The most difficult thing about crème brûlée is typing it. (Seriously, could the French get any more symbols in the name?) Once you make it at home, you’ll never order it in a restaurant again. It just seems like a waste of fancy dessert.
And, once you know how to make crème brûlée, flan is a pretty easy next step to mastering those great dessert standbys. Also, if you have a culinary blowtorch, a tableside demonstration of caramelizing sugar is pretty fantastic.
This recipe came to me courtesy of culinary school (hence the weight measurements). Get out your scales, ladies and gents! It yields 12 decent portions and is easily scalable.
- 8 oz brown sugar (You can also use white sugar, but it takes a bit longer to caramelize.)
- 12 egg yolks (Obviously, egg white omelets are on the menu for breakfast after making this recipe.)
- 6 oz granulated sugar
- 3 pt heavy cream, hot
- 1½ t vanilla extract
- ¾ t salt
Spread the brown sugar on a pan, dry out in a low oven. Cool, crush, and sift. (If you’re using white sugar, you don’t need to dry it out.) Set aside.
Preheat oven to 325°F.
In a large bowl, mix together the egg yolks and granulated sugar until well combined.
Gradually stir in the hot cream. (This is the tricky part. If you add the cream in too quickly, you’ll scramble the egg yolks. So, a few spoonfuls at first to temper the egg mixture. Don’t worry. Just go slowly.) Add the vanilla and salt. If there be lumps, strain the mixture.
Set 12 ramekins on a towel in a pan. (The purpose of the towel is to insulate the bottoms of the ramekins from strong heat in your oven. I have never done this step. I just put the ramekins in the pan.) Divide the custard mixture equally among the dishes. Pour enough hot water into the pan to come about halfway up the sides of the ramekins.
Bake until the custard is just set, about 25 minutes. (Mine took about 35 minutes, but my oven is a mess that needs to be calibrated.)
Cool, then refrigerate. (I find that it’s easiest to take the hot water out of the pan using a turkey baster. Then, using oven mitts, move the ramekins to another pan for transport into the fridge.)
Right before serving, finish them up. Dab any moisture from the tops of the custards. Sprinkle with an even layer of brown sugar. Caramelize the sugar using a blowtorch. If you don’t have one, put them under the broiler close to the heat so the sugar caramelizes quickly before the custard warms up too much.
When it cools, the sugar forms a hard crust. You should serve within an hour or two or else the top will become soft. I like to put a few berries on the sugar crust.
Of course, this picture is pre-sugar blow-torching. I don’t seem to have one post sugaring. I think we ate them too quickly for me to actually take a picture. It’s basic and sweet and lovely. But, if you want to get fancy, there are some variations to snazz up this recipe as well:
- Use vanilla beans instead of vanilla extract. (Two beans split and scraped will do it for 12 portions.) Just simmer the pods and seeds in the cream and remove the pods before finishing the recipe.
- Flavor the hot cream with coffee extract or instant coffee.
- Add 2 t cinnamon to the hot cream.
- Use half milk and half cream. When heating this mixture, add 8 oz of melted bittersweet chocolate.
- Add a few small berries to each ramekin before pouring in the custard mixture. The cooking will explode-o berry.