Crème brûlée for one: Vanilla. Lavender. Cardamom. PARMESAN.
Like so many people I know, a good crème brûlée is one of my most favourite desserts. But it´s one I´ve always been hesitant about making. I´m intimidated by anything that needs a water bath or involves a gently cooked custard. Whether it´s meant to be crème brûlée or ice cream, it usually ends up as scrambled eggs. So it was a great surprise to find out that crème brûlées are not neccesarily precious little princesses that need gentle mollycoddling in a bain marie. Oh no, far from it. It turns out that there´s an idiotproof way to make crème brûlée, and that it works beautifully in a toaster oven. All you have to do is stir together eggs, cream and a little sugar, pop in the oven and wait for half an hour. Even I can do that. And I did. For about a week I ate crème brûlée every night. But even I can get sick of a week´s worth of crème brûlée, which is when I discovered something even better. PARMESAN crème brûlée. I´m not kidding. You´ve got to try this. Just don´t make the mistake I made and eat a double helping. Stash one in the fridge for later.
I´ve been a little vague on cooking times as this depends not only on temperature, but more importantly, on the size of your dish. Jamie Oliver recommends as wide and shallow a dish as possible and he´s absolutely right, not only because it cooks more evenly but because your custard to caramel ratio is optimized. I use shallow little crème brûlée or gratin dishes, and I feel that they work so much better than ramekins.
Vanilla crème brûlée
I followed the sage advice of hungryhungry who’s gone to the trouble of testing egg to cream ratios (thank you!)
Single cream: 80 ml
Vanilla: either a fifth of a pod or a few drops of essence
Egg yolk: 1
Sugar: 1 level tbsp*. + extra for the caramel
* normal spoon, not a measuring spoon
Preheat your oven, many people recommend cooking your custards at 90 degrees. I tried this, got hungry, and whacked the temperature up to 130°C. This seems to work OK without the need for a water bath, although it may be because my crème brûlées are so shallow.
Split the vanilla pod, scrape the seeds out and add both pod and seeds to the cream along with the sugar. If you have a sweet tooth then a tablespoon should be fine, personally I only use about three quarters. Gently heat the cream until scalding but not boiling, stir gently to dissolve the sugar and allow to cool for 10 minutes (giving the vanilla time to infuse). Strain about a quarter of the cream into the egg yolk, stir gently (you don´t want to introduce air bubbles) then strain in the rest. Stir until combined, and pour into your dish.
Bake until almost set, but still trembling in the centre. At 130°C this can take anywhere between 15 and 25 minutes depending on how deep your custard is. Once baked they will keep quite nicely in the fridge for a few days. When ready to eat sprinkle with sugar and melt using a torch or under a grill. If neither is an option for you, then melt a little sugar in a small pan, cook until caramel colored, add a little water and pour over the custard.
To make a lavender crème brûlée simply add a half teaspoon of culinary quality lavender to the cream along with the vanilla. Cardamom also works really well, add 2-3 pods along with the vanilla.
Parmesan crème brûlée with olive toasts
This is essentially Rowley Leigh´s Parmesan Custard, which he serves with ancovy toasts.
Serves 2 as a starter
For the custard:
Single cream*: 150 ml
Finely grated Parmesan cheese: 1 ounce + 1 tbsp for sprinkling
Egg yolk: 1
* the original recipe calls for half milk and half cream, but I rarely have both in my fridge at the same time
For the olive toasts:
Thin slices of baguette: 3
Anchovy**: 1 or half, depending on your taste
Black olives**: 12
A small clove of garlic
A little thyme**
** if you have tapenade at home then don´t bother with these
Preheat your oven to 150°C. Slice the clove of garlic in half lengthwise and rub the slices of baguette with the cut surface, then bake until golden.
While your bread is toasting, gently heat the cream with the parmesan until just melted. Season and allow to cool a little, then carefully stir in the egg yolk – you don´t want to introduce air bubbles. Pour the mixture into two small ovenproof dishes (ramekins, teacups, whatever) and bake at 150°C until just set, about 10-15 minutes. Keep an eye on them -they can overcook quickly aim for a custard with a bit of a jiggle in the middle. When done, take them out of the oven, you can store them in the fridge for a few days at this point. When ready to serve, sprinkle with the reserved parmesan and quickly melt under a hot grill.
While the custards are baking make a rough paste out of the anchovy, black olives and thyme using olive oil to loosen the mixture. You could add a sliver of the garlic too if you want. I use a mini food processor to make the paste, but a mortar and pestle, or better still, a jar of tapenade would do the trick.
Slather the toasts with the olive paste and serve with the hot custards.