Gourmet Galley: Crème brûlée not only for nice restaurants

Crème brûlée is a popular dessert often ordered after a meal in nice restaurants. The translation for this creamy custard is “burnt cream,” and that’s because of the thin layer of caramelized sugar (or burnt sugar) over the top.

My teenage granddaughters love this dessert so I taught them how simple it is to make. Over the years, I’ve always caramelized the sugar under the broiler. But, the idea of a blowtorch fascinated them and since I found one on sale, I splurged on another kitchen gadget. Kitchen butane torches can be found in many stores now; you do have to purchase separate cans of butane for the fuel.

After cooking, and before serving, you spread a thin but even layer of sugar over the custard so that the sugar melts evenly and you’re not browning the top of the custard. The one in the accompanying photograph should have had a little more sugar for that nice crunchy topping.

There are many recipes for this custard, but they are all basically cream, sugar, egg yolks and vanilla. Fresh fruit, toasted coconut, bananas, orange pieces or whipped cream can decorate the top.

Unlike most of the classic crème brûlée recipes, this one does not have you scald or temper the milk and eggs first. Just make sure your oven is preheated and you add very hot water (or boiling water) to the water bath you cook the custards in.

The water bath (bain Marie) gently cooks custards. I found an almost identical recipe at bettycrocker.com. I learned two things on the website. The first is to dab, using a paper towel, the tops of the cooked custards if moisture has accumulated before you sprinkle on the sugar for caramelizing.

Secondly, the website said, “After extensive testing, we’ve found that granulated sugar melts best when using a kitchen torch and brown sugar melts best under the broiler.”

I’ve inherited some pretty porcelain ramekins, but shallow ramekins came with my torch so I used those.

The shallow ones are easier to use the torch with. Try to aim the fire at the custard and not the glass part of the dish. The glass can crack if it gets too hot.

Corinne Cook is a columnist for The Advocate. Reach her at food@theadvocate.com.