Trinity College in Cambridge, England lays claim to the origin of the sweet custard. I have actually had Crème Brûlée at Trinity College in Cambridge. It was served in a large casserole dish and I had the honor of cracking the VERY thick layer of burnt sugar on the top with a large spoon for our table. It was truly one of the most magically evenings I have ever had.
Trinity College contend to be the first producer of the dessert in the 1600′s where they named it ‘Cambridge Burnt Cream’ or ‘Trinity Cream’ and have a special branding iron with the official college crest which is used to burn the sugar top.
A classic dessert, vanilla crème brûlée should be experienced in its purest form before embellishing it with additional ingredients. You might try steeping lemon or orange peel with the vanilla bean, or adding a pinch of cinnamon, nutmeg or cardamom. Either way, this simple recipe will produce a smooth, velvety custard with a delicate caramel topping.
1/2 vanilla bean
2 cups heavy cream
3 egg yolks
Pinch of salt
1/4 cup plus 4 Tbs. sugar
Preheat an oven to 300°F. Have a pot of boiling water ready. Line a shallow baking pan with a small kitchen towel.
Using a paring knife, split the vanilla bean lengthwise down the middle and scrape the seeds into a 2-quart saucepan. Add the cream, stir to mix and set the pan over medium-low heat. Warm the cream until bubbles form around the edges of the pan and steam begins to rise from the surface. Remove from the heat and set aside to steep, about 15 minutes.
In a large bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, salt and the 1/4 cup sugar until smooth and blended. Gradually add the cream to the egg mixture, whisking until blended. Pour the custard through a fine-mesh sieve set over a bowl. Divide the custard among four 6-oz. ramekins and place the ramekins in the prepared baking pan. Add boiling water to fill the pan halfway up the side of the ramekins. Cover the pan loosely with aluminum foil and bake until the custard is just set around the edges, 25 to 30 minutes.
Transfer the ramekins to a wire rack and let cool to room temperature. Then cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or up to 3 days.
Just before serving, sprinkle 1 Tbs. of the sugar evenly over each custard. Using a kitchen torch, melt the sugar according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
If you do not have a torch….
Preheat your broiler
Remove the covers from the ramekins, and sprinkle a thin coating of sugar evenly over the custard.
Put the custards under the broiler for just a few minutes. Watch them carefully and take them out the moment the sugar melts. Another few seconds and they will burn, so act quickly when the time is perfect.