Who out there doesn't like a good creme brulee? I mean seriously, the stuff is DIVINE. It's probably not healthy for any of us, and its not cheap at the fancy restaurants, but soooo worth it when you can have it, right? I found this wonderful recipe on Food Network's awesome index of recipes, and it was wonderful. The truth is, when it comes to making creme brulee or any other kind of custard, the important part is technique. So pay close attention to the instructions, because if you do it right you will have a delightfully smooth, creamy custard with a delicious caramelized sugar crust/shell. Do it wrong, and you'll end up with heavy cream mixed with scrambled eggs and sugar. And that's just not good eats. Here we go...
Vanilla Bean Creme Brulee with Sliced Strawberries
2 1/3 c heavy whipping cream
2/3 c sugar (YES, it has to be the real stuff, no substitutions this time)
1 vanilla bean (optional--plain creme brulee just uses a bit of vanilla extract, this recipe is vanilla bean though)
6 egg yolks
3 tbsp granulated sugar
this can be any berries you want, or have on hand. I used strawberries because I had them. the original recipe calls for raspberries, which would be equally delicious, as would blueberries or blackberries. About a cup of whatever berries you choose, and a couple tsp of sugar, depending on the sweetness you want. It also suggests adding lemon zest, but I didn't and it was delicious.
You will also want to invest in some ramekins. 4 of them, each about 4 inches or 6 oz. A baker's torch would be nice too, but if you don't have one, use your broiler (that's what I did).
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Place ramekins in a 9x13x2 baking pan. In a small saucepan or tea kettle, heat some water.
In a medium saucepan combine heavy cream and sugar (not over heat yet). Using a sharp paring knife, slice the vanilla bean down the center lengthwise along the seam of the bean. Scrape out the center of the vanilla bean and add to the cream and sugar mixture. Toss in the bean too. If you get some of the stuff in the center of the bean on your hands, just use a bit of sugar to rub it off into the cream mixture.
Heat cream and sugar and vanilla bean over medium heat until it simmers, whisking constantly to keep from burning. When it comes to a simmer, cover, reduce the heat to low, and continue to simmer for 10 minutes (SET THE TIMER, do not cook longer than the prescribed 10 minutes). When it's done cooking, remove the vanilla bean (just the shell part) and either throw away or dry it out, and you can use it later to make vanilla sugar.
Now, here is the tricky part: tempering the eggs. You have to mix the hot cream with the cold eggs without getting scrambled eggs. I used a ladle and just mixed a small amount of the cream with the eggs as I whisked it, so it brought the eggs to temperature and kept things smooth. That's probably the best way to do it, because if you just add all of the eggs to the hot cream, you'll end up with scrambled eggs.
**Once you have added a couple of ladles full of the cream to the eggs, whisking the whole time, you should be able to just add the rest of the cream because by then the eggs are up to temp and you've combined them well enough that it won't matter.** Mix the rest of the cream in, and scrape out all of the vanilla bean goodness into there, and make sure everything is mixed in well.
Now, all you have to do is ladle the mixture into your ramekins. I actually used a silicone bowl since it was flexible and heat proof and wouldn't move around on me when I was whisking and ladling at the same time while tempering the eggs. So just evenly portion the custard into your 4 ramekins. Then you need to create a water bath around them by pouring in the hot water around them into the baking dish you placed them in at the beginning. You'll want enough water to go up halfway around the ramekins.
Carefully place the 9x13 into your oven and bake custard for 30-35 minutes. The custard should be set, but jiggle slightly when you lightly shake the pan. When it's done baking, remove the ramekins from the water bath and let cool to room temperature, then transfer to the fridge to chill the rest of the way.
Once fully cooled, sprinkle sugar on top of each ramekin to cover the whole custard, but not too thick (about 2 tsp per ramekin). Place on a baking sheet under the broiler for about 3-5 minutes, watching the whole time, making sure the sugar doesnt burn, but turns golden brown. Let cool.
Mix the berries, sugar, and lemon zest together. Top the creme brulee with the berries and enjoy!