“Father Christmas” gave me a blow torch in my stocking last year. I think he gave it to me because he actually wanted it for himself. But because I am experimenting so much more with food these days, his gift was legitimised. There couldn’t be any, “hang on, this is really a gift for you isn’t it?”.
He was outed when the time came to using it. After all, a blow torch, even in its smaller culinary guise, is effectively a hand-held flame-thrower and any red-blooded pyromaniac would be champing at the bit to have a go. So when the time came to start throwing flames, he was eyeballing me and my technique so intensely, I knew it was time to pass the torch.
I should say at this point that I don’t live with Father Christmas and we were making creme brulee (yet another thing on my long list of ‘never-done-it-always-wanted-to’. The perfect excuse came last weekend when I had a special guest staying who loves creme brulee).
There was much debate over how high to hold the torch, how long to hold it on one spot, whether to go for slow, languid sweeps across the sugar or brisk brush strokes.
Either way, those things got caramelised in the end and the crème brulees were everything I’d hoped they’d be. Even though I kinda fucked ‘em up a bit (I somehow didn’t add the milk and also found they were slightly overdone as I didn’t account for my fan-assisted oven).
Blow-torching, I discovered, solves everything. Not only did it distract my guests with some flame throwin’ theatre, which we all got involved in, but also caramelising anything makes it taste awesome.
And of course then there’s the tap-tap-cracky-cracky moment which is all anyone’s really thinking about when they have crème brulee in front of them.
OK, the recipe. I was dismayed to discover that the more authentic version of crème brulee actually does not require a blow torch because you pour melted toffee on top, which later hardens in the fridge. I was obliged to ignore those recipes. Otherwise opportunities to use the blow torch will be limited to lighting candles, the fire and singeing arm hairs (all Tom, might I add hence raising suspicians that this was always meant to be his new toy). After a bit of research online and in recipe books, I was given this BBC Good Food recipe and it worked well (save my own mistakes). I have reproduced it below. It’s an easy recipe but do read it through a few times to get your head around what you’re doing as the recipe is quite wordy. I didn’t want to leave anything out as some of it is helpful.
Ultimate Creme Brulee (reproduced from BBC Good Food website)
- 2 cartons double cream , 1 large (284ml) plus 1 small (142ml)
- 100ml full-fat milk
- 1 vanilla pod
- 5 large egg yolks
- 50g golden caster sugar , plus extra for the topping
- Preheat the oven to fan 160C/conventional 180C/gas 4. Sit four 175ml ramekins in a deep roasting tin at least 7.5cm deep (or a large deep cake tin), one that will enable a baking tray to sit well above the ramekins when laid across the top of the tin. Pour the two cartons of cream into a medium pan with the milk. Lay the vanilla pod on a board and slice lengthways through the middle with a sharp knife to split it in two. Use the tip of the knife to scrape out all the tiny seeds into the cream mixture. Drop the vanilla pod in as well, and set aside.
- Put the egg yolks and sugar in a mixing bowl and whisk for 1 minute with an electric hand whisk until paler in colour and a bit fluffy. Put the pan with the cream on a medium heat and bring almost to the boil. As soon as you see bubbles appear round the edge, take the pan off the heat.
- Pour the hot cream into the beaten egg yolks, stirring with a wire whisk as you do so, and scraping out the seeds from the pan. Set a fine sieve over a large wide jug or bowl and pour the hot mixture through to strain it, encouraging any stray vanilla seeds through at the end. Using a big spoon, scoop off all the pale foam that is sitting on the top of the liquid (this will be several spoonfuls) and discard. Give the mixture a stir.
- Pour in enough hot water (from the tap is fine) into the roasting tin to come about 1.5cm up the sides of the ramekins. Pour the hot cream into the ramekins so you fill them up right to the top – it’s easier to spoon in the last little bit. Put them in the oven and lay a baking sheet over the top of the tin so it sits well above the ramekins and completely covers them, but not the whole tin, leaving a small gap at one side to allow air to circulate. Bake for 30-35 minutes until the mixture is softly set. To check, gently sway the roasting tin and if the crème brutes are ready, they will wobble a bit like a jelly in the middle. Don’t let them get too firm.
- Lift the ramekins out of the roasting tin with oven gloves and set them on a wire rack to cool for a couple of minutes only, then put in the fridge to cool completely. This can be done overnight without affecting the texture.
- When ready to serve, wipe round the top edge of the dishes, sprinkle 1½ tsp of caster sugar over each ramekin and spread it out with the back of a spoon to completely cover (Anne Willan’s tip for an even layer). Spray with a little water using a fine spray (the sort you buy in a craft shop) to just dampen the sugar – then use a blow torch to caramelise it. I didn’t do this as didn’t have a spray thing and it worked fine. Hold the flame just above the sugar and keep moving it round and round until caramelised. Serve when the Brule is firm, or within an hour or two.