Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Pumpkin Crème Brûlée

Or, "Fun with a Blow Torch!"

I have a sad, maddening egg intolerance. I used to be able to eat eggs galore: scrambled, sunny side up, quiche, you name it. Then, after my first pregnancy, I was unable to eat eggs. They gave me a weird heartburn/discomfort. And with each subsequent pregnancy, it got worse. Now, hard boiled eggs in potato salad actually make me ill and, most tragically, I can barely tolerate custard type desserts, like pumpkin pie. SO tragic. I should probably go to the allergist or doctor, but who has time for that? 

Why, then, would I make crème brûlée? It is a highly egg-y dessert? Well, two reasons: 1. I've never made it before and always, always wanted to. 2. My favorite Irish fellow LOVES creme brulee. We were having some dear friends over for dessert, so I knew they'd enjoy it as much as I'd enjoy making it. And making it really is half the fun, anyhow.

I found the recipe here at this amazing blog, Whisk. How have I not seen this blog before? I'm ashamed to admit it! It seems to feature some AMAZING recipes, tips, and all around culinary goodness. I will leave the expert to the detailing of the recipe. I just want to share some tips that I discovered along the way making my first crème brûlée (a rhyme!).

This recipe for Pumpkin Crème Brûlée calls for a yummy caramel base in the bottom of the ramekin. Kind of a cross between  Crème Caramel (or is it Coeur de Crème?)and Crème Brûlée. I am notoriously bad at making caramel. I have failed more times than I have succeeded. And let me say, that a caramel burn is infinitely worse than a hot glue gun burn! For sure.

I decided though, that I wasn't going to let this caramel intimidate me. I mean, it was sugar, water, and a bit of lemon juice! C'mon! I think the key is patience. Once the sugar water comes to a boil, it takes a few minutes of a rapid, undisturbed boil to render the sugar water into caramel.

This shot was taken at 11:42am. The mixture is just at a rapid boil. The photo shows a bit of caramel color to it, but to the naked eye, it was clear.

This shot was taken one minute later. A tiny bit of caramel color was visible.

11:44am. Now we're getting there. I didn't touch it, shake it, stir it. Just left it be.
11:45 am

Literally, two seconds later, still 11:45am. I think it got a teensy bit too dark in color, but was still good--just a bit rich and dark, like French caramel.
Or what I hear french caramel is like since I've never been to France.

Next and very carefully, I poured the caramel into the ramekins. Please don't laugh at my heart shaped ramekins. They're all I have. I am asking Santa for new ramekins, serious white ramekins.
I swirled it around a bit and it was already starting to harden, further proof that I'd probably over cooked the caramel by 30 seconds.

Heart shaped ramekins aside, the caramel looked so lovely in the bottom and I imagined that it would give the dessert a nice depth of flavor. My guests and hubby said it did; I only had one tiny bite and almost had to excuse myself.

With the caramel tackled (yeah, me!), I started on the custard. How can you go wrong with heavy whipping cream, whole milk, vanilla, pumpkin, eggs and spices? Not at all!

I used a mix of farm fresh eggs and regular old eggs from the grocery store. The recipe called for 3 eggs and two egg yolks, which I got to work separating using this handy dandy Tupperware product. I do usually use the egg shell itself for separating, but I was guessed it....lazy.

Once the eggs are separated, they get whisked with some sugar to make the base of the custard. I love whisking. It is a good way to vent frustration and makes me feel so very Julia Child.

As I mentioned before, I never made Crème Brûlée before. I guess I was very intimidated by it. Once I jumped into making this recipe, I realized how unfounded my fears were. Crème Brûlée is very easy and basic, made with simple ingredients. I'm excited to try a plain, even more basic version of it soon. The custard is based on eggs, sugar and lovely heavy cream:

Little Man likes to smell everything. He has the most keen sense of smell I've ever encountered.
He was bummed the heavy cream didn't have much of a smell.

Being Pumpkin Crème Brûlée, this recipe also called for canned pumpkin, though if you have your own pumpkins, I'm sure you could substitute the "real deal."

I heated the heavy cream, milk and vanilla over the stove until it came to a low boil, then mixed it into my custard base, whisking constantly. The constant mixing is necessary to temper the eggs, instead of making them into scrambled eggs. Once that was done, I followed the instructions and let the mixture rest, then strained it.

Once the straining was done, I poured the mixture into the ramekins, which were in a glass baking dish. Then, I poured boiling water about 2/3rds of the way up the sides in the baking dish. I think this makes for even baking. But I'm totally guessing.

Then, into the oven they went.

The recipe online said it should only take 25-30 minutes until a knife comes out clean in the center. Mine took more like 40-45 minutes. I checked often.

This is what the lovelies looked like after their stay in the oven:

But now, for the real fun! The blow torch. I don't own a kitchen torch, but my husband has a blow torch he was more than happy to let me use.

I sprinkled the tops with sugar---too much at first. I had to dump some excess off. The recipe calls for 4 TB for 6 ramekins. I had 5 ramekins and 3 TB. was too much sugar. It's really more of a dusting of sugar. I poured some on then shook and tapped off the excess. 

With that done, the best part! Since brûlée means "burnt" in French, that's what I did next. Burn, or caramelize the sugar on top to make the crispy top that, in my opinion, is the coolest part of the dessert. The combination of textures is just divine.

Here are some "action" shots my hubby got while I was at work with the blow torch:


Tada! So there you have it! The recipe was really not complicated or difficult at all. And the results were (I'm told) delicious. I can't believe I've never tried making such a classic dessert before. It was well worth the effort!

For the complete instructions and recipe, go to Whisk. I hope you try it soon!

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