A Kiss of Summer to Chase Away the Winter Blues

Have you ever had one of those “Gee, I coulda had a V-8” the lightbulb coming on moments? When it comes to National Peach Melba Day and January, it was an epiphany moment.

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Chocolate Heaven!

I don’t really remember the first time I ate a soufflé. I do recall the most unusual place – a giant claw-foot bathtub in an old Victorian Hotel. Hubby had ordered soufflés from room service, and I had decided to take a bubble bath. I gotta tell you,  I don’t care what sort of a Chef you think you are, never include a soufflé on your room service menu. Something definitely goes wrong in transit. And by that, I don’t meant it’s fallen.

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Vanilla Crème Brûlée with Fresh Blackberries

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?

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Irish Cream Crème Brûlée

If the recipe looks oddly familiar, it is – I originally posted this recipe as part of my Saint Patrick’s Day Supper menu collection. Have I mentioned that Crème Brûlée is one of my all time favorite desserts? It ranks right up there with Chocolate Mousse and Grand Marnier Souffles. (Hubby’s favorite French dessert is my Chocolate Souffle with a Grand Marnier Cream Sauce. But that’s a recipe for another day).

10-25-98-2Once upon a time, back in our “traveling” days, while on vacation I dined on Crème Brûlée every day. Some days it was dessert, other days I ate Crème Brûlée with tropical fruit as a light brunch. (It’s made with eggs, isn’t it? Eggs equals brunch.) I know that brunch is bit of a stretch, but hey I had good reason. We were vacationing in the South Pacific at the time – with its heavy French influence and tropical island delights. The Vanilla Crème Brûlée, made with Tahitian Vanilla Beans – oh my, I’m telling you it was to die for! Such a treat isn’t something to be missed. Now I suppose I could be wrong – perhaps it was the beauty of the islands that made everything taste delightful. Perhaps it was the tropical breeze, the shimmering waters, the sunsets that took your breath away that made island life so wonderful. All I know with any certainty was that one visit to the islands of the South Pacific and they will forever steal your heart away. The warmth of the people, the simple uncluttered existence and unhurried pace. The islands of Tahiti will quite your mind and refresh your spirit. Words cannot describe a Tahitian Vacation. Just be sure to pick your islands wisely – the further from “tourist” destinations the better – unless the tranquility of a pristine blue lagoon shattered by the sound of jet skies is your idea of a good time. If that’s the case, by all means stay at a chain hotel on one of the larger islands – they specialize in American Tourist activities. (Again, a “rant” posting for another day). Today we’re talking about the virtues of  Crème Brûlée . . .

Crème Brûlée as we know it today has been a part of French cuisine since 1691. While Vanilla Crème Brûlée is the most common, the cream can be flavored in a variety of ways – everything from Bananas to White Chocolate. Case in point, Irish Cream.

Irish Cream Crème Brûlée
3 Cups Heavy Cream
1 Vanilla Bean
3 Tablespoons Irish Cream
8 Large Egg Yolks, at room temperature
1/3 Cup Sugar
½ Cup ULTRA FINE sugar

superfine sugarNote: White sugar caramelizes best. Brown sugar contains too much moisture to give that golden bubbly crunch expected of Crème Brûlée. Raw sugar is too coarse to properly bubble. If you do not have ultra fine baker’s sugar, regular sugar will do. Run it through a food processor to break down into an ultra fine grain.

Heat oven to 300-degrees. Have six ¾-cup ramekins and shallow roasting pan at the ready.

In a saucepan over medium heat, combine the cream and vanilla bean. Bring to a gently boil, remove from heat, cover and set aside for 15-30 minutes to blend the flavors. Remove the vanilla bean from the cream. Using the tip of a knife, split the pod and scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean into the cream. Discard the bean.

Return the cream to medium heat and bring almost to a boil. Remove from heat.

In a bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, and 1/3 cup sugar until just blended. Slowly whisk in the hot cream. Return the mixture to the saucepan over medium-low heat. Add Irish Cream and cook, stirring constantly, until the custard is thick enough to coast the back of a spoon, about 3-4 minutes. DO NOT let it boil. Pour the custard through a strainer into the ramekins, dividing it evenly among them.

Arrange the ramekins in the roasting pans. Pour very hot tap water into the pan to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Cover the entire pan with foil. Bake until the custards are set but the centers still giggle slightly when the ramekins are gently shaken, about 40 minutes. Remove from the oven but leave in the water bath until cool enough to handle, then lift out the ramekins. Cover and refrigerate overnight until well chilled. Remove from refrigerator about 20 minutes before serving.

Just before serving, preheat the broiler. Sift ½ cup ULTRA FINE sugar over the tops of the custards to form a thin, even layer. Place the ramekins on a baking sheet. Slip the baking sheet under the broiler, 2-3 inches from heat source. Broil until the sugar melts and caramelizes, 1-2 minutes. Turn the ramekins as needed to cook the sugar evenly.

torchAlternate Method: Use a small kitchen blowtorch to caramelize the sugar. Serve immediately and enjoy the crunch of the caramel, and the smooth richness custard with just a hint of Irish Cream.