Even though most people consider crème brûlée (or burnt cream) a typically French dessert, British sources often cite Trinity College, Cambridge, as the place where it first appeared at the end of the XIXth century. The famous British food writer, Jane Grigson, says (in her excellent English Food) she has come across burnt cream recipes in several ancient English cookery books, some dating back to the XVIIth century. The French claim to be the inventors and also cite a XVIIth century (1691) book “Le Cuisinier royal et bourgeois” by François Massialot as the first occurrence of crème brûlée. The doubt of the origins will probably always haunt both sides of the Channel, but whatever the origins, crème brûlée or burnt cream is an invention of a genius.
The recipe I share with you is the very first I used and certainly the last one, not because it is lighter (half milk, half cream), but because it produces the best crème brûlée I know. I found it in “Le Grand Livre de Cuisine d’Alain Ducasse: Bistrots, Brasseries et Restaurants de Tradition” written by one of the most renowned French chefs, who is also among the three most Michelin-starred in the world. Alain Ducasse is not any diet guru, the book has got nothing to do with any weight loss plans (see the title of his book!) and the recipe wasn’t labelled as lightened. It is simply excellent, elegantly fresh and as such didn’t need any explanations. The addition of milk also illustrates the way the traditional cuisine has been changing in hands of modern French chefs and confectioners, following the way our lifestyles and nutritious needs change, but wisely, i.e. without any taste compromise.
I have already posted this recipe a long time ago, but I thought it merits to be mentioned again, especially since now I know I’m not the only one blogger who looks for lighter desserts and also because some of my friends have recently been trying to lighten their eating habits 😉
If you feel like playing with this classic dessert, I strongly recommend this refreshing and amazing matcha crème brûlée, my second favourite:
TIPS: Blowtorch is a very good investment since, at least from my experience, it’s impossible to obtain the contrasting textures and temperatures crème brûlée is famous for with an oven broiler (the cream warms up). You can use blowtorch on many other custardy desserts and sweet tarts.
Click here for a few ideas of how to use up the leftover egg whites.
If you don’t have brown cane sugar, you can use caster sugar to burn, but the taste is worse.
If you want to prepare a smaller batch (serving max. 4 people), divide the below amounts by two, but use 5 egg yolks.
If you travel to France and order burnt cream in an unknown restaurant, I would strongly advise asking if it’s burnt just before being served. I had several times an unpleasant surprise of soggy caramel and a uniform temperature in restaurants where the cream is burnt before the opening hours and sits for several hours in the fridge.
Special equipment: a blowtorch
Preparation: around 2 hours+a couple of hours in the fridge
Calories (the whole batch, made with skimmed milk, 25% fat cream and including the burnt sugar): about 3200 kcal
Ingredients (serves six – eight, depending on the size of the baking dishes; if you use the ones I did (8-9 cm diameter) you will obtain eight portions):
9 egg yolks
500 ml/17 oz milk
500 ml/17 oz liquid cream (min. 20% fat, without any thickeners)
4 vanilla pods
9 slightly heaped tablespoons caster sugar
about100 g/about 1/2 cup cane sugar (but not the moist one!)
Cut the vanilla pods lengthwise in two.
Put into a saucepan with milk and cream. Bring to the boil, put aside for 30 minutes.
Strain it. Scrape off the vanilla seeds and blend with milk and cream. The seeds are not necessary, but I think the cream looks nicer with small black spots.
Preheat the oven at 100°C.
Mix the yolks with sugar in a big bowl. Pour the warm (not hot!) milk with cream over it and mix again.
Pour the mixture into burnt cream dishes or other small individual ramekins.
Bake it for approximately 45 minutes. (The custards are ready when only their centres are slightly trembling when moved).
Take out the creams and let them cool down. Put into the fridge for several hours.
Just before serving, take the creams out of the fridge and pat dry with paper towel (there will be some water drops on top and it will make the burning difficult).
Sprinkle with dark cane sugar and caramelise it with a special blowtorch.
Serve immediately while the top is still warm and crunchy and the cream below is very cold.