Sunday, June 5, 2011

Easiest-Ever Crème Brûlée

As anyone who’s eaten at my place knows, I have no pretensions of being a gourmet cook. I muddle along, making mistakes here and there, but things generally turn out pretty well. The great thing about serving Crème Brûlée for a dinner party is that (except for torching the sugar topping) it can be made well ahead. This is the first of three different Crème Brûlées that are very easy to make! No gourmet cook would make Crème Brûlée with Jell-O Pudding and Pie Filling - but I do! 
When you make life simple for yourself, you can make more from the life you have!
As you likely know, the classic Crème Brûlée is a chilled, creamy custard topped with a shell of caramelized sugar that you crack with a spoon to reach the delicately sweetened custard. The shell is made by sieving sugar over the top of the cream, and quickly browning it under the heat of a torch or broiler. It’s heartbreaking to slip a full tray of brûlées under the broiler, only to have them burn through a moment’s inattention. It’s happened to me a couple of times, and I’ve vowed that it will never happen again! After watching a professional chef use a brûlée torch, I bought one.
I used to own a wimpy, wussy torch that took forever for the sugar to caramelize. By the time I did the last of the brûlées for my guests, an uncomfortable amount of time had slid by. Don’t waste your money on a cheap, ineffective kitchen torch! Buy a good one, and flame your brûlées (and lemon meringue pies and bell peppers) in moments! The irrepressible Julia Child used a blow torch for that sort of thing! I’m not that brave. I found my torch (the cooking kind, not the unrequited love kind) a few years ago at Williams-Sonoma, paying roughly $40 for it. 

My butane-fired torch has many uses
Using any kitchen torch with safety and skill takes practice. You’ll find an excellent how-to video on Williams-Sonoma’s website. It goes without saying that when you use a torch, you should keep your fingers away from the flame (butane flames tend to be invisible!) and stay clear of anything flammable. It’s common sense not to place a roll of paper towels nearby, and not to flame food atop a wooden surface or piece of parchment paper. The best place to flame foods is on a large baking sheet. The recipe below is a hybrid of the classic vanilla Crème Brûlée.
Crème Brûlée:

1 pkg (6-serving size) Jell-O vanilla pudding and pie filling (see Note
4 c. light cream (10-to-12% fat content)
2 eggs, slightly beaten
1 tsp. vanilla
Prepare pudding and pie filling mix with cream as directed on package. Remove from heat. Stir a small amount of hot custard into eggs, blending well. Add to remaining hot mixture and continue cooking for 1 min., stirring constantly. Add vanilla. Divide custard among eight ½-cup ramekins. Chill, covered, at least 3 hr. 
To Prepare the Topping:
½ c. granulated, super-fine sugar, sieved
Candied violets (optional)
A few hours before serving, sieve sugar evenly over tops of custard in ramekins (Lumped and unevenly sprinkled sugar burns. Strive for just enough sugar to coat your brûlées, but not so much that you risk over-browning the top without caramelizing the bottom). Using kitchen torch, flame until sugar caramelizes. Alternately, place 2 inches under a hot broiler until sugar melts, approximately 1 min. Keep a close watch on this! Serves 8.
Note: Don’t use “instant,” sugar-free, fat-free Jell-O for this recipe.

As custard mixture cooks, whisk eggs

Pour a small amount of hot custard into eggs
Pour warm egg mixture into custard

After cooking 1 min. longer, pour into ramekins

Sieve sugar over custard, for topping

Flame with kitchen torch - take care!

Ready for the table with a candied violet garnish

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