Creme Brulee just sounds romantic dessert, doesn't it?
Never mind that in English it translates to “burnt cream,” this classic French dessert offers all the decadence you desire in a dessert to complete your Valentine's dinner.
Made with some basic local Oklahoma ingredients, your Valentine's Creme Brulee is even better. You probably don't realize it, but you may have all the ingredients you need on hand.
Haven't had Creme Brulee before? It is a delicate custard gently baked in a hot (not boiling) water bath and topped with a thin layer of crunchy sweet caramelized sugar. You can do it today as it is easy to make and the simple silky smooth custard can chill out overnight in the fridge before you pop its sugar topping under the broiler before serving. Whether you dine out or grill some tender steaks at home, you can have a taste of fabulous creamy caramelized sugar-crusted goodness to celebrate with your special Valentine. I'm hearin' the music already just thinking about Creme Brulee.
Now about those Oklahoma ingredients. If you haven't had locally produced eggs yet, they are worth a trip to the nearest farmers market or specialty food purveyors who carry them. I've bought eggs from the Urban Agrarian Market in Oklahoma City, the OSU-OKC Farmers Market, Native Roots Market, the Farm to Fork Market Bus and Forward Foods.
Why do I like them so much? They are super fresh (often picked the morning you buy them) with beautiful yellow yolks and whites that have a thicker consistency and don't run like water when you crack the egg.
A milk and cream combination or half-and-half from Hiland Dairy or Braum's work very well in Creme Brulee. I must save you from trying fat-free half-and-half — it does not produce Creme Brulee. If you are trying to cut back on fat, reserve this dessert for an indulgence and make the portion smaller.
Share the extra servings with friends or neighbors or make one-third of the recipe.
I've made several varieties of Creme Brulee over the years and enjoyed this dessert in several restaurants across the country and overseas. Some people like to use a stirred custard method. I like the silky-baked version to the sweeter pudding-style base.
Sometimes the sugar crust is caramelized separately on a baking sheet and dropped onto the base. This can be done on a silicone baking mat, nonstick foil or buttered foil, but it is a little tricky to get the sugar to melt to the perfect size of the individual base or to move it in one piece after it cools. You still have to watch it very carefully.
Here are my tried-and-true rules for making the best Creme Brulee:
Start with the best quality fresh eggs and milk.
Strain the liquid custard mixture before baking for silky smooth custard.
Use a sturdy pan to hold ramekins for baking custards in the water bath.
Bake custard low and slow in warm “Bain-Marie” water bath. It should not boil.
To avoid burns and spills when removing baked custards from oven pull out rack first.
Let custards cool before removing from water bath and refrigerating.
Broil sugar topping only when you can give it your full attention.
Over the years, I've made Creme Brulee in a variety of flavors, adding puree of pumpkin or butternut squash to the custard mixture. Sometimes I do it with concentrated coffee added to the heated cream. When I get fresh vanilla beans, I slit a half of one lengthwise and steep it in part of the half-and-half. To keep the little specks of pure vanilla, this part of the liquid is added after straining the rest of the heated half-and-half mixed with the egg and sugar mixture. This way the residue from the pod remains in the custard.
I've also made a chocolate version, melting 4 to 6 ounces of bittersweet chocolate in a double boiler then incorporating it into the hot half-and-half.
One more thing in case you forget to give full attention to broiling the sugar: Let the burnt sugar cool, then lift it off and add new sugar mixture to the top of the custard. Then watch it carefully this time.
This year we will celebrate the 40th anniversary of our first date a few days before Valentine's. It has over the decades become a significant milestone for us.
This year I'm including my favorite Oklahoma honey in the custard mixture, dissolving it into the heated half-and-half before mixing it with the eggs. I may just omit the vanilla and let that honey bring its pure Oklahoma flavor to celebrate those 40 years with my “Honey.”
It is amazing how so few ingredients make such an elegant ending to a special meal. All you need is a little time. Make the custard the day before, chill overnight, then broil (brulee) the sugar topping before serving time. This recipe will fill 10 to 12 small 1/3- to ½-cup ramekins or custard dishes. A few fresh or frozen raspberries or blackberries can be hidden inside the custard before adding the sugar topping and broiling. They make a yummy surprise.
Made in Oklahoma Valentine's Day Creme Brulee
6 local egg yolks plus one egg (save whites for omelets or meringues.)
¼ cup sugar
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
3 cups Hiland or Braums half-and-half
Approximately 1/2 to 2/3 to cup light brown sugar or a combination of brown sugar, Turbinado sugar and sugar.
Variations: Incorporate 3 tablespoons instant coffee granules dissolved in ¼ cup boiling water or zest of an