M Cooks: A French classic beloved worldwide, with its perfectly singed exterior and velvety centre, crème brûlée poses a challenge as guests likely have plenty of experience with the dish.
A dish like crème brûlée had better be right, or your guests will know
One of the chefs I worked for as a kitchen boy when I was a young lad once told me that crème brûlée is the true test of any restaurant because it is one of the few dishes you can really compare from one restaurant to another. In other words, a steak can be very different depending on where the meat comes from and how it is cooked, but a crème brûlée is basically burnt custard, is it not? The test of a good crème brûlée is a creamy interior and a hard caramel shell. The consistency is really what makes it, or what doesn't make it in some cases.
There are, of course, variations. I remember one delicious crème brûlée I ate in a restaurant in a small town called Marseillan in the non-posh bit of the south of France. It was lavender-flavoured, evoking the colour and the smell of the fields surrounding the town.
I like the non-posh south of France; it is a bit more authentic than all that St Tropez nonsense, all those people posing around. Mind you, I don't mind a bit of posing; for example, I often wear hats.
If you walk down the street with a hat on more girls will look at you. It gives you status. Hats are important to me. The style that's most chic is the Plantation Panama. So elegant. Panamas look great on women, too. I also love a fedora. The secret of pulling off a hat is having the guts to wear it. Hats suit everyone - they frame your face - but if you're self-conscious wearing one, that's when it looks bad. I'm beginning to sound like Katie Trotter!
OK, back to the brûlée...
As I was saying, this is a classic. I have not gone for the lavender flavour here, but if you want to add your own twist, then feel free, I won't be hurt. And if you don't have one of those torches to burn the top, then just pop them under a hot broiler.
The best part of eating a crème brûlée is cracking the hard top open to find the velvety interior. Yum. A bit like me when you remove my Panama hat.
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Make It Yourself
9 egg yolks
2 vanilla beans
900ml double cream
Extra sugar for caramelising, as needed
1. Preheat the oven to 120°C.
2. Lightly beat the sugar and egg yolks together by hand in a bowl.
3. Split the vanilla pods in half and scrape the seeds out. Put the seeds, pods, milk and cream into a pan and gently bring the mixture to the boil so that the full flavour of the vanilla infuses into it. Take off heat.
4. Pour the boiling cream and milk onto the sugar and egg yolk mixture. Mix well and pass through a fine strainer.
5. Divide the mixture among six ramekins and cook them in a hot water bath in the preheated oven for 30-40 minutes until just set. Allow the ramekins to cool, then chill in the refrigerator.
5. Sprinkle the top of each ramekin with the extra sugar and caramelise until golden brown with a butane torch or under a hot broiler. Allow the sugar to set hard, then serve.