Saturday, January 21, 2012

Black Currant Tea Crème Brûlée

Crème brûlée is a recent discovery for the boyfriend and I.  We first had it not at a bistro in Europe, but a friend's house in Wisconsin!  The friend happens to be a policeman, and he treated us to a fantastic homemade meal, but it was still rather unexpected to see him finishing a delicate French dessert with a kitchen torch.  But awesome.

Following this enjoyable experience, I took a French cooking class, and what was the dessert?  Crème brûlée, of course!  The class was great, and I learned how to make some tasty and classic things.  (Hilarious moment sidenote - The rack inside the oven was too high for the soufflé, but that wasn't clear until after it was baked and had already adhered to the top of the oven.  Whoops!)  Back to the crème brûlée.  Although this dessert seems like it would be difficult, it's really not, so why wouldn't you want to have this all the time?  (Besides the obvious waistline concern)

The boyfriend made it clear that he thought we needed more crème brûlée in our lives, so I was interested in finding some twists on the classic.  I stumbled upon David Lebovitz's Ready for Dessert cookbook and found exactly what I was looking for: Black Currant Tea Crème Brûlée.  I like LOVE black currant flavor.  It's prominent in the UK, and after studying abroad in Scotland, I was hooked (to note, the purple Skittles in the UK are black currant, and not grape).  Black currant isn't a common flavor here in the US, but I have found it in tea, so I do have it on hand all the time.

One last essential before making this dessert: a kitchen torch.  I had been told that purchasing a fancy kitchen torch was unnecessary, and you just needed a regular torch.  Great.  There's a hardware store right across the street from us, so on one of our recent snow days we bundled up and wandered over and found the perfect little torch for $35.  Done!  Granted, a torch isn't used for a lot of dishes, but this means Baked Alaska, toasted marshmallow, and various other meringue dishes are within reach.  As well as any fancy seared sushi, if I ever get so brave as to attempt that at home.  Or, it could be used in a more conventional fashion for jewelry making or... plumbing repairs....?

The taste of the finished dessert?  Delicious.  You want more of a description?  Um... delicate, intriguing, yummy... just try it!  After making this one, I want to experiment with other tea infusions, like Earl Grey and green tea.  My whisk and torch are at the ready!

Black Currant Tea Crème Brûlée
(from David Lebovitz's Ready for Dessert cookbook)
Makes 6-8 servings

3 cups heavy cream
6 Tbsp sugar, plus 8 tsp for caramelizing
1/4 cup loose black currant tea leaves
6 egg yolks

In a medium saucepan, heat the cream, the 6 Tbsp of sugar, and tea leaves until warm.  Remove from the heat, cover, and let steep for 30 minutes.  (If you want it less strong, steep it a bit less)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Set six 6-oz or eight 4-oz ramekins or custard cups in a deep baking dish.

Pour the cream mixture through a fine mesh strainer into another saucepan.  Reheat the cream until it's quite warm.  In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks.  Gradually whisk in the warm cream, whisking constantly as you pour to prevent the eggs from cooking.  Divide the custard mixture evenly among the ramekins.  Fill the baking dish with warm water to reach halfway up the sides of the ramekins.

You can cover the baking dish tightly with tin foil for baking, but the French chef didn't do that.  I tried it both ways, and found the tin foil to slow the baking process, and found no difference in texture between covered or not.  So it's completely up to you whether or not you want to cover them with tin foil.

Slowly and steadily place the baking dish with the ramekins into the oven and bake until the perimeters of the custards are just set and the centers are still slightly jiggly, about 30 minutes.

Transfer the custards from the water bath to a wire rack and let cool completely.  Refrigerate until chilled (although overnight is best for optimum texture).

Just before serving, evenly sprinkle each chilled custard with 1 teaspoon sugar and caramelize with a kitchen torch.  Wave the tip of the flame over the sugar at close range until the sugar begins to melt.  Rotate the ramekin for even caramelization, until the sugar has darkened and caramelized (but don't outright BURN it, that creates a bitter flavor)  To see a video how-to, click here.  Let sit a minute to harden, and then serve.


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