Vanilla Bean Creme Brulee

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Jennifer Pallian
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I got a torch for Christmas. Mmm hmm, someone had enough faith in my self-coordination to offer me a butane-fuelled fire thrower. That someone obviously wasn't around for my high school graduation dinner when I blew off my eyebrows, lashes, and the front third of my hair when lighting the BBQ...

But I mean, there are some things that are just worth risking. I'd sacrifice at least one eyebrow for a creamy, rich custard, infused with fresh vanilla bean and topped with a caramel that shatters with a satisfying crack of the spoon... any day. However, no need to be dramatic. I survived and so did all my facial follicles, and we enjoyed the most incredibly luscious creme brulee.

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Don't be fooled by how fancy-pants this dessert sounds - it is ridiculously easy. Can you make french toast? You can make creme brulee. Actually, I'd say it's easier than french toast. All you have to do - get this - is whisk together some heavy cream, sugar, egg yolks and vanilla bean, pour it into custard cups, and slowly bake it in a dish filled with water until it is firm.

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Then the fun part - sprinkle a couple of teaspoons of white sugar onto each custard... and torch the heck out of it!!! So much fun. A little too much fun. I may be inclined to torch the heck out of other things now, too.

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Things like bananas on peanut butter toast... or mini marshmallows on toothpicks... Okay, someone get this thing away from me for a bit...

Vanilla beans are incredible. Their smell is heavenly. They are worth the expense for making desserts where vanilla is the predominant flavour - like ice creams, puddings, sauces, custards, creme brulee... All you have to do is use a paring knife to make a slit the entire length of the bean, then use the tip to scrape out all the teeny tiny black seeds. Don't throw away the pod! Throw it in with your sugar pot to make a delicious vanilla sugar for tea and coffee.

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If you don't have a torch, and you're a foodie, you should go get a torch. But if you don't have a torch, don't see yourself getting a torch anytime soon, but feel inclined to make this creme brulee immediately (as you should) - you can heat up your broiler and brulee your cremes that way. You need to keep rotating them so that they caramelize evenly, and the results may not be as good as with a torch (from what I have read)... but worth trying anyway!

Vanilla Bean Creme Brulee

  • 6 large egg yolks

  • 6 tablespoons white sugar

  • 1 vanilla bean

  • 1 1/2 cups whipping cream (35% heavy cream)

  • 12 teaspoons white sugar (for topping)

1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees; fill a kettle with water and set it to boil.

2. In a large bowl, whisk egg yolks with sugar. Slice vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape out the seeds. Whisk seeds into yolks. Gradually whisk in whipping cream.

3. Divide mixture evenly among 6 ramekins. Arrange in large baking dish and pour boiling water halfway up sides of ramekins. Bake for about 40 minutes, or until set (no longer liquidy in the center). Remove from oven and allow custards to cool in the hot water for 30 minutes before transferring to the fridge. Cool at least 4 hours, up to 24 hours.

4. Just before serving, sprinkle each custard evenly with 2 teaspoons of sugar. Torch the tops until the sugar is bubbly and caramelized. Return to fridge for a few minutes to harden. Serve within a few hours, or the caramel will soften.