When we have friends over for dinner, part of the pre-dinner routine always includes pondering over whether I should stick with officially rubber stamped (read: yummy) dishes I feel comfortable to prepare or tell myself, “Ah, what the heck“, give myself a shove and produce something new and exciting – even if it might turn out horrible and disappointing? I’m definitely a creature of habits, which also means that I can enjoy the whole evening much more, if I can predict its culinary development (outside of unexpected, freak failures…). Normally we experiment with new dishes on our own, occasionally perhaps with the exception of good friends, real good friends, who don’t mind taking a chance and who we then (ab)use as guinea pigs – but wait, they love it – at least that’s what they tell us ;)
One of my oldest friends from University joined us last weekend for dinner. Since we spent uncountable evenings cooking together and both share the same passion for our “tiramisu recipe”, I was looking for something new. Shouldn’t have been a problem with s o m e cookbooks at hand, but the needed hint came via airmail – our dear friends S+D from the States sent a donna hay magazine (You’re the best!!!). This edition features some variations of crème brûlée, a quick dash to the kitchen and checking on the ingredients, yep, done deal – chocolate crème brûlée it is! Odd, especially since I am neither too fanatic about this oh-so-adored dessert nor had I any successful experience in making one.
Earlier this year I laid my hands on a recipe for lavender crème brûlée and although the result tasted surprisingly well, the texture turned out slightly strange and flaky (I did follow the recipe precisely – hey it wasn’t me…). But the sound of a breaking caramel layer was so promising – I knew, I had to try it again, and this chocolate variation came in handy. The recipe in the magazine uses volume measurements – which I don’t feel comfortable with, so I took those amounts and put them on my kitchen scale. I made a best attempt in converting the equivalent amounts to the metric system, grams or milliliters – all rounded amounts. No risk, no fun! And … the overall result was heavenly. Period. The consistency almost reminded me of chocolate mousse and although the caramelized brown sugar looked a tad too dark for my taste, it wasn’t bitter at all. Despite my early and initial reservation and not necessarily caring much for the whole procedure of baking it in a water bath, it will be my primary choice, when craving for a chocolate dessert :) ..and our friend (the guinea pig…) loved it!
Weren’t men, a long time ago, in charge of making fire? Anyway, the blow-torch is O’s (aka Mr. Fearless Technician) toy;
O: Can’t have chocolate crème brûlée without the caramelized sugar coating, right? And here is the funny part: no one tells you how to best do it. Not to derail the topic, but I had used up almost all of the brown sugar in my trial runs before (I think) I had figured it out. So many variables: flame temperature, distance between the custard and the flame, speed and movement of the hand. Trying this before on a piece of aluminum foil is a good start, but the sugar behaves differently when on top the custard…anyhow what I think worked out well was to keep the flame at a medium to high temperature, keep it close to the custard and move it with constant speed across (it worked in one go, I didn’t have to torture the same spot twice). After completing a few more field tests with regular white sugar, one thing is for sure: white sugar is a much easier candidate, as it allows for better “color control”, it doesn’t turn dark so quickly and it melts more evenly.
1 Preheat oven to 160°C (320°F). Cook cream, milk and the vanilla bean (shell & the scraped out seeds) in a small pot and bring to a boil. Although the original recipe called for a whole vanilla bean, I just used one half as vanilla only plays a supporting role in this dessert. Remove from the stove. Start melting the two sorts of chocolate over a bain-marie – another change in plans, as the original recipe only uses dark chocolate, but I wasn’t in a bitter mood…taste-wise high quality chocolate always pays off.
Combine egg yolks and sugar and blend well, until the mix becomes pale and thick. Add the warm (not hot) cream mix to the eggs and blend well. Return the mix to the pot and stir over low heat for 5-10 minutes (do not boil), until custard coats the back of a wooden spoon, then remove from heat.
Now add it to the melted chocolate, blend well and pour the mixture into ovenproof ramekins and align them in a deep baking dish. Add enough water to cover half the sides of the ramekins and bake at 160°C (320°F) for 25 to 30 minutes.
When done, remove from oven and chill in refrigerator for at least 4 hours or overnight. Just before serving, add a thin layer of brown sugar and have fun with your blow torch!
Chocolate Crème Brûlée
Recipe source: adaptation from donna hay magazine may/june 2005, p.160
Required time: prep. 30 min., baking 25 min., serves 4 to 6
250ml heavy cream
half of a vanilla bean
4 egg yolks
60g milk chocolate
30g dark chocolate
fine brown sugar for caramelizing