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Classic Vanilla Bean Crème Brûlée

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The classic crème brûlée has spawned countless flavor variations, yet this refined version is elegant in its simplicity. A vanilla bean is a must for superb flavor; vanilla extract is not an equal substitute.

NotesCaramelizing The Sugar

Different sugars produce slightly different results when caramelized. Brown sugar tends to melt the quickest, in less than a minute. Superfine and regular granulated sugar melt to form a thin, solid disk. Confectioners’ sugar should be sifted or pressed through a sieve to make an even layer so it will brown evenly. Raw sugars are slower to melt than finer sugars, but produce a nice, even browning.

Oven-Dried Brown Sugar: Due to the moisture content of brown sugar, it is recommended to dry it before caramelizing. Spread light or dark brown sugar out on a baking sheet in a 1/8-inchlayer and bake in a preheated 275°F oven for 8 to 10 minutes, or until browned a shade darker. Let cool, place in a small resealable plastic bag, and crush it thoroughly with a rolling pin or flat metal mallet to make fine crystals. Brown sugar treated in this manner has an excellent flavor when caramelized.

The amount of sugar you use to caramelize the top can vary with personal taste and the diameter of the dish. If you use flan dishes, which have a wider diameter, 1 tablespoon of sugar is a good amount for each dish. With a 6-ounce or smaller ramekin, which has a 4-inch or less diameter, about 2 teaspoons of sugar will cover the surface nicely.

When caramelizing the sugar topping of dessert cremes brulees under a broiler, you may prefer to place the containers in a pan and fill the pan with cold water and ice to come halfway up the sides of the dishes. This keeps the containers from overheating, and you can serve the desserts immediately (rather than refrigerating them briefly to cool).

Serves6

CostModerate

Easy

Total Timeunder 4 hours

Make Ahead RecipeYes

OccasionFormal Dinner Party

Recipe Coursedessert

Dietary Considerationgluten-free, halal, kosher, peanut free, soy free, tree nut free, vegetarian

Taste and Texturecreamy, sweet

Type of Dishdessert

Ingredients

  • 2 cups heavy (whipping) cream
  • 4-inch piece vanilla bean, split lengthwise
  • 6 large egg yolks
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons Cognac (optional)
  • 6 tablespoons oven-dried brown sugar(see Notes) or granulated sugar for topping

Instructions

  1. Pour the cream into a medium saucepan, scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean into the cream, and add the vanilla pod. Place over medium heat until small bubbles form around the edges of the pan. Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature. Remove the vanilla pod and scrape any remaining seeds into the cream.

  2. Preheat the oven to 275°F.

  3. In a medium bowl, whisk the egg yolks until pale in color. Whisk in the 1/3 cup granulated sugar until dissolved. Gradually whisk in the cream. Stir in the Cognac, if desired.

  4. Place six standard-size flan dishes in a baking pan. Divide the custard mixture among the dishes. Pour warm water into the pan to come halfway up the sides of the dishes. Bake in the oven for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the center of each custard still jiggles slightly. Remove from the oven and lift the dishes from the hot water. Let cool briefly, then refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to 2 days.

  5. When ready to serve, place the dishes on a baking sheet. Evenly sprinkle 1 tablespoon brown or granulated sugar over each custard. Using a hand-held blowtorch, caramelize the sugar.

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