Crème brûlée: kitchen pyrotechnics

Setting food on fire is just one of the many tricks used by restaurants to amaze diners. In this case, the use of a propane (never paraffin!) blow torch is just the ticket to caramelise the top of a crème brûlée.

To make crème brûlée for four, you will need:

  • 8 eggs
  • 1 vanilla pod
  • 1 cup milk
  • ½ cup single cream
  • ½ cup double cream
  • 1 teaspoon ground cardomom
  • ½ cup castor sugar
  • Brown sugar on demand

This magnificent dessert requires three pieces of kitchen equipment: a propane hand-held blow torch, a double boiler (bain-marie) and four glass or ceramic ramekins. Preheat the oven to 150°C. Fill the kettle with water and bring to the boil.
Remove the cardomom seeds from their pods and grind them to a fine dust. Carefully separate the yolks from the eight eggs. Select a saucepan and pour the milk and cream into it. Note that this recipe demands a 50-50 combo of single and double cream.

This is necessary to maintain a suitably high fat level without going over the top. An alternative is to mix single cream with an equivalent volume of crème fraîche. You decide. With the sharp point of a paring knife (or the hardworking little blade on your Swiss Army knife) cut the vanilla pod open along its length. Scrape the vanilla seeds into the saucepan, along with the milk and cream. Add a teaspoon of freshly ground cardomom seeds and stir well.

Place the saucepan on the hob and bring to a gentle simmer. Remove from the heat, cover with a fitted lid and let it stand for 15 minutes. No need to waste the empty vanilla pod. Just stick it into your regular jar of sugar and leave it there while it slowly imparts its gentle flavour. Now pour the half a cup of castor sugar and the eight separated egg yolks into a mixing bowl. With a hand-held ball whisk, give the yolk and sugar a good stir for 40 seconds. While whisking, slowly pour the hot milk, cream, cardomom and vanilla mixture into the bowl of egg yolks and castor sugar.

Now for the next step: bring the full kettle of water back to the boil. Decant the custard mixture into the four ramekins. Place these in the double boiler and pour the freshly boiled water into the double boiler until it reaches two-thirds of the height of the ramekins. With great care, negotiate the double boiler into the preheated oven and bake for half an hour. When done, remove and allow to cool.

If you’re planning to consume the desserts the next day, stick them in the fridge. Immediately prior to serving, sprinkle enough brown sugar onto the surface of each to cover it completely. Ignite the blow torch and play the blue flame over the sugar until it caramelises. Let it cool, then serve to roars of rapturous applause.

Contact David Basckin at [email protected]. Please state ‘Real cooking’ in the subject line of your email.