Blowtorch at the ready: crème brûlée with orange and cardamom

Classic dessert with a zesty aromatic twist

 

My petty bugbear when working from my home kitchen is when I can’t put my hand on a crucial cake tin, tool or other kitchen gadget which has migrated from my house into the cookery school.

A blowtorch was the most recent implement missing in action. Improvisation by means of grilling sorted the problem out. I subsequently discovered my husband had a blowtorch in the garage – of course. While a blowtorch is not an essential piece of equipment for a home cook, it is the best way to get that crunchy caramelised surface on a crème brûlée.

At least three countries claim to have invented the crème brûlée. The Spanish crema Catalana, the French crème brûlée and the English burnt cream are all extremely similar. Each country claims ownership, with references dating back to the 17th century.

Whatever the country of origin, I take my hat off to that unknown chef who gave the world the crème brûlée. A thick smooth custard is pretty good on its own, and pops up with varying degrees of richness in all manner of desserts.

Torching the top layer of sugar to a brown, crunchy caramel and hence giving the crème brûlée its name was a stroke of genius. Shattering that glass ceiling to reveal the rich and creamy chilled custard underneath never fails to make me sigh.

This crème brûlée is flavoured with aromatic cardamom and orange zest but vanilla is the classic flavour. Once the flavours are infused, it is important to sieve them out to avoid detracting from the smoothness of the custard.

The custard should be made and baked in advance as it needs a good few hours to chill in the fridge before the caramel is added. This makes it the perfect make-ahead dinner party sweet. This also explains why it has become a popular dessert in restaurants all over the world. Don’t add the caramel too early as it will absorb moisture from the custard and start to soften.

CRÈME BRÛLÉE WITH ORANGE AND CARDAMOM

Serves four

Ingredients

4 egg yolks

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30g caster sugar

1 tsp vanilla

100ml milk

250ml cream

Zest of 1 orange

5 cardamom pods, crushed

Caramelised top:

5-6 tbsp soft brown sugar 

Method

1 Use an electric whisk to beat the egg yolks and sugar in a large bowl with a teaspoon of vanilla until the mixture becomes thick and pale.

2 Place the milk and cream in medium-sized, heavy-based saucepan and add the orange zest and cardamom seeds. Heat over a low heat to start allowing the orange and cardamom flavours to infuse into the liquid. Gradually increase the heat and as soon as the milk and cream mixture starts to come to the boil, remove it from the heat.

3 Whisk the hot liquid directly into the thickened egg and sugar mixture.

4 Return the entire mixture to the washed clean saucepan and over a moderate heat cook out the mixture, stirring continuously until the custard coats the back of a spoon.

5 Sieve the mixture into a jug for easy pouring (and to remove any seeds and excess foam).

6 Pour the mixture into four individual ovenproof ramekins (or shallow ovenproof dishes), then sit the ramekins in a deep roasting tray and fill it with enough warm water to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins. 

7 Place the tray in a oven preheated to 140 degrees, or equivalent, for approximately 15 minutes (for shallow dishes) or 25 minutes for deeper ramekins. The custards are ready when they are softly set and barely retaining a slightly wobble in the centre when gently moved.

8 Remove the dishes from the bain marie (the roasting dish with water) and allow to cool to room temperature; transfer to the fridge overnight to set completely.

9 Before serving, remove the set custards from the fridge, sprinkle one or two teaspoons of brown sugar over the surface of each custard and glaze with a blow torch (or place on a high shelf under a hot grill, quickly removing each dish as soon as the sugar starts to burn on top).

Variation:

If you are using deeper ramekins, you can add orange segments to the ramekin bases or use them as a garnish on top.

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