Christmas is coming, and for pastry novices – like ‘moi’ – a dessert brainstorm session is a must. Contemplating recipes, I see delicious everywhere! Between cakes, cookies and candy confections – you name it – choices are plentiful and they’re all happily sweet!
Joyful indeed, “This ain’t my first rodeo!” Embracing the hustle and bustle of the kitchen, I’ve learned a thing or two during these festive times: prepare in advance, and don’t leave your baking until last minute. Options narrowed, I decide on a holiday treat that steadily wins over both crowds and one’s blood pressure. Seriously, baking over the busiest time of year need not be stressful. As such, my finalized select for a ‘sweet ending’ to a grand meal can be made up to two days prior to serving, gets a little spa treatment – in a ‘bain-marie’ a.k.a. hot water bath – and can be burnt. You read right!
Explanation provided, if you haven’t guessed it by now, the French classic known as ‘crème brûlée’ is to be made and devoured. Containing a velvety rich and silken cream interior, this divine custard bears its burning trademark – ‘brûlée’ – thanks to a caramelized ‘burnt’ sugar crust topping. Simplicity promised, preparation of this custard only requires five primary ingredients: egg yolks, heavy cream, sugar, a pinch of salt and vanilla. Adhering to Martha Stewart’s instructions, I gladly follow the listed steps. At the same time, however, I’m thinking it’s the holidays and this classic needs to be revamped. Say it is so, eggnog ‘crème brûlée!’
Still very good, the basic custard recipe can be made ‘as-is’ – following tradition – or enhanced with orange zest or other additions for varying flavours. In the spirit of the season, I keep with putting an eggnog twist on my take. It’s quite simple, all I do is add a pinch of ground cinnamon and nutmeg, as well as the tiniest hint of ground cloves to the mix. Depending on taste, you can equally spike your custard with a splash – about a tablespoon – of your preferred rum or brandy.
“Oh, what fun…” and the burner’s still on, so why not make more dessert? My thoughts exactly! Two more delectable recipes – white chocolate crème brûlée and peppermint dark chocolate ‘pots de crème’ – are too tempting not to try. Welcoming more work, the aforementioned appetizing paired recipes require the main ‘five’ ingredients plus: premium quality white and dark chocolates – Lindt or Ghirardelli are ideal – and a quarter teaspoon of pure peppermint extract. Successfully breaking with a stress-free baking endeavour, setting my mind to prepare a dessert trio is now on the new menu. Feeling adventurous, this extended baking task is a sought-after challenge worth accepting. After all, all three desserts are made in similar fashion – just times three! And, in case you opt to pursue this route, you’ll equally need thrice of everything: bowls, ingredients, ramekins, and patience. On the bright side, the fruits of your labour will surely yield you three times the company – people or food. Clearly, the more the merrier!
Without further ado, here’s how to start: in a bowl, mix the egg yolks with sugar and a pinch of salt. In a saucepan, bring the combined dairy contents and the seeds from a split and scraped vanilla bean to a gentle simmer. No vanilla bean, no problem?! As a substitute, pure vanilla essence works fine though I would add the extract to the egg mixture versus the liquid. Either way, heat the cream but be cautious not to let it boil. Once a simmer is reached, pour the hot liquid into the egg mixture while whisking nonstop, and keep whisking or else – sweetened scrambled eggs, anyone? Whisking complete – or until your arm feels tired – pour the combined mixture over a sieve and into another clean bowl or very large heat-proof glass measuring cup. Oven already preheated and a hot kettle of water awaiting to be used, place ramekins onto a deep roasting pan and then pour equal amounts of custard into each dish. From here, place the pan into the oven and now pour boiled water into the pan, almost reaching half-way up to the ramekin dish. Bake at 300°F for about 30 minutes or until the custard wobbles, and cool at room temperature for another half an hour before refrigerating for at least two more hours.
It’s all in the way it’s – supposed to be – made, and these very good custards are no exception. Missing no step, ‘crème brûlée’ is merely custard without its signature amber gold topping. Going for the ‘pièce de résistance,’ then, the burnt sugar crusted finale needs two things: a tablespoon or so of castor sugar for each baked and chilled custard and – most importantly – a torch. If you don’t have a torch, use your oven’s broiler setting but be sure to keep a watchful eye on your ‘beauties.’ Remember: ‘burnt’ cream is the aim, not scorched. As for the peppermint dark chocolate ‘pots de crème,’ food of the gods truly need no masking. Embellishment via more dark chocolate, on the other hand, sounds like my kind of fancy finish to a highly pure cocoa indulgence. So, there you have it! Once, twice, three times a Merry Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa celebration, and holiday eats! Blessings to all, and BON APPÉTIT!! :)
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