I never used to get that excited about creme brulee, or crème brûlée (if I want to pretend that I understand French punctuation and didn’t just copy that directly from Wikipedia). However, my indifference completely changed when Robert and I had it for dessert during our anniversary dinner at The Refectory. We actually ordered a chocolate hazelnut torte, but the waiter brought us a complimentary Creme Brulee as well because we were celebrating a special occasion. O.M.G.- it rocked my world! The burnt sugar topping tasted like a perfectly-roasted marshmallow and the “creme” portion was baked just right with a very intense vanilla flavor. It was served with a crispy palmier and, from that moment on, my view on this custard treat changed forever.
To recreate this dish, I used a recipe from Alton Brown as his cooking and baking methods never disappoint. It’s made up of only a few ingredients, but it does require a whole vanilla bean. Vanilla beans are a little pricey and sometimes tough to find; however, the waiter at The Refectory claimed it was what made their creme brulee stand out-and I’d have to agree after tasting it. Luckily, our local Kroger carries them.
This dessert is definitely a special occasion treat- in part because of the time required to make it, but also due to the fact that it’s pure cream. So if you’re in the mood to indulge, this dessert is absolutely for you. Don’t cut corners with this recipe, just run an extra mile before you sit down to enjoy it.
- 1 quart heavy cream
- 1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
- 1 cup vanilla sugar, divided
- 6 large egg yolks
- 2 quarts hot water
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
Slit the vanilla bean down the middle with a paring knife and scrape out the beans. Get as much out as you can- they’re like gold!
Place the cream, vanilla bean and its pulp into a medium saucepan set over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat, cover and allow to sit for 15 minutes. Remove the vanilla bean and reserve for another use.
In a medium bowl, whisk together 1/2 cup sugar and the egg yolks until well blended and it just starts to lighten in color. Add the cream a little at a time, stirring continually.
Pour the liquid into 6 (7 to 8-ounce) ramekins. Place the ramekins into a large cake pan or roasting pan (I used two 9-inch round cake pans).
Pour enough hot water into the pan to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins. I recommend putting only one rack in the oven, placing the cakes with the creme brulee on the rack (don’t pull the rack out), and then pour the hot water in the pans to avoid splashing the water into the ramekins during the transport. Bake just until the creme brulee is set, but still trembling in the center, approximately 40 to 45 minutes. Remove the ramekins from the roasting pan and refrigerate for at least 2 hours and up to 3 days.
Remove the creme brulee from the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes prior to browning the sugar on top. Divide the remaining 1/2 cup vanilla sugar equally among the 6 dishes and spread evenly on top. Using a torch, melt the sugar and form a crispy top (this is the best part! ). Allow the creme brulee to sit for at least 5 minutes before serving.