For this month’s Algonquin Test-Kitchen, Brittany – armed with a handy blow torch – took on Bill Smith’s Crème Brulée, from Seasoned in the South. These little potted custards, featuring lots of heavy cream, are the perfect ending to a dinner party, or a nice treat to pull out with a bottle of wine at your next book group!
3 cups of heavy cream
1.5 cups of half and half
1 split vanilla bean
9 large egg yolks
1 cup sugar
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Arrange the ramekins in a 9 x13 baking dish or roasting pan and set aside.
Scald the cream and half-and-half together with the vanilla bean. Whisk together the egg yolks and the sugar. When the cream begins to steam on the surface, whisk it gradually into the eggs (Note: It’s important to stir frequently, as the mixture will begin to form a skin as it heats.).
Strain the mixture and divide it among six 6-ounce ramekins, saving the vanilla bean for another use or two, and pour enough hot water in to the baking pan to come halfway up their sides. Bake in the bain-marie uncovered. They should become firm but still jiggly. In my small ramekins this can happen in 20 minutes, but custards are weird and will sometimes take much longer (Note: In my oven, which tends to run a little hot, this took about 30 minutes.). When they are set, transfer the custards to a cooling rack for 30 minutes. Then refrigerate them, uncovered, for at least one hour.
At serving time, dust the top with a thin later of white sugar and brown in the broiler until the sugar has caramelized. Or do like I do, and bring a blowtorch to the table and do it on sight. Watch your fingers.
These are best eaten right away, but the caramel will hold its crunch for a few hours if you need to prepare them in advance.