National Crème Brûlée Day is observed each year on the 27th day of July. It is a great excuse to enjoy what must be considered one of the finest examples of a creamy dessert on the planet. By our very nature as human beings, we are drawn to contrasts in color, flavors, textures. What greater contract in textures exists on a single dessert besides Crème Brûlée?
The earliest know reference of Crème Brûlée as we know it today appeared in François Massialot’s cookbook of 1691. Francois Massialot was a French Chef who served as Chef de Cuisine to Philippe I, Duke of Orleans and brother to Louis XIV. Massialot once described himself as “a cook who dares to qualify himself as royal” and rightfully so since his creations were served at court to princes and people of the first rank. His most famous creation now enjoyed by commoners and royalty alike is Crème Brûlée, a custard topped with sugar that had been burnt with a red-hot fire shovel. Thank goodness for broiler ovens and kitchen torches!
Now before we get down to the Crème Brûlée, we need to discuss a key ingredient in the recipe. That ingredient is Vanilla Sugar. You can buy vanilla sugar or you can make it. Pound for pound, it is much cheaper to do it yourself. That brings us to our next question – do we want the sugar fast (as in flavored) or do we want the real deal (as in a fermentation of sorts). Now I did see a vanilla sugar on line that is made using both the fast and slow methods for (as they put it) a deeper vanilla experience. I’m actually kicking around the idea of combining both methods for Christmas gifts to the bakers on my list.
Truth be told, most of the time I use the quick “flavored” method. It’s not that the results are better, but that I generally don’t think far enough ahead.
Vanilla Flavored Sugar
2 cups Sugar
1 teaspoon Pure Vanilla Extract
Place sugar in large resealable plastic bag. Add vanilla extract. Seal bag and knead sugar until the vanilla is evenly distributed. Spread sugar on large rimmed baking sheet.
Let stand 25 to 30 minutes or until sugar is dried. Store in airtight container. If sugar clumps up, break apart by rubbing between fingers.
Vanilla Bean Sugar
1 Vanilla Bean
2 cups Sugar
Slice down side of the vanilla bean with back of knife to open. Scrape seeds into airtight container with the sugar. Give a quick stir or shake to distribute the seeds with the sugar.
Bury the bean itself in sugar and seal tightly with lid. Let sit for 1 to 2 weeks. Use the Vanilla Bean Sugar as you would granulated sugar.
Vanilla Crème Brûlée with Fresh Blackberries
1 Vanilla Bean, split and scraped
2 pints Heavy Cream
1/2 cup Vanilla Sugar, plus additional for caramelizing
6 large Egg Yolks
1 Pint Blackberries
Heat oven to 325 degrees. Carefully slice the vanilla bean down the center and scrape out the bean with the tip of a knife. Add cream, vanilla bean, and vanilla bean scrapings into a medium pot over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and cover, allowing the pot to sit for 15 minutes undisturbed. Remove vanilla bean pod, rinse, and allow to dry to be used for something else.
Note: If you used the fast method for vanilla sugar, you can start making the slow method using the bean you’ve just dried.
While the warm cream is sitting covered, add egg yolks and 1/2 cup vanilla sugar to a medium bowl. Whisk vigorously until mixture is well-blended and begins to lighten in color. Add the cream a little at a time, stirring constantly.
Place ramekins into a pan to create a bath for baking the custard. If necessary, use two cake pans.
Ladle liquid cream mixture into ramekins, filling each ramekin nearly to the top without spilling over.
Heat a kettle with water. Carefully pour hot water into the cake pans around the ramekins, filling the pan until the water comes halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Place the pans in the oven and bake for 40-45 minutes or until the custard is set but still trembling in the center of each ramekin. Remove the ramekins from the pans and refrigerate for at least 2 hours. You can keep the Crème Brûlée in the refrigerator for up to three days.
About 30 minutes prior to serving, remove the ramekins from the refrigerator and let them sit on the counter to come toward room temperature. Sprinkle enough vanilla sugar over the custard to cover the surface with a thin layer. Using a small kitchen torch, heat the sugar until it liquefies to a golden brown. Once all sugar is caramelized, allow to rest for 2-3 minutes before serving.
Just before serving, garnish with fresh berries.