I always thought making a crème brulee was such a big task since I didn't have the fancy schmancy blow torch and such. So I'd given up even thinking about them until a while back we were at a French restaurant and I had the most yummiest and creamiest of crème brulee's. It was so good I decided to tackle the task as soon as possible.
Just like a million other 'plans' of mine, this too was forgotten and life went on. But the food gods had other plans. I was again put forth with the option of trying a crème brulee at yet another French restaurant and this time, although it was not as fabulous as the first experience, it pushed me well enough to make it at home.
And so I did- the research and the recipe search and how to go about doing the caramel topping without a blow torch etc. Now to make things clear, the crème brulee (which means burnt cream) is a tad different from caramel pudding/ custard. The procedures are different, obviously, but other than that the textures are completely different. While the caramel custard is more jello/wobbly-like, the brulee is rich and dense and much, much creamier. I also think the brulee is much easier to make as opposed to caramel custard where you have to first make the caramel (watch it like a hawk), swirl it around in a bowl blah blah, whereas here, the grill does the job for you, and probably an even BETTER job.
Now if you have a blow torch, you don't have anything to worry about. But for people like me who don't own one, the oven comes in handy, and fetches the same result as a blow torch. I must admit, however, that the first time I tried it, I managed to literally burn the cream. I turned around for a couple of seconds to clear my kitchen counter and there I could already smell the burnt caramel and it was torturous trying to get it off my pretty ramekins. The second time I watched it like a hawk and came up with beautiful, even caramel topping. So here I shall explain in detail how to go about the process (since I'm kinda jobless right now) :)
Recipe halved from here (makes 3 servings)
Double cream- 250ml
Vanilla extract- 1 tsp
Caster sugar- 50gms + enough to sprinkle on top
Egg yolks- from 3 eggs
Pour the cream into a saucepan and bring to a boil.
Reduce heat and simmer for about 5 minutes, stirring continuously so that it doesn't form a film on top.
While that's happening, pre heat the oven to 150C, separate the eggs and whisk the egg yolks with caster sugar till light and fluffy. I just used a wire whisk for this. Its pretty easy to work with.
Increase the heat a bit and bring the cream to a boil.
Then take it off the flame and stir in the vanilla extract.
Immediately pour it over the egg mixture, bit by bit, whisking well continuously.
Keep whisking continuously till the mixture becomes a bit thick. This happens because the eggs have begun to cook slightly.
Using a ladle, pour in the mixture into 3 individual ramekins/ crème brulee dishes, till it is more or less full, leaving maybe 1/2 an inch on top (refer notes)
Gently tap each dish on the work surface to remove all the air bubbles and place them into a large roasting pan.
Fill with hot water, making sure it comes up at least half way up the sides (bain-marie its called) and gently place on the middle shelf of the oven.
Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until they are just about set. Its OK if it is a bit wobbly in the middle and looks a bit under done, as it will set in the refrigerator.
Remove dishes from the water bath and cool on wire racks.
Chill in the refrigerator till you are ready to use.
Place the oven rack right on top and pre-heat the grill/ broiler for about 7 minutes.
Once the time is up, place the dishes (one at a time) under the grill for 2 minutes (approx.). Watch it carefully, it doesn't take long to mess up.
Once you see the top bubbling and getting caramelized, take it out and keep aside to cool. Hold back the urge to touch it, it can burn your fingers (yes, been here done that)
Repeat the procedure with the remaining dishes and once the caramel has hardened, chill in the refrigerator for a further 20-30 minutes and then serve.
Notes: The flavour options here are endless. Infuse the cream with cardamom pods, orange zest, lavender, coffee etc while the cream is boiling and then strain it before segregating them.
The first time, I made double the quantity and made them in proper ramekins. What I noticed was that the cream was a tad too much whereas the caramel topping was not enough to balance the creaminess. That's why i used a shallow dish this time. If using ramekins, don't fill right to the top, instead fill only 2/3rds.
I baked the crème brulee the night before and grilled it just before serving. I had one leftover and so I stored it in the refrigerator for a day and the caramel topping became soggy. Not a great idea, so grill it only if you are going to use it in the next half hour or so.
A friend mentioned that when she put the ramekins under the grill, the custard started cooking further, which is not a good sign. Its because the grill is not hot enough to caramelise the sugar fast. Its for that reason that I preheat the grill and first try with one ramekin to check if temperatures are right (if you notice the pics, one of the dishes have a lighter brown colour and you can even see traces of caster sugar). If you feel that the rack is not really close to the grill, place an inverted baking dish on the rack and the ramekin on top of that. Be extremely careful while removing the dishes.
Also turn it around if you see only one side browning.