Oh la la… Creme Brulee

After falling head over heels for the first real creme brulee I've ever had in my life not too long ago, I decided that I would definitely have to take up the challenge of making it myself. People always talk about how creme brulee is a fancy French dessert that can cost a pretty penny at a restaurant and takes skill to make taste good, but after perusing the internet for recipes, I've discovered that making creme brulee is deceptively easy. And that made me very excited to make my own. Probably the hardest part of preparing to make creme brulee was actually getting my hands on a set of small ramekins, because I wanted to make sure that they baked up properly and looked nice. The ingredients were simple and few, and I had fun making a semi-healthy version of creme brulee that tasted identical to the full fat one. I hope you all try it sometime :)

Classic French Creme Brulee (semi-healthy, and serves 4)

Ingredients:
1/2 pint of heavy cream
1/2 pint of skim milk
3/4 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup sugar
2 egg yolks
1/2 cup egg substitute (I used Land O Lakes Egg Lovers, for which 1/2 cup is the equivalent of 2 eggs)
1 small pinch of salt
extra white sugar for the topping
4 ramekins (6 oz. size)

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

2. In a medium saucepan, combine cream and milk over medium heat until scalded (you will see small bubbles forming at the sides of the pan). Remove from heat.

3. In a bowl, whisk together egg yolks, egg substitute, sugar, and salt. Temper in some of the hot cream and stir well before stirring mixture back into the hot cream. Tempering is a technique where you add a small amount of a hot liquid to a colder liquid before combining them, which works well to prevent things like raw eggs from cooking into a solid when it is mixed into a hot liquid. Make sure you remember to do it, because having egg lumps in your creme brulee will pretty much ruin the experience.

4. Stir in vanilla extract. If you want to use a vanilla bean instead, add it into the cream after you initially finish scalding it, to let the flavor release into the cream better. Just remember to strain it out before baking the creme brulee.

5. Arrange the four ramekins into a casserole dish (preferably glass, as it insulates best). Pour in boiling water using a tea kettle so that the water level reaches about 1 inch or so up the ramekins. I stopped when the water level reached the top of the outer ramekin vertical ridges.

6. Ladle in cream mixture into each ramekin until just about filled to the top. I had just enough for the 4 ramekins with maybe a few teaspoons excess. Bake at 325 for about 35 minutes or until just set. When you gently wobble the casserole dish you'll see the creme brulee tops jiggle but it will look like there is a thin film solidified on top. That's when you want to take it out!

7. Remove from oven, but leave ramekins in the waterbath to cool down to room temperature. The heat retained in the water will continue to cook the creme brulee, that's why you want to remove from the oven when it's still jiggly. After cooling, remove ramekins from water and wrap with foil or plastic wrap and put in fridge for at least 2 hours. Overnight is even better. The next morning they should look like this:

Don't worry that the tops aren't pretty and even, since you're going to caramelize sugar on top before serving it. Just don't let any hungry family members eat it in this state! Because my family did! I was so shocked when I woke up the next morning and saw an empty ramekin on the kitchen table (hence only 3 left in the picture). My parents were wondering what what heck it was and why it tasted not bad but not great either. They thought I was trying to make egg tarts or something. Creme brulee just don't taste like anything at all without the caramelized sugar top. Anyway, after you take them out of the fridge they should have firmed up, and may be a little wet on top from condensation if you put it into the fridge when it was still pretty warm. You can pat off some of that moisture carefully with a paper towel if there's too much.

8. Now to caramelize the tops! Sprinkle about 1/2 tsp of white cane sugar on top of the creme brulees, to make a thin even layer. Then you have a choice of passing over them with a blow torch until the sugar on top becomes bubbly and browned or you can simply broil them about 6" from the heating element. I don't have a blow torch, so I went the broiler route, which took a while to caramelize the sugar on top and kept burning the rims of the creme brulees (because the heat goes into the ramekin and heats up the edges of the creme brulee the fastest). So I had to stop often before the centers were brown. But still, the sugar melts pretty quickly and bubbles, which is the most important part to forming a good crust on top.

9. Remove from broiler and let cool until the tops are hardened. Serve immediately.

Now, most people serve creme brulee that is cold, with just the tops warm from the caramelization. But broiling them took so long that my whole creme brulee warmed up and I thought that made the flavor and texture fabulous. It was smooth and velvety, the tops were crunchy and sweet with some caramelized sugar flavor, and the insides were creamy and luscious, with just the right amount of sweetness. They were so yummy, you couldn't even tell that half of it was lowfat ingredients. Mmmmm…

Just for your reference, this recipe should have about 340 calories per serving (per 6 oz. creme brulee). For comparison, the full fat recipe is about 570 calories per creme brulee, and the lowfat version has 110 calories per creme brulee. I literally compromised between the two types of recipes so that I could preserve the richness without clogging my arteries too badly…

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2 responses to “Oh la la… Creme Brulee

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