What makes this crème brûlée stand out are the subtleties inherent in the specific ingredients used. The heavy cream must be impeccably fresh, as should the eggs. The bourbon vanilla bean must also be moist and plump, the extract must be pure for the aromatic qualities it brings, and the sugar for the crackly top should be turbinado. It’s not that regular granulated sugar will not work (it will), but turbinado sugar brings a depth of flavor to the dish. It is redolent with a molasses fragrance and has an earthy flavor profile. With all of these particulars in place, you will be rewarded with an unforgettable crème brûlée. I use 5-ounce wide, shallow ramekins. Four- or 6-ounce ramekins would work as well, just make sure they are not more than 1 inch in depth. In the image below you can see an example of a narrower, deeper style towards the back and the shallower types we like middle and front.
Images: Peter Muka
- 4 cups heavy cream
- 1 moist, plump Bourbon vanilla bean
- 9 large egg yolks
- ¾ cup sugar
- ¼ teaspoon pure vanilla extract, such as Nielsen-Massey
- ½ cup turbinado sugar
- For the Custard: Position rack in middle of oven. Preheat oven to 325°F. Arrange 8, 5-ounce shallow ramekins (1-inch high) in larger roasting pan(s); set aside.
- Pour cream in a medium saucepan. Slit vanilla bean in half lengthwise. Scrape seeds from each half into cream and add beans to pot as well. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat (do not let it overflow), turn heat off and allow to steep for 15 minutes.
- Meanwhile, whisk together the egg yolks and sugar in a heatproof bowl until thick and creamy.
- Re-warm cream over medium heat; it should be feel very warm to the touch. Strain into a large pitcher or liquid measuring cup with spout; discard beans. Stir in extract. Slowly pour warm cream into egg mixture to temper eggs, whisking all the while. Scrape any vanilla seeds into egg mixture. Strain again pouring into pitcher, again scraping any vanilla seeds into pitcher. Pour into ramekins, dividing evenly. Fill larger pan(s) with hot tap water to reach halfway up ramekins.
- Bake for about 35 to 40 minutes or just until the edges of custard are set, but the center still quivers if shaken gently. It will firm up upon cooling. Remove from oven and remove ramekins from pan. Cool ramekins on rack to room temperature. Refrigerate at least 3 hours, or up to 2 days covered with plastic wrap, taking care no to touch to surface.
- For the Brûlée Topping: Sprinkle turbinado sugar powder in a thin even layer over each custard. Caramelize using propane/butane torch or under broiler. Serve immediately.
- Turbinado sugar can be found in many supermarkets in the baking aisle. A common brand is Sugar In The Raw.
- Take your time brûléeing the tops. Do not let the flame concentrate too long on any one area. For a more technical brûlée tutorial, read How to Brûlée.