As a child, I avoided pudding-like desserts. The only exception was chocolate pudding, which I considered to be a kissing cousin of chocolate ice cream, rather than a relative of rice pudding or vanilla custard.
Decades later, when I discovered crème caramel and crème brûleé, I realized what I'd been missing. Thanks to those two delightful French desserts I'm now a confirmed believer in non-chocolate, creamy concoctions.
This adventure into creamy dessert-land started when my friend and neighbor Jamie (sister of Lanie, the creator of my favorite pasta and garlic, tuna with capers) gave me three egg yolks leftover from an eggwhite omelet. I know what to do with egg whites -- meringue something or other -- but egg yolks had me stumped for a moment. Then I thought of the crème cousins.
Like its Hispanic relative the flan, French crème caramel is a custard with a soft caramel top. Crème brûleé has a hard shell of caramel on the top, typically made with a blow torch or by broiling a sugar coating after baking the custard underneath. If we're doing a custard family tree, there is also pot de crème, but I digress. For more information check with my friend Jenni Field (PastryChefOnline); she has a great description of the differences among the traditional versions of these three French desserts.
I really wanted to do a crème brûleé, because I love the crunchy top. But my blowtorch, a long ago gift from my kids, is currently in the basement, buried under piles of stuff. And besides, that seemed rather a stretch for a foodblogger whose specialty is making food accessible to novice cooks; how many of you happen to have a blowtorch at the ready, just in case you get a hankering for a brûleéd dessert? While there is the broiling option for the crème brûleé topping, I am never quite sure that my ramekins will survive, especially as I have a rather bad record when it comes to fires.
So I glanced through my cookbooks, and happened upon an idea in a book, appropriately named Crème Brûleé, that includes a version with a separately carmelized top that requires neither a blowtorch nor a broiler. Eureka! Well, not exactly, as it turns out that the specified proportions and method didn't work -- at least for me. But it was a start.
After two more tries and a lot of dirty dishes, by Jove, I think I got it. (Cue the My Fair Lady music!) A caramel disk-topped custard that takes the best from the traditions I love and twists them just enough.
This version is not as heavy as Jenni's crème brûleé proportions because I use whole milk and half heavy (whipping) cream. It also contains one of my all-time favorite sweets, candied or crystallized ginger.
If you're not a ginger lover, just leave it out or substitute another flavoring. With a light caramel sauce it reminds me of flan, but unlike "normal" flan, the sauce is on the bottom, not drizzled over the custard. Topped with a crazy looking but tasty no-blowtorch, no-broiler caramel disk, this dessert is anything but traditional.
Ginger-Flavored Crème Brûleé -- The Easy Way
Servings -- 3 ramekins of about ½ cup (4 ounces) each Cost -- $4 for 3
Caramel -- for top and bottom of each ramekin
- ½ cup white (granulated) sugar
- ¼ cup water
- tiny amount of oil (tasteless, such as canola or safflower)
- 3 egg yolks (Save whites for another use -- meringue cookies in my house)
- 2 tablespooons plus 1 teaspoon of white sugar
- ½ teaspoon vanilla
- ¾ cup whole milk
- ¾ cup heavy (whipping) cream
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped candied or cystallized ginger
- ¼ - ½ teaspoon flour (just barely enough to coat the chopped ginger)
- pinch of salt
- Small, heavy pot
- Aluminum foil
- A pencil or pen
- Cookie sheet
- Small pastry brush or spoon
- Cutting board
- Small knife
- Medium size pot
- Measuring cup for liquids
- Measuring spoons
- Bowls for separating the eggs
- Medium mixing bowl
- Three small ramekins or other oven-safe single serving cups - 4 ounce size
- Oven safe dish large enough to hold all 3 ramekins
For step-by-step directions, including photographs, click here.