistency. As you, once again, gradually incorporate the cream into the yolks, you must continuously stir the the mixture. This can be a two person job, with one person slowly pouring the cream out of the saucepan and into the mixing bowl while the other person whisks the contents of the bowl. Regardless, get it all mixed and incorporated. Stir it like you mean it, but don't whip it.  

Once the custard is together, pour it into four separate 4" ramekins (Don't have them? You can get them for like two bucks apiece at Target. No excuses.) and arrange them in a small baking pan. In the baking pan (which is not a baking sheet), pour hot water about halfway up the sides of the ramekins.

This last step is crucial. Why? Well, teh Googlenets says it's because "some foods require moisture in the oven, as well as a milder heat source than the direct heat of the oven, such as custards, puddings, and cheesecakes...although you don't absolutely have to use a water bath, cheesecakes tend to crack without the moist heat and custards can become rubbery if they're not baked in a water bath." Remember, this is a custard. Waterbath that shit.  

Bake for 45 minutes.  

Take them out of the oven, carefully, and refrigerate for a few hours. If you're in a pinch, freeze them for a half hour. It's gotta set a little bit, like jello, before you torch it.  

Once the custards are cool and firm, take the remaining sugar to form a crust atop each one. It should only take about a tablespoon per ramekin. 

Using a butane torch (Small ones are ~$20 at a hardware store. I got this one with a can of butane from the Home Depot for this very purpose.), burn the sugar until it turns a deep amber color. This is, naturally, the fun part. Be sure to heat the sugar evenly, as you don't want anything burned too badly. It only takes a few seconds to get the sugar to melt and turn nice and colorful so keep your eye on what you're doing very closely. While the sugar's still molten, carefully swirl the dish around to create an even crust. You've got to be quite careful here because molten sugar flows quickly and is astonishingly sticky. You don't want it to touch your skin. Trust me. You'll need to let the sugar cool for five to ten minutes so it forms a thick candy crust.  

Garnish it. Berries are always a good choice. You could also go with molten caramel, whipped cream, or really any damned thing you please. Hell, throw some M&Ms on top of it. See if I care.

Eat it with a spoon. Enjoy it. Win people over. Seduce members of the opposite sex. Rinse and repeat.