When my brother and I would get sick as kids, my mom used to make baked custard. I think mom figured custard was a good enough way to get something somewhat nutritious down and into the tummies of two cranky, snotty kids. Smooth and creamy, it was just what Florence Nightingale ordered, and so I never really though of baked custard as a novelty. That is, until I entered the big kid world and started eating it with burnt sugar on top and calling it crème brûlée.
Shockingly enough (to me, at least), crème brûlée isn’t French at all, even though it seems that they have taken credit for its creation. The reality is that crème brûlée, or “burnt cream” comes from those jolly good folks from Trinity College in Cambridge, England. I guess that means that I should have made this last month. Apparently, it wasn’t until the end of the nineteenth century that the French version came into vogue, and I think it’s because of France’s putting this English delight into the mainstream that perpetrated the misconception of its origin.
Early French versions of the dessert had a separately prepared caramel disc layered on top of the custard, rather than the contemporary (and English) method of caramelizing the sugar directly onto the custard. I’m all about doing things in as few steps as possible, so I’m happy to adopt the latter method. In the interest of health, I used whole milk rather than heavy cream and it still had the same silky texture and trademark rich taste. With a mere four ingredients, this is easy enough to make on the cheap, so do yourself a favor and do try this at home. Also, if you don’t have a blow torch, simply put the ramekins under the broiler in the oven until the sugar is burnt.
- 3 cups whole milk
- 1 large egg
- 4 egg yolks
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 1/2 cup sugar, plus about 1 TB for each ramekin
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
- In a large bowl, mix the egg, egg yolks, and 1/2 cup of the sugar together until just combined. Meanwhile, scald the cream in a small saucepan until it's very hot to the touch- but not boiled.
- Slowly add the cream to the eggs, mixing constantly, being careful not to scramble the eggs. Add the vanilla and pour into 6 to 8-ounce ramekins until almost full.
- Place the ramekins in a baking pan and carefully pour boiling water into the pan to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until the custards are set when gently shaken. Remove the custards from the water bath, cool to room temperature, and refrigerate until firm.
- To serve, spread 1 TB of sugar evenly on the top of each ramekin and heat with a kitchen blowtorch until the sugar caramelizes evenly. Allow to sit at room temperature for a minute until the caramelized sugar hardens.