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Love this classic dessert without carrying a torch

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 19/11/2013 (1367 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Last month Jeanette Johnson from Keewatin, Ont., wrote in with a request for a "tried-and-true recipe for crème brûlée," which she had sampled on a recent vacation and wanted to replicate at home. I have sometimes ordered it at restaurants, loving the contrast between the creamy baked custard and the crackle of the burnt sugar topping, but felt it must be somehow daunting,

Not necessarily. Heida Bottrell has experimented with many crème brûlée recipes and her absolute favourite is a classic one by French chef Paul Bocuse. (She says even people who don't like crème brûlée like it.) I also tried a coffee-flavoured version, from Food Network go-to guy Bob Blumer.

Heida Bottrell provided her tried-and-true recipe for crème brûlée.


Heida Bottrell provided her tried-and-true recipe for crème brûlée.

The next question for me was whether to buy a kitchen torch to caramelize the sugar topping. I'm not big on specialized kitchen gadgets, especially ones involving butane, so I was encouraged when I saw Bocuse's recipe, which uses the broiler. It took a little care and a bit of tinkering, but it worked.

We're quickly coming up on Christmas, so please send in any holiday requests. Cynthia Chrol is looking for a recipe for Brazil Nut Yule Cake. There was a fruit cake made with Brazil nuts in the Recipe Swap pages last year, but this version goes back farther than that. According to Cynthia, it is a light-coloured fruit cake with Brazil nuts and candied cherries and fruit.

If you can help with a recipe request, have your own request, or a favourite recipe you'd like to share, send an email to, fax it to 697-7412, or write to Recipe Swap, c/o Alison Gillmor, Winnipeg Free Press, 1355 Mountain Ave. Winnipeg, MB, R2X 3B6. Please include your first and last name, address and telephone number.


Paul Bocuse's Crème brûlée

4 large egg yolks
90 ml (1/3 cup plus 1 tbsp) granulated sugar, divided
500 ml (2 cups) whipping cream
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and scraped
60 ml (1/4 cup) air-dried brown sugar (see note)

Preheat oven to 140 C (275 F). In a medium bowl, whisk the egg yolks with half the granulated sugar. In a small saucepan, warm the cream with the vanilla bean scrapings and the remaining granulated sugar just until steaming. Gradually whisk the hot cream into the egg yolks until blended. Strain the custard and pour into 4 small (150-ml or 5-oz) ramekins or shallow gratin dishes. Set the ramekins in a small baking dish and carefully add enough hot tap water to reach halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Place in oven, being careful not to spill water into ramekins. Bake for about 75 minutes or until just set. Let cool in the water bath for 10 minutes, then remove and cool completely. Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight. Before serving, preheat the broiler. Sift a thin layer of the air-dried brown sugar over each custard. Broil 1 ramekin at a time as close as possible to the heat source, until the sugar melts, forming a caramelized crust. Serve immediately. (Note: to air-dry brown sugar, sift it onto a plate and leave it out, uncovered, for 1 day. If it's humid, the sifted sugar can also be dried in a 120 C or 250 F oven for 20 minutes.)

Tester's notes: Delicious and really, once you get the hang of caramelizing, quite easy. To get the crème brûlées close to the broiler element, I put an upside-down cake pan on the top oven rack and placed the ramekin on that. Don't be tempted to do more than one at a time, because you need to remove the ramekin absolutely at once when it hits that perfect caramelly-brown spot.

Using a vanilla bean will infuse the custard with a beautifully intense vanilla flavour, but I don't think the world will end if you substitute 2 ml (1/2 ml) pure vanilla extract.


Coffee crème brûlée

Adapted from Bob Blumer.

4 egg yolks
90 ml (6 tbsp) granulated sugar
15 ml (1 tbsp) instant coffee
375 ml (1 1/2 cups) whipping cream, divided
2 ml (1/2 tsp) vanilla
About 60 ml (4 tbsp) granulated sugar, for caramelizing

Preheat oven to 150 C (300 F). In a medium bowl, beat egg yolks and 90 ml (6 tbsp) sugar with a whisk for 1 minute, or until smooth. In another medium bowl, combine instant coffee and 60 ml (1/4 cup) whipping cream and whisk until coffee is dissolved. Add the remaining cream and whisk until well blended. Add the cream mixture and the vanilla to the egg mixture and fold in gently with a rubber spatula. Use a ladle to pour mixture into 4 small ramekins, filling three-quarters of the way to the top. Place ramekins in a roasting or baking pan. Transfer to oven. Before closing oven door, pour water into the pan (but not into the ramekins themselves) until it reaches halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake for 40-50 minutes, or until the crème brûlée jiggles slightly at the centre when shaken. Remove from oven and leave on a rack on the counter, allowing the residual heat of the water to finish the cooking process for about 30 minutes. Remove from water bath, cool, cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours. Before serving, sprinkle each brûlée with about 15 ml granulated sugar. Under a watchful eye, use a small blowtorch to caramelize the sugar. Alternatively, place ramekins, one a time, 2.5 cm (1 in) below the oven broiler until sugar caramelizes.

Tester's notes: Also delicious, and the coffee nicely counterpoints the sweetness.

Read more by Alison Gillmor.


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