Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Ubiquitous Creme Brulee

Festive Creme Brulee

Crème Brûlée:  it is ubiquitous, peripatetic, versatile, multi-national, non-denominational, simple to make and, when done well as it usually is, very good.  It is like the simple black sheath:  dress it up or dress it down.  Add fruit or jam to the custard mixture, or not; garnish with fresh fruit and mint, or not; sprinkle lots of sugar on top and blowtorch until a crisp, caramel crust results, or not.  It is good any way and every way.

We decided to theme our Christmas Eve and Christmas Day dinners this year.  Italian for Christmas Eve and French for Christmas Day.  So this week’s French Fridays with Dorie challenge nicely fit our culinary itinerary.  But I admit to being less than thrilled since it seems like such a passé dessert.  And let’s face it, Trader Joe’s long ago decoded the mystery of this dessert when it felt confident enough to offer it in the frozen dessert section. 
Eggs & sugar for the custard

Whisking before hot liquid and vanilla are added

Dorie’s recipe for Crème Brûlée has definitely renewed my enthusiasm for this dessert.  Using the base custard mixture like a little black sheath, she has dressed it up with the addition of jam or jelly, and there didn’t seem to be any restriction on the flavors that could be used.  With this in mind, my intrepid sous chef went to market and, like a little piggy, returned with Bellini Jam, Holiday Jam, and Strawberry Rhubarb Jam.   We made two of each flavor and decided the Bellini Jam, which is a combination of peaches, sugar and Prosecco, was the lightest and least sugary and ended up being our favorite.  It was quite delicious, lusciously creamy with an ever so sublime hint of vanilla that lingers on the palate.  I feel like I’m describing a wine, but what’s so bad about that if it pleases the palate and tickles the taste buds? 
Just boiling heavy cream and whole milk

Tempering the egg mixture

A little pure vanilla

Dorie’s Crème Brûlée is a great base for a holiday dessert and can be made to look quite festive if you want to wow your guests with a little “over the top” plating.  Another plus—particularly during the holiday craze--is ease of preparation.  The custard takes less than 10 minutes to prepare, although it needs 50-60 minutes to bake and set in the oven, and another 3 hours to chill.  So some advance planning is needed.  Fortunately, the dessert can be made a couple days in advance and stored tightly covered in the refrigerator.  Just sugar and blowtorch (if you choose) and garnish when you are ready to serve.  We experimented and found the dessert retained its original fresh flavor even after a couple days in the refrigerator.

Bellini, Holiday Jam and Strawberry Rhubarb waiting for the custard

Drizzling the custard

Voila! One down four to go

 Some notes about this recipe that I would like to share:

The brown sugar caramelizes pretty quickly, so you need to watch the flame carefully so the sugar does not burn.

The caramelized sugar top was a little sweet for our taste when combined with the jam, which already has plenty of sugar.      

The more liquid the jam, the longer the cooking time.  Treat the jam like yogurt and strain off some of the liquid. Fresh fruit as a jam/jelly substitute could be quite interesting and less sugary.

The custard mixture was wonderful and really didn’t need the jam—or the sugar top for that matter--to enhance the flavor.

Just out of the oven, and perfectly set

Don't recommend torching the sugar and taking photo at same time

In the holiday spirit, I adorned our Crème Brûlée with a rosemary wreath and fresh raspberries masquerading as Christmas ornaments.   To make the rosemary wreath, take two rosemary branches, approximately 7 inches each, tie together at the top with a ribbon, and the bottom can be stapled or taped together and covered with a raspberry ball to hide the  tape/staple.  The holly in the center is represented by 3 mint leaves and a raspberry.  Quite a festive holiday dessert!

Ready to share the holiday cheer - rosemary wreath with raspberry Christmas ornaments

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good dessert!

To read more French Friday with Dorie experiences with Crème Brûlée, or to join the group, go to:


  1. Wow that's a lot of jam you put in your dishes (yum!). I went with only a tablespoon as recommended and was blaming this for my "not set at all even in proper dishes after over a day in the fridge" crèmes. This was so different from other recipes I have tried with success before - way too low heat and no water bath... Weird. Still, out of the 61 recipes I have tried so far, it's not bad that only one has not worked out as it should. Happy holidays and happy FFWD-ing in 2012!

  2. Your creme brulees look so cute & festive! Just perfect for a holiday dessert. Your theme dinners sound delicious, happy cooking.

  3. What a pretty plating :-)

    Have a wonderful holiday & great New Year.

  4. Very pretty and festive (fun idea with the cuisine themes) - so glad you enjoyed them!

  5. I can only imagine how delicious it was to reach your jam layer! Fantastic styling!

  6. OMG what an adorable wreath!! That's quite a selection of jam you used. Thanks for noting down your tips too. I'm sure they'll come in handy for other people attempting this recipe in future. Hope your holiday meals both turn out fantastic!

  7. ooooh, I am quite the Bellini connoisseur, so I would love to try Bellini jam. Your brulees all look marvellous.

  8. Your wreath is just adorable! I love that you made different versions. Thank you for your notes, particularly about the fruit as I have not made that version yet. I hope you have a very Merry Christmas!

  9. That Bellini jam sounds very celebratory. The creme brulees would probably be great with a glass of the bubbly too. I just love your presentation. It's so festive! Merry Christmas to you and your family. I've enjoyed cooking with you this year.

  10. It's interesting that you thought it was too sweet with the jam and the brulee. I didn't add the jam, but put fresh sliced strawberries and didn't brulee the top and found it just barely sweet. Creme brulee tends to be a pretty sweet dessert to begin with. maybe you could reduce the sugar in the custard next time if you are going to brulee? and/or omit the jam? :)

  11. These look beautiful and wish I had read this before my attempt! Happy Holidays!

  12. Gorgeous presentation!!! Perfect for any holiday~ Merry Christmas, Christy!!!!

  13. Your plating is absolutely stunning - how lovely ! Thanks for all the great info. I was LOL when I read the part about not taking a photo while using the torch :) I esp love your idea of having an Italian Christmas Eve and French Christmas Day.We enjoy the "feast of 7 fish" for our Italian Christmas Eve but would love to celebrate the French side of the family on Christmas Day - thanks for the idea !

  14. Bellini jam sounds excellent, how fun! What a fun post - I had no idea Trader Joe's sold frozen creme brulee - interesting :-) I also love your plating, they look great...Glad to hear you also like the David Lebovitz creme brulee. Happy New Year!


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