February 25, 2008

Lemon Creme Brûlée with Fresh Berries

I was searching for a different Creme Brûlée recipe for a dessert potluck party when I found this one from Bon Appétit. I was immediately interested - lemon zest flavoring a creamy custard sounded so refreshing. And it had great reviews from many people.

I decided to scale the recipe for about five people - that way I could use up that pint of cream. The only mistake I made was using too little lemon zest. I zested the only 2 small organic lemons I had (about 1 1/2 teaspoons) - the zest of three or maybe even four small lemons would have been better. I know - that seems like a lot of lemon zest - and it will even smell like a lot when you are infusing the cream. But the recipe needs it - the reviewers were right. I'm going to try to get my hands on some lemon oil for the next time around - if it comes with recommendations from David Lebovitz, it must be worth it. I would also omit the vanilla completely. I find that the vanilla completely masks the delicate flavors of the lemon - and that's the point of the whole recipe.

This is my contribution to this month's Jihva for Ingredients, lemons & limes, hosted by Coffee over at The Spice Cafe.

Lemon Creme Brûlée
Servings: 5 to 6

For Custard
2 cups whipping cream
1/2 cup sugar
3-4 teaspoons grated lemon peel
1/8 teaspoon salt
5 large egg yolks

For Crème Brûlée
4 tablespoons sugar (regular white granulated sugar works best - I found brown sugar tends to burn before it caramelizes)
Fresh berries
1/8 cup (or less to taste) Chambord (black-raspberry liqueur) or crème de cassis (black-currant liqueur)

Preheat oven to 325°F. Arrange 5 or 6 ramekins in 13x9x2-inch metal baking pan. Combine cream and lemon peel in heavy small saucepan and bring to simmer. Whisk sugar and yolks in large bowl until thick, about 3 minutes. Gradually whisk in hot cream mixture, then add salt. Let stand 10 minutes. Strain custard, then divide among cups. Pour enough hot water into baking pan to come halfway up sides of cups.

Bake custards until just set in center, about 30-35 minutes. Remove custards from water bath; chill uncovered until firm, at least 3 hours. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and keep refrigerated.)

Just before serving, top each ramekin with about a tablespoon of sugar dividing equally. Broil or torch until sugar melts and browns, about 2 minutes. Chill until topping is hard and crisp, at least 30 minutes and up to 2 hours.

Combine raspberries and liqueur in bowl. Let stand at room temperature at least 15 minutes and up to 1 hour. Spoon berry mixture atop custards.

Key points for making Creme Brûlée:

(For all the following, the reference is Harold Mcgee's epic 'On Food and Cooking')

  • The custards needs to cook in a narrow range from 175-185°F; exceeding this range by 5 or 10°F can cause the custards to become grainy. Cook the custards in a thin metal baking pan in a water bath. The water bath keeps the oven heat in check so the custards cook gently. (Water can't exceed 212F, and evaporative cooling keeps the water temperature lower at 180°F in a metal pan) A glass baking pan will retain more heat than a metal one (185°F)and reduces your margin of error somewhat.
  • Don't omit the salt - it's plays a key role in the custard formation.
  • This dessert is all about the texture, so it's necessary to strain the mixture before baking. Don't bother adding fresh berries or fruit into the custard - there will be pockets of liquid in the finished dish from the fruit. Pre-cooking and using some flour/cornstarch may help reduce that - but why spoil the texture?
  • Only cook the custards till the center jiggles slightly. They will finish cooking outside the oven.
  • A propane torch is invaluable for making the caramel topping. The caramel should be hard enough to shatter when rapped with a spoon. You should hear a satisfying crunch when it's cracked. If you don't hear that on your first trial ramekin, add more sugar, caramelize and refrigerate uncovered for a few minutes.
  • If using a broiler, chilled custards are particularly important so that the custards won't start cooking again. An ice bath would help too.
  • Scalding the cream is not strictly necessary - in this recipe its needed for the infusing the lemon peel. But it can be skipped if using lemon oil or other extracts. The custards will take a bit longer to set in the oven, but the recipe will work just fine otherwise.
  • Meeta provides more useful tips and tricks for making Creme Brulee, invaluable for first attempts.


KALVA said...

Wow love the creme brulee... Nothing would complement better tah the fresh berries..

Archana said...

Delicious and inviting!. Make it very similar to the way you make. I broil as well, but now plan to invest in a Torch, its useful for so so many things. Just got to hunt for one in India.

Minti said...

Thanks Kalva, Archana...

Mansi Desai said...

that looks inviting indeed Minit! and thanks for all the tips:)

coco said...

Hey minti! I love the berries with the brulee... I miss the fruit here.
I have tagged you for a meme. Hop over to my blog for details! :)

Cynthia said...

In a word: exquisite.

Minti said...

Thanks folks!

ServesYouRight said...

Delish!!! Very very nicely done!