My mother and I may have had differing opinions on the merit of onions in the grand scheme of things (see “Cepa Allium, Revisited), but one thing we were in total agreement about was the supremacy of Creme Brulee as a dessert. Whenever we would eat at a restaurant, if creme brulee appeared on the menu there was no question about what we both were having for dessert. Hopefully all who are reading this have experienced creme brulee firsthand and know that it is a thick, rich chilled custard topped with a layer of crackly caramelized sugar. So, one fine spring day my mother and I were browsing through a cooking gadget store and came upon a cooking torch. A cooking torch is like a squirt gun sized girly version of your basic manly blow torch. The box it came in was illustrated with a full color photograph of our revered Creme Brulee. We were hungry. We were suckers for the wily folks on Madison Avenue. We had Mastercard. We bought two, one for each of us. At home we quickly whipped up the custard for the brulees and put them into the refrigerator to chill. As it got close to the time they would be ready, we decided we’d best put together our little torches. Now another thing my mother and I shared is a total bewilderment about all things mechanical. And the assembly directions were, at best, sketchy. Not to mention that they’d obviously been written in some language involving kanji characters and translated into English. So we took it slowly, intent upon our task – my mother reading the steps as I carried them out. Suddenly my mother starting laughing. Hysterically. Tears were rolling down her cheeks. I asked her what was so funny. She attempted to tell me but was overcome with another paroxysm of mirth. She pointed helplessly at a particular paragraph of the directions. It said (and I quote): “SO IMPORTANT!!! Do not put point of flame in face of friend.” This particular idea had never even crossed my mind. Needless to say, I joined her in the whole laughing/crying thing. And yes, for those of you who know me painfully well – I snorted. When I am laughing uncontrollably, I snort. It is quite embarrassing and totally destroys the aura of refinement and gentility that I try to maintain at all times. But I can’t help myself – the snorts just happen. We eventually did get the torches assembled, they worked quite well and the faces of no friends were harmed during the making of our creme brulee.
18 egg yolks (did I mention that you could possibly drop dead from a coronary immediately after eating this? However, you would die happy.)
1 quart heavy cream
1 3/4 cups sugar
1 vanilla bean, split
Place the cream in a heavy saucepan. Add the vanilla bean and heat over medium high heat. Whisk the egg yolks with the sugar in a large bowl. When the cream is just about to boil, pour about half of it over the egg yolk mixture. Add this back into the remaining cream in the pan. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly but not whisking (whisking will produce a foam which you don’t want to happen.) Cook until mixture thickens but do not boil. Strain the brulee. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean into the custard. Pour the brulee into individual ramekins and chill for at least six hours. Sprinkle a small amount of sugar over the top of each. Caramelize, using a cooking torch – hold the flame a few inches away and move around until the sugar is golden and bubbly. This makes about 8 servings but it will depend on the size of your ramekins.