February 28, 2010

Thai Crème Brulée

Have you tried crème brulée before? Have you tried a good crème brulée before?…If done right, it can be one of the most memorable desserts! The flavour, aside of the cream and vanilla one, it’s up to you. But the texture, oh!the texture (I know, I am a bit obsessed about the texture of dishes…in fact there was another dessert I wanted to share with you, but didn’t get quite the texture I wanted, so it will have to wait)…it literally melts in your mouth, it is sooo soft, so creamy. You’ll just have to try it and you’ll see I don’t exaggerate a bit!
This combination for crème brulée I learned from I chef I worked with. I never got the exact recipe, but I’ve adjusted the ingredients to get to the flavour I remember and finally love! If you like classic vanilla, try this refreshing twist. The flavour of the subtle lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves and lime rind go in perfect marriage with the vanilla bean.
The recipe is straight-forward, the preparation of the infused cream is simple but the key-point, what determines the outcome (of that texture I’ve highlighted enough) is knowing when it’s cooked. There is a very fine line between done and over-cooked or split. At least, that’s my experience. I’ve seen so many recipes that suggest oven cooking temperatures of 160ºC, 140ºC or even 180ºC! Well, if you want to make sure you don’t trespass the safe zone, I believe it should be cooked at 100ºC, 120ºC at maximum. The truth is that my oven thermostat, and I hate it for that, goes from 100ºC straight to 150ºC, so I cannot do much testing in between that range, but whenever I’ve tried 150ºC it just doesn’t come out right. I’m making emphasis on this because cooking at 100ºC takes it’s time…but I simply think, it is well-worth it. If you want to see for yourselves, here’s my recipe…

Thai Crème Brulée
(for 7 ramequins filled with about 80ml)
500 ml of heavy cream (35% fat content)
80g granulated sugar
1/2 of a vanilla bean
2 lemongrass stalks bruised
4 kaffir lime leaves
rind of 1/2 a lime (peeled)
1 tsp grated ginger
pinch of salt
6 medium egg yolks

Bruise the lemongrass stalks with the back of a knife to allow them to release their flavour and split open the fourth of vanilla bean (cut lengthwise) to release the seeds. Here’s my bruised lemongrass, I wish you could smell it!
Place all ingredients except the yolks, the lime juice and the gelatin leaf into a medium saucepan  and bring slowly to a boil.
Watch it! otherwise if may overflow from the pan! Remove it from the heat and let it infuse for at least 30 minutes. What I do to infuse the cream is to cover the pan with cling film (use double if it’s too hot and makes a hole), that way all the flavours concentrate. If you want you can prepare this part ahead, and let the cream sit overnight for the flavour to develop.

Preheat the oven to 100ºC (or 120ºC if you want to check…I think it’s a safe temperature, otherwise I wouldn’t tell you…but I can’t use it!!)
Reheat the cream, add the lime juice and strain it with a strainer that is thin enough to leave the grated ginger behind but let those wonderful vanilla seeds go through. Do not throw away the vanilla pod! Wash it and reserve it for other uses, for instance, the most common is to place it with a cup of sugar in a closed container and in a few days you’ll have vanilla sugar!

If you are going to use the gelatin leaf, I most often do, hydrate it first in cold water, dry it and add it now to the hot liquid. It is obviously not strictly part of a crème brulée recipe, but I think it’s a reassurance so that it sets better. It will not affect texture negatively at all, as for a super-soft pannacotta you use 2 for 500ml cream, but if you want to be able to turn it out and have a bit more consistency while creamy, it’s good to use it.
In another bowl break the yolks (many recipes whip them with the sugar, but I find it’s not necessary, plus it creates foam which we don’t want and by adding the sugar to the infused cream, with the pinch of salt, bien sûr, you can taste it! so, you can decide if you like it as it is or you’re more of a sweet tooth and want to add a bit more to your preference).
Now add slowly some of the cream while whisking with a wire whip (I’ve had to look up this word in english!), so it doesn’t cook the yolk and then incorporate the rest also whisking softly.
Strain again into a measurer or a container that will be easy to pour it from.  Place your ramequins into a tray that has about 5 cm high sides as you’ll be filling it with water. I usually place a kitchen linen on the bottom so the ramequins are not in direct contact with the tray. Harold McGee, the molecular gastronomer, who has a wonderful book, more like a Bible, I really recommend titled “On Food and Cooking”, mentions that this can backfire as no water circulation in the bottom can bring it to a boil and thus rock the cups around. It has never happened to me…so I keep doing it, but you don’t need to. And pour the cream amongst the ramequins.
I like to remove the little foam that floats on top, as if you don’t, it will set and the texture is not as smooth and sometimes it burns as you caramelise the sugar. I use a blowtorch and with a quick pass through it pops all the bubbles…Do you see them?
This one has little, so it’s optional to do it, but if you get a good layer of foam, it will be better to get rid of it or you’ll think you’ve got crème, when you’ve really got set bubbles!
Now, boil enough water to fill the tray to at least half-way up the ramequins. It’s better to pour it once you have the tray in the oven…to avoid accidents!
So, place the tray in your oven, pour in the water and wait…Mine took about 1 1/2 hours. I use rather high ramequins, filled to about 4.5 cm, so this will evidently take longer than a brulée ramequin than is about 3 cm high. Also, the material of the ramequin affects how it cooks. It the same water bath, I placed some crème brulée in porcelain ramequins, some in glass and some in metal  ones. The metal ones after the same amount of time were less cooked than the other two. So, here’s the complicated part, you have to keep checking. Also, that’s why it’s safer to use a low temperature to cook, that and that little over 80ºC the custard splits!
Check after 1 hour, for sure it won’t be done before, then keep checking at about 10 minute intervals or less when you are really close. The crème should be set on the sides but if you tilt it, it should still be slightly wobbly in the centre, but almost done. It will continue to cook off the oven. This is where you learn from practice, but once you get to identify when it’s right, you’ll get it right never mind the mould you use!
Once it is done, remove from the oven and let it come to room temperature in the counter. When it is cold, you can place in the fridge (covered so it doesn’t absorb funny smells, I put them inside a tupper that fits them all or in two) and let it rest overnight…for the magic to work!
The next day you will have deliciiioooousss crème brulées that are so creamy, so tasty, you’ll want to reminisce in each spoonful! Now time to burn the tops to get that crunchy caramel layer that contrasts perfectly with the soft interior it guards.
I use granulated sugar and burn it with a blow torch. I think it’s what works best, at least for me. I’ve tried using demerara, in fact it’s traditional in the recipe to use “cassonade” a refined brown sugar. But, I’ve tried it and seems to burn to easily with the heat from the blowtorch. Try what works best for you, that is what caramelises without burning. This is how much I put in to caramelise:
If you use a blowtorch, my advice is to keep it at a medium-low flame, not too close into the sugar and don’t stop in one spot, use a circular movement to slowly melt the sugar and then caramelise it. If you’ve put too little and you want a thicker layer, no problem, add a bit more sugar, sort of evenly distributed and repeat. If you haven’t got a blow torch try placing the brulée under the grill and keep checking so it doesn’t burn (in fact I read that for brown sugar, the grill or salamander method works best).
And now…enjoy!!!!!!!!!!It’s been a long time, but you’ll see it’s worth it!
Just to show you, I mentioned I used some metal inox moulds (those used for flans). I once read about Gordon Ramsay turning out his brulées and then caramelising them. I loved the idea, because I think the presentation of a panna cotta is much nicer and it allows you to introduce more elements in the plate, like a sauce or some fruit. So, with this recipe, having cooked the brulées enough and I managed to turn mine out!
I just heated the sides of the mould with the blowtorch, or do it turning it upside down under running hot water or over a pan of hot, hot water and immediately place in a dish, just where you want it (because it is so creamy, you won’t be able to move it around) and push it down, as if you were going to throw it to the floor, holding both the mould and plate together, and you’ll hear it being released. And then just caramelise as usual (and with a brush or serviette remove excess sugar on the plate. Here’s how it looks…isn’t it a nice way to present it?
And here’s how creamy it is…


Anonymous said...

What a post!! For me it's quite difficult to cook (a little bit lazy...) but with your instructions and pictures I am only allowed to say...I have to try it!! Thank you!!!!!

Anonymous said...

wow! the thai touch! the best of my worlds in a recipe! so yummy: my mind flyed to any street BKK market to buy the ingredients!Just to add an spanish variation, we shoudnt forget the crema catalana, a brulée scented with cinnamon, orange and lemon peel!

Colette said...

I wish I could fly to BKK as I wished...I'd be teleporting myself way too often. I miss the flavours, the smells...it smells food everywhere, not just food: fantastic food! And the ingredients, at least we can get a few but so many I'd like to get hold of to try to recreate memories!
Definately, crema catalana is one of those childhood tastes, like "arroz con leche"...Any dessert flavoured with lemon rind and cinnamon is comforting! The other difference of the crema catalana is the procedure to give it texture. It is usually just milk infused (or some cream) thickened slowly over the heat with the help of maizena...I still prefer the texture of the "brulée" method, so I recommend the flavours you like but set slowly with just yolks in the oven. Although if you have high cholesterol or you are on a diet...go for the crema catalana!:-)

Pirsist said...

Wow thanx i am using this to cook a Thai creme Brulee at a cook-off for school and fingd this really handy!! I think it gonna turn put great!!

Colette said...

I hope it works out well! Anyhow, you can use the same flavours with your favourite crème brulée recipe. These are definately one of my favourite combinations. I hope you (or the judges, if there are) think so too!:)

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