Simply Infused With Vanilla

>> Thursday, January 17, 2008

It amazes me how a certain food can transport us back to another place, another time entirely. The smell, the taste, the texture can conjure up a memory we forgot we even had.

The summer roasted tomatoes in my freezer instantly brings me to those balmy days in August where perfectly ripe tomatoes and the sweetest corn on the cob you can imagine is the only food I ever want to eat.

Creme brulee is another one of those food for me. It takes me back to a small village in Vermont in a beautiful old Inn where I first experienced it. I had never really tasted anything like it before. The crackle of the sugar on top as my spoon broke through the caramelized barrier to reveal the creamiest custard I had ever had. The simple pure taste of eggs and cream and vanilla, I thought I had died and gone to heaven. I'm not sure another creme brulee has ever tasted so amazing to me as it did that first night I had it. No other caramelized custard seems to compare to that snowy evening sitting by the fire of this historical place, that is, no other creme brulee until now.

Here is a simple recipe for creme brulee. I have to say it is the closest thing I have had to that dreamy dessert that evening in Vermont. It has very few ingredients so please use the highest quality eggs, cream, and vanilla beans you can find, it really does make all the difference.
Also, you can infuse the cream mixture with anything from lemon zest to coffee beans if you wish to add another flavor. I seem to like mine best simply infused with vanilla.

Vanilla Bean Creme Brulee
adapted from Simple To Spectacular
by Jean-Georges vongerichten and mark Bittman

2 cups cream
2 vanilla beans, spilt lengthwise
5 egg yolks
1/2 cup granulated sugar
vanilla sugar or regular sugar for topping

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Combine the cream and vanilla beans in a saucepan over medium-high heat until bubbles start to rise to surface (do not boil). Let cool for 5 to 10 minutes.
While the custard is cooling beat the egg yolks and sugar together until a pale yellow. Remove the vanilla beans from the cream. Pour about 1/4 of the cream into the egg and sugar mixture, then pour the egg and sugar mixture back into the cream and stir until incorporated. Pour the mixture into ramekins and place in a large baking dish that is half filled with water. Cover the entire baking dish with foil and bake 30-45 minutes (depending on size of ramekins) until the centers are just set. Be careful not to over cook it. Cool and chill in fridge. The custard can be made a day ahead.
When ready to serve sprinkle the tops with a thin layer of sugar and heat with the flame of a propane torch (they sell small kitchen torches just for this purpose). If you don't own a propane torch you can also put it under the broiler in your oven for a few minutes. You want the sugar to start to bubble and brown, just beginning to burn.

I keep a jar of vanilla sugar on hand at all times. Its great to sprinkle on top of baked goods and also adds a nice finishing touch to creme brulee. You can even stir it into your coffee or tea.
To make vanilla sugar I just use my left over vanilla beans. After I have scraped out the seeds for a recipe or steeped them in heavy cream (like I did for this recipe) I leave them out to dry over night and then I just stick them in a jar of granulated sugar. After a few days you will have a wonderful sugar with the aroma and taste of pure vanilla.


Patricia Scarpin January 18, 2008 at 11:26 AM  

Sarah, you won't believe me but I have never had creme brulee! This looks so good...

Katia January 18, 2008 at 10:57 PM  

Yum- I love creme brulee! I use the custard as cake filling or when making so yummy!

I love the idea of using flavored sugar for the topping. :)

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