I can't say enough how much I love creme brulee. I love the copper brown sugar crust that looks like stained glass and love even more the cool, silky texture of the custard below. Amelie definitely got it right: taking that first crack at the sugar surface is such a simple pleasure and the moment should be savored.
I also love creme brulee for its relative ease in making. I remember how much that came as a surprise to me. The first time I tried making creme brulee I used a recipe from a Ghiradelli white chocolate bar wrapper. Making the custard was no problem, the brulee part though... well, let's just say that I was inexperienced with broilers and so had no idea how hot they get. I set the timer for 10 minutes, thinking that should be long enough to burn the sugar. Turns out, it only needed 30 seconds to 1 minute. Although I ended up with a disgustingly charred black, bruleed to hell crust, the custard below was miraculously still creamy and delicious. I basically learned that I could scrape off my mistake crust and replace it with a new one with each serving.
Since then, I've really enjoyed taking the basic creme brulee recipe from Joy of Cooking and experimenting with different flavors/fillings, including blueberry, almond, and lemongrass (that's three different flavors, not one... but then again, that could be great!) Since there was fennel from the CSA and a whole bunch of plums from an impulse buy at Costco, I thought I'd try candying the fennel and plum as new creme brulee flavor.
This would be a fabulous dessert to make at Christmas time. My house smelled so warm and inviting while the fennel and plums were candying- kind of like Fig Newtons, actually. Once baked in the custard, they were sweet, spicy, and juicy in texture, similar to that of reconstituted raisins. And actually, I'd recommend saving the step of burning the sugar crust- I believe John and I both actually just liked the custard enough on its own and as John put it, the burnt sugar didn't add anything to the dessert. I think next time, it might be just fine if I did this as a panna cotta or as a pudding.
1/2 plum, slivered
1/2 fennel bulb, slivered
1 tsp fennel seeds
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup water
3 strips of lemon peel
3 large eggs
1 pint heavy cream
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
In a small saucepan, add the plum and fennel slivers and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil then drain. In the same sauce pan, mix together the 3/4 c of sugar and 3/4 c of water with the lemon peel and fennel seeds. Bring to a boil, stirring until sugar dissolves. Add the fennel and plum, and simmer for 45 minutes. Drain and set aside.
Preheat your oven to 300 degrees. Heat the heavy cream in a medium sauce pan until scalded (shouldn't boil, but little bubbles should form at the side and the cream should have a light steam coming out of it.) Boil water in a tea kettle while finishing making the custard. While heating the cream, beat together the sugar and eggs until well combined. Pour a little of the scalded cream into the egg mixture and beat fast to temper the eggs then gradually whisk in the rest of the cream. Add the vanilla and stir.
Set 4 large ramekins in a roasting pan. Evenly divide the candied mixture in the bottom of each ramekin. Pour in the custard mixture into each ramekin and gently stir. Set the roasting pan in the oven and pour hot water from your tea kettle into the roasting pan until water rises at least half way up the ramekins. Bake for 1 hr to 1.5 hrs. The custard should still jiggle when set. (TWSS!) Chill for at least 3 hours.
If you wish to brulee and don't have a torch, set a rack close to your broiler. Evenly sprinkle 1 tsp of sugar over the top surface of your custard and broil until sugar melts, making sure to check often. This probably won't take longer than a minute or two, depending on how hot your broiler gets.
CSA Count: 1