The classic and velvety French dessert known as crème brûlèe has been reinvented as many times as pastry chefs are in the world. My first attempt at preparing it was when I was in culinary school, and my friend Elena and I ventured into making an exotic passion fruit-flavored crème baked inside the fruit. Even though we were both pretty knowledgeable when it came to making a good dessert, this one took us forever to have ready because of how complicated we decided to make it!
Most home cooks feel intimidated by this beautiful and creamy pudding, perhaps because of how professional the golden sugar crust covering looks. In case you’re wondering, professional bakers use handheld propane torches -mine is tiny but powerful-, but if you get one, you need to be creative to find other uses for this gadget or it will end up hidden in some dark corner of your kitchen drawer. Of course, where there’s a will there’s a way, so if you don’t have this pro equipment you can still make a jaw-dropping crème brûlèe using the broiler of your oven to burn the sugar layer on top of the delicate custard. Just put the dessert back in the fridge until very cold when it’s ready, et voilà!
In Peru this dessert is no less popular than anywhere else, and chefs have a lot of fun using our local ingredients to enhance it. Today, for example, I have made a carob syrup (algarrobina) crème brûlèe. Carob is a tree found in many parts of the world, and is an important component of Peruvian gastronomy. Abundant in the north of the country, its wood was used to cook and transfer its particular aroma to the food. It is also fed to goats to make their meat extra tasty, and the syrup is used in countless dishes, and in one of our flagship cocktails, simply called Algarrobina.
In the past I have also used coffee, chocolate, passion fruit juice, lucuma, ginger, lemongrass, and star anise to play with the flavor of the custard. Don’t be afraid to try your very own combinations. All you need to know is that you always have to use cream and avoid substituting with evaporated milk or coconut milk, because it simply won´t work. Sometimes I use a mixture of brown and white sugar or only light brown or just white for the top layer of caramel, then I turn on my mini torch and heat the sugar until it melts and turns golden brown. Some chefs recommend to cover the custard with a thin layer of hot caramel (like the one used to make flan) that will harden in a few minutes. Whatever the method you choose, be aware that once the caramel crust is made, the dessert should be consumed within a couple hours because the golden layer will melt if the crème is left sitting in the refrigerator for longer.
The good news is that you can make the custard the day before and keep it refrigerated. Before serving, sprinkle with sugar and proceed to make the golden topping.
This dessert is so beautiful that there is no need to garnish it, but my ramekins are shallow and wide, so they look prettier if some color is added. If you are using medium or small ramekins, don’t even worry about the decoration; serving them plain will do, and this spectacular dessert will make you look like you slaved for hours in the kitchen!
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 3 tablespoons algarrobina (carob syrup)
- 5 egg yolks
- ½ cup sugar, divided
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- Whipped cream
- Mint leaves
- Preheat the oven to 300ºF. Heat water in a kettle.
- In a saucepan,heat the cream with the carob syrup. Do not let it boil.
- Meanwhile beat ¼ cup sugar, egg yolks, and vanilla, using a wire whisk or a spatula until pale and thick. Add the hot cream in a thin stream, stirring all the time. Strain.
- Put in small ramekins and place them in a large pan with an inch or so of hot water. Bake for 35 minutes in this hot water bath. They are ready when they are set, but quiver slightly in the center when shaken. The water bath should not boil at any moment; if this happens, add more tepid water to the baking pan.
- Take out of the oven and cool to room temperature. Transfer to the refrigerator and cool completely. Prior to serving, sprinkle each ramekin with a generous amount of sugar (about 2 teaspoons), and using a blowtorch (or under the broiler), melt the sugar until golden. If using the broiler, put back in the fridge until cold.
- Garnish with whipped cream, strawberries, and mint leaves if desired. Serve cold.