It isn't that I haven't been cooking, I have, but it's been a week of failures. The goats' cheese and gruyere bread from Saveur had a cake-like texture and slightly goaty flavor. I never liked goats' cheese anyway. Those two loaves of bread were the most expensive I've ever made. Then I made a yellow butter cake from Joy Of Baking and that too didn't turn out well. It was heavy and dry and I think it's stupid to not use whole eggs. Since the yellow butter cake left me with all the whites, I decided to make hazelnut pavlovas. Now I've never made a pavlova in my life because I'm not a meringue person. I find them too dry and sweet. Same thing with the other meringue-based overrated confectionary--macarons (I hear protests). The first pavlova I made fell towards the end of the baking time so I cracked new eggs. The second pavlova was stiff and high; yes! Then it happened again. It fell.. I don't know if it's because of the humidity (not likely since I hadn't taken them out of the oven) or the fact that I opened the oven several times, out of curiousity. Anyway, they fell flat and tasted gummy. I gave up.
But instead of whites, I now had extra yolks so I decided to make creme brulee because I haven't yet used my blow torch which Ming gave me last Christmas. Ming used the torch to light fireworks and firecrackers during the Chinese New Year period. Wey uses it to toast the unending lines of red fire ants that hurry up and down our backyard fence. Boys.
Creme caramel and creme brulee are nearly the same thing, the former is made with eggs and milk and usually baked in a large dish and then turned upside down to reveal the syrupy caramel coating the eggy custard while the later is made with egg yolks and cream and usually served in small ramekins with a crust of caramelized sugar (it's French after all and presentation is as important as taste) on top of a less eggy more creamy pudding.
I went through dozens of magazines, cookbooks and websites and the more I searched, the more confused I got. I wanted a creme brulee that's not too firm or too soft, silky and creamy with a good sugar crust. While all recipes I found use the same 4 basic ingredients--egg yolks, cream (some with milk), vanilla and sugar, the amount of egg yolks to cream varied wildly. I was cautious because last year I made Spanish creme catalana based on the Oct 2007 issue of Australian Gourmet Traveller and the creme didn't set. The reason I think was because the creme and eggs were heated in a pot "until thick enough to coat the spoon" but not baked. Somebody should tell them the recipe doesn't work.
Here's a comparison of egg yolks to creme from different chefs for those who are interested:
Recipes By No. of Yolks Creme/Liquid (ml) Creme Per Yolk(ml)
Alton Brown 6 946 158
Alton Brown 6 946 158
Jamie Oliver 6 375 63
Saveur 4 500 125
BBC Good Food 5 526 105
Debbie Puente 8 500 63
Michael Smith 8 750 94
Gordon Ramsey 12/6/4 1200/475/430 100/79/108
Nigella Lawson 8 625 78
Simon Rimmer 6 500 83
Aus Gourmet T. 10 1500 150
Joe Pastry 4 500 125
To find out once and for all which creme brulee gives the best texture, I tested three recipes. 1) Saveur & Joe's yolk to creme ratio of 1:125 ml 2) BBC Good Food & Ramsey's yolk to creme ratio of 1: 100 ml (different websites gave different recipes in the name of Ramsey so I used the one with the middle yolk concentration) 3) Nigella & Rimmer's yolk: creme of 1:80 ml. Extremes such as Jamie and Debbie's of 1: 63 and Brown and AGT's thin concentration of 1:158/150 were eliminated. Most recipes call for one tablespoon of sugar to 1 yolk but I reduced the sugar to 3/4 T and it was fine. Eaten with the sugar crust, this dessert was sugar overkill.
Which creme brulee did I like best? I was surprised. Both the 1:125 and 1:100 made very soft custard, so soft it was like thick cream. Nigella & Rimmer's 1 yolk to 80 ml cream made the best creme brulee, silky and soft but not runny. I think maybe I was wrong about Jamie & Debbie Puente's recipes, but I ran out of cream.
Creme brulee's wow factor is high because you have to break the hardened, caramelized, yummy sugar crust to get to the cream but after eating the whole pot, I felt poisoned with sugar and cream. I think I prefer cream caramel. I hear protests again.
6 large egg yolks
4 1/2 T caster sugar (reduced from 7 T)
500 ml heavy cream (you can replace 1/2 with whole milk if concerned about the fat)
1 vanilla pod or 1/2 t pure vanilla extract
extra caster sugar (about 4 t) for sugar crust topping
1. Preheat oven at 140 C. Put a tray in the middle rack of the oven and add about 1" /2.5 cm water. Get 6 ramekins ready.
2. Whisk (I used a hand blender whisk) the yolks and sugar until light and fluffy.
3. Bring the cream and vanilla (split the vanilla pod, scrape out the seeds and add the seeds n pod into the cream) to a boil and pour into the yolk mixture, stirring well. Let it sit for a while to let the bubbles subside.
4. Strain the cream mixture into small ramekins. If the ramekins are big, fill halfway up. If small, go up to 3/4 full. This is to make sure you get enough to eat. Carefully place the filled ramekins into the tray of water (if you are making a lot, it's better to place the ramekins on the baking tray on the kitchen counter, fill the ramekins, then put the tray into the oven and fill the tray with hot water) and bake for 30 minutes. The custard should still be wobbly in the middle if you shake the ramekin gently.
5. Remove and let custard cool. Chill in fridge for at least 3-4 hours. When ready to serve, sprinkle caster sugar (1/2 t to 1 t) evenly over the top of the custard (level the sugar), wipe the edges and sides of the ramekin of any sugar and broil under a hot grill or use a blow torch to caramelise the sugar. Chill the custard for 5-10 minutes before serving because the custard can melt under the torch.