This easy to make dessert named Crème brûlée may not be French at all. England, Spain and France all claim to have created the first version of it. Food historians generally agree however, that custards were popular in the Middle Ages and recipes for custards circulated widely through Europe. Custards were so popular that it’s almost impossible to trace specific roots as to where it began. The question then becomes, who was the first to caramelize the sugar on top and to serve it as a dessert?
Anyways, let them talk and we shall enjoy this delicious dessert. And since the weather is getting chillier by the day, let’s make a spiced version of crème brûlée.
By the way, crème brûlée is a great way to use leftover egg yolks.
As an option, you may omit the spices leaving only, say, vanilla. In any case you will have a beautiful and rich, flavourful dessert.
Spiced crème brûlée:
- 600 g/ 2½ c half-and-half or light pouring cream with 10% fat content
- 1 vanilla pod, seeds scraped, pod reserved
- 4 2-3″ cinnamon sticks
- 1 T crushed whole star anise pieces
- 12 cardamom pods, lightly crushed
- 8 whole cloves
- 30 whole black peppercorns
- 4 oz/ 120 g/ 7 large egg yolks
- 2.67 oz/ 80 g/ 1/3 c packed light brown sugar
- 1 T/ 1 oz/ 25 g honey
- ½ t/ 2 g salt
- 6 oz/ 180 g sugar, for caramelization
Prepare an ice bath in a large bowl.
In a medium saucepan, bring the light cream and all the spices to a simmer over medium heat.
Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, brown sugar, honey and salt. While whisking, slowly pour about a third of the hot cream and whisk to combine. Slowly whisk in the remaining hot cream and the spices into the egg mixture.
Set the bowl in the ice bath and let cool, stirring occasionally.
Remove the bowl from the ice bath, cover with cling film and refrigerate for at least 6 hrs, but preferably overnight. It’s also optional to chill the mixture for a shorter time, say couple of hours, then the mixture won’t infuse with the spices as much and the flavour won’t be as strong, but just a hint.
Preheat the oven to 300ºF/ 150ºC. Prepare 6 shallow 6-oz/ 180-ml ramekins. I used 3 13-oz/400-ml ramekins. Also prepare a baking tray or another large dish that can house all the ramekins. Boil ~1.5 l of water.
Strain the infused custard base through a fine-mesh strainer, discard the spices. Divide the custard evenly among the ramekins. Put them into the prepared tray or dish and fill it with boiling water until it comes halfway up the sides of the ramekins.
Bake in the preheated oven for 30-40 min., until the custards are just set but still wobbly in the centre when shaken.
Remove the baking dish from the oven and let the custards cool completely in the dish with water.
Remove the ramekins from the water bath and refrigerate for at least 4 hrs.
To serve, sprinkle an even layer of the sugar in each ramekin and caramelize it with a blowtorch. Repeat if required. Let stand for a few minutes to allow the caramel to harden.