Sheri gave me a torch for my birthday. (Have I mentioned lately how she spoils me?) So of course I had to make creme brulee right away.
I have an excellent flan recipe, but have never made creme brulee, which Gary loves and often orders at restaurants. Flan and creme brulee are siblings; the custard for the flan is not as rich (cream and milk) and includes the whites of the eggs. The protein in the whites makes the custard more sturdy when it sets, so that you can turn it out of the ramekin. The custard for the creme brulee is richer, just heavy cream and egg yolks. It's smoother and creamier and you eat it out of the ramekin.
The other main difference is the caramel. You let the caramel for the flan absorb the moisture that the custard gives off, so that it softens and becomes a sauce when you take it out of the ramekin. With creme brulee, the highlight is a thin, crunchy crust of browned sugar on top of the custard. Which is where the torch comes in. Theoretically, you could brown the sugar under the broiler. But by the time you did that, the custard would also be warm (not to mention melted and overcooked). The goal is to melt the sugar quickly to form the brulee, while the custard underneath stays cool and creamy.
The torch works beautifully. And it's a lot of fun! The creme brulee is deliciously decadent.
Classic Vanilla Creme Brulee
1/2 vanilla bean
2 cups heavy cream
4 egg yolks
1/4 cup plus 8-12 tsp. sugar
Position a rack in the center of oven and preheat to 300 degrees. Have a medium saucepan of boiling water ready. Line a shallow baking pan with a small kitchen towel.
Using a paring knife, split the vanilla bean lengthwise down the middle and scrape the seeds into a 2 qt. saucepan. Add the cream and the split vanilla bean, stir to mix and set the pan over medium heat. Warm the cream until bubble form around the edge and steam begins to rise from the surface. Remove from heat and set aside to steep for about 15 minutes.
In a large bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, salt and 1/4 c. sugar until the mixture is pale yellow and thick ribbons fall from the whisk, about 5 minutes. Gradually add the cream mixture, whisking until blended. Pour the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve set over a bowl. Divide the mixture among four 4 oz. ramekins (I had enough for 6) and place the ramekins in the prepared baking pan. Add boiling water to fill the pan halfway up the side of the ramekins. Cover the pan loosely with aluminum foil and bak until the custards are just set around the edges, approximately 30 minutes.
Transfer the ramekins to a wire rack and let cool to room temperature, then cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or up to 3 days.
To serve, sprinkle 2-3 tsp. sugar over each custard. Using a kitchen torch, melt the sugar until evenly melted and golden. Serve immediately.