Saturday, January 17, 2009

Creme Brulee

I am such a custard girl. Make me choose between any custard-based dessert or chocolate and it will be the custard one every time. Pie or custard? Custard. Cake or custard? Custard. Fruit or custard? Custard. Anyway, you get my point. From leche flan, to creme caramel, to creme anglais, to brazo de mercedes, to canonigo, to portuguese egg tarts, to creme brulee, I love them all. Especially creme brulee. There is something about the purity of eggs, cream and vanilla...smooth and velvety against the tongue, accented by the occasional crunch of the caramelized sugar. Heaven.

I don't know why I never attempted to make this dessert. I always thought that it would be hard. I don't know why. I was really surprised at how simple it was! Mix the cream, eggs, sugar and vanilla. Bake in ramekins in a water bath. Top with sugar. Caramelize the sugar. That's it!

I used Mark Bittman's recipe from his book How to Cook Everything. His recipe calls for:

6 egg yolks
1 vanilla bean or 1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups cream
1 cup sugar

1. Heat the cream just to the brink of steaming. If using the bean, let the split bean steep in the hot cream for about 10 minutes. I used extract so I skipped the steeping step.
2. In a separate bowl, mix the yolks and sugar until the sugar is dissolved.
3. Gradually pour in the hot cream and mix well. Add the vanilla extract at this point if you're using extract.
4. Pout the custard mixture into ramekins. I think that wide, shallow ramekins work best since there's a larger surface area:volume ratio, which means more crunchy sugar topping. Yum!
5. Bake the creme brulee in a water bath in a 300 decree oven for about 30 minutes until set.
6. Cool in fridge.
7. Just before serving, sprinkle top with sugar and caramelize under the broiler or with a kitchen torch (which I hadn't bought then and just procured today).

I made 2 batches to bring to our Christmas dinner with S&A (which is why I used disposable ramekins). To one batch, I added 1/2 cup of Bailey's. It was good but I prefer the plain one. This will definitely make many more appearances on our table!


I overcame one of my culinary fears...the macaron. This French confection has been taunting me for quite a while now. And I've always been scared to try it. I've read other people's blogs and have heard the horror stories and the tales of utmost failure. I was petrified.

But, the holidays gave me the perfect opportunity. I used the egg yolks to make creme brulees (more on this in another post) and I had the egg whites sitting on the counter. I had almonds. I had icing sugar. And most of all, I had time. Precious time. Time to finally take on this challenge.

1 1/4 cups icing sugar
1 cup finely ground almonds
1/4 cup plus 2 tbsps egg whites, let sit at room temperature overnight
pinch of salt
1/4 cup granulated sugar

* Before you start, prepare your pans. Take a sheet of parchment and draw circles about 2 inches in diameter, spaced about an inch or so apart. Turn the parchment paper over and set it on your baking sheet. You will need about 3 baking trays.

1. With a food processor, pulse the ground almonds and icing sugar together. Sift to make sure there are no lumps. Set aside.
2. Using a mixer, whip the egg whites with the salt until frothy. Gradually add the granulated sugar until the egg whites form stiff peaks.
3. Gently fold in the icing sugar/almond mixture in 4 batches.
4. Mix gently until the batter "flows like magma." Apparently, this step could make or break your macarons. It has to be magma-like. Because we've all mixed magma before and we all know how magma flows when you mix it with a wooden spoon. Whatever.
5. Put mixture into a piping bag with a plain, large round tip.
6. Pipe the mixture onto your prepared pans, using the circles as your guide.
7. Let sit for 1-2 hours at room temperature until a skin forms or until the batter loses a bit of its shine. This will form a tougher shell which will prevent the macarons from breaking when you handle them later.

As you can see, I made ones that were about two inches in diameter and the excess batter I piped into small bite sized dots. Cute, eh?

Here's a close up. See how they're not very shiny anymore?

Anyway, on to the baking...

Bake the macarons in 325 oven. About two minutes into the baking, open the oven door and keep it ajar using a wooden spoon. Bake the macarons for about 10-11 minutes. Let cool.

Now I didn't have time to make the filling so I used Nutella instead. That's why there's a bottle of Nutella behind the macarons in the first picture. I also had some dulce de leche, so I filled some of the macarons with that too.

All in all, I thought the macarons were pretty good! Not perfect, but they exceeded all my expectations!