Monday, April 19, 2010

Creme Brulee

Creme brulee

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
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.

Knock knock

Creme Brulee
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.


Precious Pea said...

I was doing my grocery few hours ago and nearly got myself a packet of those instant powder for making creme brulee *shame on me*. Hehe..thanks Terri, I shall try this soon!

Mel Chan said...

Creme brulee ... aww ... i've eaten one in Paris and it was def the best one I've ever eaten

btw can I also get the same effect of caramelised sugar without the torch? I read somewhere about putting the creme brulee on the very top of the oven. Will it also work?

Zurin said...

The number of egg yolks put me off making creme brulees plus of course I dont have a blow torch.heh

I dont fancy making pavlovas or meringues either because they ridiculously sweet n I have too many cavities...I dont care how pretty they look..yea I here all teh protests

but if I do make its simply because Iwant to decorate my blog..:))

kat said...

Have been toying with the idea of making creme brulee for ages. I actually like mine without the burnt sugar crust. It's kinda like eating milky-eggy silky smooth tau foo fa. :) And I like creme caramel too. Do you have a good recipe for that as well?

LilyAnette said...

Oh Creme Brulee! I like! Was just thinking about making it for a playdate next week. I just think the weather back there is just too humid for meringue and Macaron. But over here, I have no problem getting them light.

Jasmine said...

Wow, THANK YOU for doing all that research! If I ever do creme brulee, I'll come straight to your post.

Babe_KL said...

i love creme brulee!

on getting successful pavlova, try not to open the oven door at all during baking and after baking. leave it to cool completely inside the oven. usually i will use tart fruits to counter the sweetness of pavlova :D

Hong Ming said...

Well mum, the blow torch IS a efficient firework lighter. Btw, you must use the blow torch and the Brulee must be really cold before torching it. That way, you don't have to let it sit for 5-10 minutes cause the heat won't effect the brulee after caramelizing it.

terri@adailyobsession said...

pp: oh instant pwder creme brulee sounds terrible!

melchan:i def have to eat creme brulee in paris. if you get the top grill of you oven very very hot, yes, u can caramelise the sugar but it better be very hot bc if it takes too long the custard'll melt. torches vary in flame strength. while the torch my son got me can give a strong flame, i'm having trouble filling it with gas so the flame goes out quickly

zurin: but it's like one yolk per ramekin, not so bad. if you consider the cream, then it's quite a sinful dessert. haha, i know, all food bloggers go the extra mile :))

kat: my friend makes the best creme caramel but when i did it using her recipe, it wasn't as good. tt was maybe 8 years ago. i must try it again.

lily: i did everything according to the recipes--vinegar, cream of tartar, but it fell. i learnt tt the simplest things are the hardest to make!

jasmine: at your service always:))

babe: ok, i'll give it one more try bc you say so :DD however, i have no confidence it'll suceed...

ming: the creme brulee was chilled overnight so it was cold. i had to fill the gas (it leaked) and light, fill n light about 8 times for each ramekin. it was so frustrating. the strong flame only lasted for seconds.

the lunch guy said...

looks good! i applaud your recipe auditioning process too.

did you use a broiler or the blow torch? i find the torch gives you complete and utter control. its also a time saver and there is no way you will forget the torch and burn them as you can (me, i confess, i have ... hangs his head) if you put them into the broiler and walk away. also, if the broiler doesn't really get too hot, i find the rest of the dish can get to warm waiting for them to caramelize.

i worked in a restaurant once where they did it table-side with the torch, as well as caramelizing irish coffee glasses that way and baked alaska, too.

Unknown said...

seems like alot of you guys are having trouble involving torches so let me help you guys out =]

you can make a torch for roughly around 3-4 dollars and takes roughly 10-20 minutes to make.

1. get a long lighter(those weird bbq lighters), a regular lighter (ones you see for smoking purposes usually), tape, and a pen with a metal tip.

2. hollow out the pen with the metal tip and keep the tip, and the body. throw everything out

3. dissemble your long lighter and from it take out a clear plastic tube, on one end its gonna be attached to the buthane the other the nozzel for the flame. Keep the nozzel on with the tube.

4. get your little small lighter and take out the metal head. Give it a little tug here and there with pliers and its easily done. Now where you see the little knob for flame control, you wanna turn it all the way to the right, lift up from the gear, go left and to the right again (repeat as long as you want, but not too much or the flames might just get rediculously big) basically what this does is allow the gas flow to be bigger

4. assembly
get your clear tube into the hollowed pen and take the flame thingy through the metal tip of the pen. the other end attach it to the buthane hole of the small lighter. With some tape hold it firmly into place. becareful to not bend the tube in any places or your torch will fail.....

5. have fun
just basically take another lighter, match watever and make a fire, press the little lighter button to release the gas and you have yourself a torch that is capable of making yourself fabulous creme brulee =d yum

by the way thank you so much for the recipe, it sounds awesome =]

Stef said...

I'm impressed with all of the research that you did for this. Thanks for sharing!

Anonymous said...

The torch i use is the bonjour chef torch. Did four creme brulees and had alot of gas left over. I use the low setting and it is powerful. Circular swirls ....wait do again .... I got it the other day 3/12. When my husband turned it on and cked out the three levels he was like b careful w/ this and keep it on low lol i got it on amazon. The ratio to liquid and yolks...... 2 to 3 yolks per cup of liquid thats what jacques and julia say and do in shallow ramekin should b about half a cup.....have fun making it :)

lena said...

hi terri, just to drop by to say thank you for the analysis that you did regarding the baove, I'v read it a couple of times and tried to make mine much guided by your research. Thanks!

Elise said...

Try caramelizing sugar let it set on some foil then peel off and blitz in a food processor then sprinkle this stuff on top of creme brûlée then use blow torch to melt - doesn't take as long ( a tip that a lovely French chef shared from Chez Olivier in Melbourne)

Miss Beauty Baker said...

for your meringues it might be because of the temperature you were baking it at. if you do 200 degrees F and leave it in their for long it shouldn't fall. they will be very dry but they won't fall. the humidity will cause them to fall however but shouldn't do it that quickly.

Anonymous said...

Many many many thanks for the recipe! It worked like a charm! I found some recipes on the internet and three of them didn't work. And then I can across your detailed analysis-what a find! Thanks for sharing and best of luck!

Anonymous said...

Your recipe was perfect, it turned out really well the first time i made it. just the right level of silkiness and firmness, and not too sweet. This is a keeper!

Unknown said...

I have made creme brulee at least 8 times in the past and have not failed after reading your blog. I have tried different cream to yolk ratios but 1:100 or 1:80 is my favorite. You can't lose with your recipe! I find chilling overnight you get the best firmness.

moi_dar said...

Can I know the size of the eggs that you used?

Francunian said...

Zurin-why not use the whites in a dark chocolate mousse or in a goats cheese souffle?!

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