Today is National Crème Brûlée Day.
Crème brûlée (French for "burnt cream"), burnt cream,
crema catalana, or Trinity cream is a dessert consisting of a rich
custard base topped with a layer of hard caramel, created by
caramelizing sugar under a broiler, with a butane torch or other
intense heat source, or by pouring sugar on top of the custard. It is
usually served cold in individual ramekins. The custard base is
normally flavoured with just vanilla, but it can be enhanced with
chocolate, a liqueur, fruit, etc. Sometimes the hardened sugar on top
will be caramelized, by igniting a thin layer of liqueur sprinkled
over the top.
Crème brûlée is undoubtedly one of the
most frequently ordered restaurant desserts today. The exact origins
of this dish are unknown and very much in contention, with the
English, Spanish, and French all staking claim. The earliest known
reference to the dessert is in François Massialot's 1691 cookbook.
In the early eighteenth century, the
dessert was called "burnt cream" in English. In Britain, a
version of crème brûlée (known locally as 'Trinity Cream' or
'Cambridge burnt cream') was introduced at Trinity College, Cambridge
in 1879 with the college arms "impressed on top of the cream
with a branding iron", although some cookbooks claim much
earlier British origins for the dessert.
Crema catalana (Catalan 'Catalan
cream') or Crema de Sant Josep, is Catalan version of Crème brûlée.
It is usually served on Saint Joseph's Day (March 19). The custard is
flavoured with lemon or orange zest and cinnamon. The set custard is
chilled and immediately before service, sugar is sprinkled over the
top and caramelized with a specially-made iron or blow torch,
resulting in a hot, crunchy caramelized top contrasting with the
cool, soft custard. Catalans claim that their crema catalana is the
predecessor of France's crème brûlée, though many regions lay
claim to the origin of the dessert. The chief difference between the
two is that crema catalana is not baked in bain-marie as crème
Classic Crème Brûlée by Paula Deen
This recipe takes about 55 minutes to prepare and yields 4 servings. Food Network has categorized this recipe as an intermediate level recipe.
2 cups heavy cream
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
4 large egg yolks
1/4 cup, plus 1 tablespoon sugar
1/3 to 1/2 cup white granulated or light brown sugar
Preheat oven to 300 degrees F.
In a heavy-bottomed medium non-reactive saucepan, heat cream with vanilla bean over medium-low heat for 15 minutes, stirring to ensure it does not burn; do not let boil. Remove from heat and let steep for 15 minutes. Remove and discard the vanilla bean, or save for another use. Strain cream through a fine mesh sieve.
Meanwhile, in a mixing bowl, beat egg yolks with an electric mixer on high speed for 5 minutes, or until light and fluffy. Gradually beat in 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar. Add about half the cream mixture, a little at a time, to the egg mixture, whisking until well blended. Then pour the egg mixture into the remaining cream mixture. Stir until completely blended.
Pour the custard into 4 (9-ounce) ramekins or custard cups. Place the dishes in large baking pan. Pour enough hot water into the pan to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until the mixture is set in the center (it should still wiggle when shaken). Carefully remove the dishes from the baking pan. Let cool to room temperature and then refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or up to 24 hours. Let creme brulee stand at room temperature 20 minutes before serving.
Divide 1/3 to 1/2 cup white or light brown sugar in a thin, even layer over each custard, covering it completely. To caramelize the sugar, light a propane torch* and hold it so the flame just touches the surface. Start at the center and spiral out toward the edges of the ramekins. If the sugar begins to burn, pull the torch away and blow on the sugar to extinguish the flame. Serve immediately.
VARIATIONS: Finely grate orange zest or bittersweet chocolate over the creme brulee before adding the sugar for caramelizing.
Cook's Note: A propane torch can be bought at your local hardware store. If you don't have one, caramelize the topping under the broiler, watching carefully so as not to burn it.
Sources: Wikipedia, Cremebrulee.com; Emerils.com