Monday, May 2, 2011

Vanilla Bean Creme Brulee

Even though I've heard over and over again how EASY creme brulee is, I never attempted it because I am not confident when it comes to baking anything. Hand me a bag full of groceries and I bet I could whip up a spectacular dinner - but ask me to bake cookies, brownies, pudding, cupcakes...uh, I will look back at you with a blank stare. I hate how the measurements on baked goods have to be exact, maybe it's the fact that in my kitchen I don't follow the rules. My cooking is exactly that...mine. I like to use recipes simply as a guide...but a recipe for a baked good isn't a guide, it's a road map that must be followed exactly or else you run off the road and down a cliff. Next thing you know, you are crying in front of the stove as your cupcakes fall into a concave shape in the muffin tins.             Oh, that's just me?

Now that you know my angst surrounding baking you are probably wondering how in the world I talked myself into Creme Brulee. Last weekend I had seen yet another cooking show where the chef whips up creme brulee and exclaims to the audience how utterly easy it is to do. Well, I've about heard enough! That was it! I am going to the store to buy my own butane blow torch (it was the ONE kitchen gadget I have yet to own) It was the blow torch that really sent me in a tizzy. Blowing fire and burning things never looked so fun! I settled on a recipe, made my grocery list and hit up my HEB...only to leave with everything I needed except for the blow torch. I wasn't going to let that stop me. After all, I should find out if I am even capable of making a creme brulee before I purchase another kitchen gadget.

For my Vanilla Bean Creme Brulee, I stuck to a pretty traditional recipe. If you search online, you will find so many variations for the "basic" creme brulee. I found recipes calling anywhere from 3-10 eggs for one batch. Some say use vanilla bean, some say use vanilla extract. Some use whipping creme, some use whole milk, some half and half. Really, the recipes I found online ran the gamut. I pulled the best out of all I read to make my own - and I used both vanilla extract and a bean (for the black specks). My sweet Mother-in-Law brought me back the vanilla extract from her recent vacation to Mexico. Thanks Deb! And Jim thanks you too!

HWM Vanilla Bean Creme Brulee
5 Egg Yolks
2 Cups Whipping Cream
1 Tablespoon Vanilla Extract
1 Cup Sugar (plus more for burning on top at the end)
1 Vanilla Bean, split lengthwise

Start by separating your eggs. The yolks go into the bowl of your mixer.

I put the egg whites in a mason jar that goes into the fridge. It is destined to be an egg white omelet in the morning.

Add two cups of  whipping cream to a saucepan set over medium-low heat. We want the cream to heat through and steam, but not boil. Add the vanilla extract.

I was trying to take a picture of the vanilla bean "caviar" inside the bean. Using a knife, carefully split the bean in half lengthwise and then scrape out all the wonderful caviar on the inside and add it to the milk.

You can kind of see the black dots in this image of my steaming milk. I kept the whisk in the saucepan and gave it a stir every couple of minutes.

I keep two whole vanilla beans in my sugar bin to infuse it with the lovely aroma.

Add a cup of sugar to the egg yolks.

Mix on medium speed until the eggs become pale yellow and thick.

This is exactly what we are looking for.

Next, using a fine mesh strainer, pour the steamed milk into a measuring cup (something with a spout is best) so you can separate the whole beans from the rest of the vanilla scented milk.

Two cups of steaming milk, ready to be added to the eggs.

Let me stop for a second to say that you can infuse your dessert with ANY kind of flavor! Instead of adding a vanilla bean to steep in the hot milk, what about a sprig of lavendar or other herb like thyme? Fresh ginger, jalapeno (that's a Texas thing) or herbal tea would be fantastic. What about a splash of liquor like Bailey's? I just wanted you to know you can take this recipe and customize it to your liking.

If we added this all at once, it would cook the eggs and you would be left with a sweet egg scramble in your mixing bowl. The best way to do this is to start the mixer and add about a tablespoon at a very slow drizzle. Let that incorporate, then do it again. Adding just a little at a time until you have one cup fully incorporated. This is "tempering the eggs." After the first cup of hot milk is added, you don't have to be so careful about adding the second cup. 

Creme Brulee is traditionally served in ceramic ramekins. I used a mix of two round ramekins and two ceramic gratin boats. I don't see why you can't use any oven proof dish.
Pour custard mixture into ramekins. This mixture could have easily made six individual servings. I made two boats for Jim and I to share and then two individual servings.

The next step is easiest if you put your tray in the oven, and then pour a pot of boiling water into the baking sheet until it comes halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake for 30-45 minutes at 325 degrees, or until just set.

Let these cool on the counter, then cover with plastic wrap and chill in the fridge for 4 hours (or as long as you can wait.)
Some recipes say to use fine sanding sugar, some call for other fancy sugar. This is just plain old granulated sugar that I sprinkled over the top of my custard and it tasted great. Since I didn't have a blow torch (boo) I turned the broiler of my oven on, and placed this about two inches from the heating element. Jim was doing the dishes and I got caught up in conversation. About one minute went by and I smelled the burnt sugar. Holy $#!+ I was freaking out. I just knew I had ruined our dessert when I yanked it out of the oven!
It was way darker around the edges than I would have liked...

But guess what? It was still soooo yummy! The charred top didn't stop us from completely devouring this dessert. I loved the deep caramel crust that formed on top. Woo Hoo, I can bake! Well, I can make Creme Brulee at least. As it turns out, the chefs on TV were right - this is an easy dessert.

I'm excited because it doesn't hav a long list of fancy ingredients, or call for fancy kitchen appliances - I used the oven and it worked great. Now before dinner the next night, I went and found me one of those butane torches and charred the hell out of our creme brulee the second evening - it was way more fun. I can see these being a hit at a dinner party. You can make these the day before the event, and then do the burnt sugar right before serving. If you trust your dinner guests enough, let everyone do their own.

I have a bunch of spiramint from the farmers market, maybe I will do mint chocolate next?


  1. I want a kitchen torch!!!!!

  2. YUMMM!!! I am SO not a baker but have been tempted many times to try this. I think you've convinced me.

  3. Your CB looks amazing! Well done!

    You don't give yourself enough credit... I wanted CB too, and I wanted to play with the torch... But I opted for the box mix, and loved it any way! :)

    See here:

    Remember, YOU are wonderful and can do anything you set your mind to do. Even baking!

  4. I can't stand baking, either! But I just got a blowtorch as well...and it's pretty dang fun to light stuff on fire. :) I haven't tried creme brulee yet, but this looks wonderful!


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