Monday, September 04, 2006

Weekend Cookbook Challenge #8: Foreign Dish - Creme Brulee

Once again, it is time for the Weekend Cookbook Challenge. This month it was co-hosted by Ruth over at Once Upon a Feast and our normal hostess, Sara from I Like to Cook. The theme for this installment is to cook a foreign dish from as usual a seldom or rarely used cookbook.
My dish: Creme Brulee. The cookbook: Les Halles Cookbook by Anthony Bourdain.

I've had this cookbook for over a year but never cooked with it. It was holding up the nightstand on my side of the bed and I had frankly forgotten I owned it. This cookbook is full of Anthony Bourdain's cynical, funny but frank remarks and is surprisingly easy to cook from with step by step instructions, especially important if you are taking a first plunge into classic French Bistro cooking . The cookbook is the perfect size for my counters, has large print for my aging eyes, and a picture accompanies every recipe so you won't guess if you got it right. One thing that casual cooks may find daunting with this cookbook is that it doesn't use measurements for dry ingredients but rather weights. I have been wanting to have a good kitchen scale for some time (Note to MBH: hint, hint, hint) but MBH's postal scale works quite well in a pinch.

I chose to make creme brulee for a quite a few reasons. First and foremost, creme brulee is my favourite dessert. When I'm in Paris I'll have it at least once a day sometimes two times a day. I go out of my way anywhere my travels take me to sample this simple dessert. One taste of a well made creme brulee and the smooth, vanilla scented creme will transport me immediately to La Rotonde on the corner of Boulevard du Montparnarsse and Boulevard Raspail.

Another reason I chose to make creme brulee was it would provide me with a good reason to add a culinary torch to my kitchen gadget collection. I have read recipes that call for toasting the brown sugar that goes on top of the baked custard by running the ramekins under the broiler for five minutes. But, when I'm impatiently waiting to crunch my spoon through the carmelized topping, I want to have immediate gratification. Besides, how cool is it to own a mini blow torch??!!

The recipe in Les Halles is the classic recipe I found in several cookbooks calling for 10 egg yolks whipped until frothy, a quart of heavy cream, 1 vanilla bean (don't skimp here, part of the dish is the little black specs of vanilla bean on the bottom of the ramekin) split and scraped into heavy cream, and six ounces of sugar (split half between the cream and half into the egg yolks). The heavy cream, vanilla, and half the sugar are slowly heated to simmering/easy boil over medium heat. The egg yolks and other half of the sugar are slowly added to the warm cream mixture (use a whisk and stir constantly while adding the yolks or they will curdle). This creates a classic custard (if you can find them, fresh farm eggs will make the custard especially rich and yellow as fresh farm egg yolks are thicker in consistency and very yellow). Split the custard between six to eight creme brulee ramekins or custard cups. Place the ramekins in a water bath (water should be half way up the side of the ramekins) and bake at 300 degrees until the custard is firm but wiggly in the center (most recipes say 45 minutes or so, it took over a full hour for me yesterday). Let cool, top with brown sugar and using either the broiler of your oven or a culinary torch, toast the brown sugar until golden brown.