Cream/Custard


I am a creme brulee fiend.  If its on the menu for dessert–you can bet I’ll order it.  I love the stuff.  I love the tapping noise before you break into the sugar shell…I know, but sometimes you just have to find joy in the simple things.

Creme brulee is simply one of the easiest desserts to put together. Just a few short steps–and you’re on your way.  I had a few recipes bookmarked–and decided to use Alton Brown’s methodology while varying up the proportions just a tad.  Not because Alton Brown isn’t awesome–but because I simply didn’t have enough cream on hand.

End result?  Sooooooo good.  Creamy and rich custard with great hints of vanilla.  Mike was very happy. So happy–that he had three.


Vanilla Bean Creme Brulee

Makes 5 Servings

2 cups heavy cream
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
1/4  cup vanilla sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract (I added a tad more vanilla since my vanilla bean was on the punier side)
3 large egg yolks
pinch of salt
2 quarts hot water
additional sugar for browning (a little under a tbsp per ramekin)

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

Place the cream, vanilla bean and its pulp, and salt into a medium saucepan set over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and set aside.  Allow cream to sit for 15 minutes to maximize the the vanilla flavor.

In a medium bowl, whisk together 1/4 cup sugar and the egg yolks until well blended and it just starts to lighten in color.  About 5 minutes.  Add vanilla extract and whisk until blended.  Now,  add the cream a little at a time, stirring continually. Pour the liquid into ramekins. Place the ramekins into a large cake pan or roasting pan. Pour enough hot water into the pan to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake just until the creme brulee is set, but still trembling in the center, approximately 35 to 40 minutes. Remove the ramekins from the roasting pan and refrigerate for at least 2 hours and up to 3 days.

Alton’s recipe suggests you remove the creme brulee from the fridge at least 30 minutes before torching the sugar on top.  I imagine this is to allow the custard to warm up a bit…but i did not do this.  We just couldn’t wait a second longer.  Top each ramekin evenly with a little under a tbsp of sugar.  Using a torch, melt the sugar and form a crispy top. Allow creme brulee to sit for a minute or 2 before eating (allows shell to harden).

Enjoy!

Adapted from Alton Brown and Allrecipes.com
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Unbelievably good and satisfying–and you wouldn’t believe how easy they are to make.  Well, let me take a step back–“easy” refers to if you’re smart enough to buy puff pastry sheets from the frozen foods area at your local grocery store.  I, being the dreamer that I am, thought it would be a “great” idea to make my own puff pastry sheets.  Major no-no, especially since it was done for a huge catering gig where I had a very limited amount of time.  I will say, that the homemade puff pastry, was wonderfully buttery and flaky. By no means does frozen puff pastry compare.  I will be honest though–when weighing the pros and cons, I can confidently say that I will be buying puff pastry the next time I make this dessert (which will be very very soon!).  There really is no reason to put yourself thru that much work.  If you’re a puff pastry purist and you JUST HAVE to make your puff pastry from scratch, I can definitely vouch for Emeril Lagasse’s recipe that can be found here.  But for those of you who are just looking to make a wonderfully fresh and simple dessert, I’d buy the puff pastry.  You bet I wish I had!

Anyhow, like I discussed in my previous post, I decided to make these since my boss stated that his wife isn’t big on cake.  We were going to make a really light vanilla cake loaded with tons and tons of  fruit.  But I was in Westminster and stopped by a Vietnamese Bakery (Yes, it was Van’s)–and a light bulb went off.  Go to a large Vietnamese gathering and you’ll likely find this dessert there.  It’s always been one of my favorites, so I thought it would be a great idea.  Catch?  I’ve never made anything like this before.  But I was certain with some research and determination, I’d be able to pull it off.  After I got the go-ahead,  I found a handful of recipes to work with.

And well…these things couldn’t be more beautiful.  It’s a wonderfully versatile recipe as well–use it with different fruit combinations, create different fruit based glazes , or heck turn them into fruit pockets.  The possibilities are limitless.

Oh! Save yourself some grief–and make the custard the day before.  You want the custard to be cold/cool when you place it on the puff pastry so that it doesn’t get all soggy.

Mini Fresh Fruit Tarts

1 package puff pastry, thawed (I recommend Pepperidge Farm)
1 egg + 1 tbsn. water, beaten (egg wash)
1 bow of strawberries, washed, hulled and sliced
1 box of blueberries, washed
1 box of blackberries, washed
1 bow of raspberries, washed
1 ripe mango, diced.
For the Custard:

1 cup whole milk (if you’re brave and want to step it up a bit, use heavy cream–makes the custard oh-so-rich. I mean, Jay Z rich.)
1/4 cup white sugar
1/2 vanilla bean, halved lengthwise (or use a 1 tsp of vanilla extract)
3 egg yolks
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 pinch salt


To make the custard:

  1. Place the milk, half the sugar and the vanilla bean in a saucepan over medium heat.
  2. Combine the egg yolks and the remaining sugar in a bowl and whisk until light in color. Add in the flour and the salt, mix to combine.
  3. When the milk just begins to boil, remove from heat and remove vanilla bean. Very slowly stream the hot milk mixture  into the yolk mixture, stirring constantly. When about half of the milk has been added, place all of the yolk mixture into the saucepan over medium heat. Using a spatula or a whisk, mix the pastry cream as it heats.  Make sure to thoroughly whisk mixture completely–scraping down the sides of the pan.
  4. Bring the mixture to a boil. Let boil for about 1 minute, stirring constantly. The mixture will thicken.
  5. Remove from heat and add the butter. Stirring constantly should give you a very smooth cream. If you are unsatisfied with the consistency, strain to remove any lumps.
  6. Place into a bowl, and cover.  Make sure the drop the saran wrap all the way down to the surface of the pastry cream.  This will prevent a skin from forming.
  7. Let cool and refrigerate.
Fruit Tart Preparations:
  1. Defrost Puff Pastry as directed on package.  Remove and unfold sheets onto a lightly floured surface.
  2. Use a knife and cut each sheet into 9 evenly sized squares (each package comes with 2 sheets, so you should have a total of 18).  Take a fork and prick holes all over each square, taking care not to rip the sheets.
  3. Place the squares onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper (I use my Silpat liner.  I love that thing more than I can ever say!) .
  4. Brush each square with the egg wash.  Bake until each one puffs up to a golden brown (directions should be on package).
  5. To assemble, spread about 2 tablespoons or so of custard onto each pastry and top with the fruit.  Dust with powder sugar when ready to serve.  Enjoy!

Chocolate Valrhona Cupcakes with Cream Cheese frosting and Boston Cream Pie Cupcakes

Boston Cream Pie--Pastry Cream filling topped with Chocolate Ganache

So guys, i know I haven’t posted anything in a few days.  In the interest of being coherent, I decided it was best to recover before posting about my CRAZY catering experience.  As I mentioned before, i was stoked about being booked for my boss’s 4th of July party!  After much deliberation I decided on a menu.  25 Valrhona Cupcakes, 25 Boston Cream Pie Cupcakes, and 20 individual fruit tarts.  We were initially going to do some sort of fruit heavy birthday cake for his wife, but she’s not huge on cake, so I thought it would be a good idea to do something a bit different.

I was nervous. Anxious. Most certainly stressed out.  Outside of the Valrhona cupcakes, I had never made anything on the menu.  I was very confident in my abilities.  My fail?  I just didn’t anticipate the amount of time it would take to make all these items.  I worked Friday, rushed home and began baking at 7pm.  Worked straight until 8:30pm when I took an  hour for dinner with Mike…and…wait for it…continued to bake nonstop until 7:10am.  Yes, you read that correctly.  7:10am.  And here’s the kicker–I wasn’t done.  I still had to assemble all the cupcakes–and more importantly–I had to start on the fruit tarts. So, the alarm was set for 7:40am (30 minutes…I can’t believe it) and I worked like a madman until delivery at noon.

I know, it’s hard to imagine how anything like this could take that long–but when  you only have one oven, one Kitchen Aid mixer, and one bowl attachment–you are screwed.  Thank goodness I had the foresight to create white chocolate stars and the pastry cream Thursday night.  I would have been majorly EFFED if I had not.

Fresh Organic Berries from the Farmer's Market

So, the goods were delivered… and I couldn’t have been more relieved.  My only gripe is that in my rush, i wasn’t able to capture too many good shots of my work.  Mike works on Saturday, so I didn’t have any help with the transportation or with any of the minor last minute touches.  And I lied. I have several gripes.  Two, my kitchen and the surrounding areas were just disgusting! Bowls everywhere, food dyes all over my hands, face, and counter…it was terrible messy.  Could I have possibly done all this?  Can I blame entropy?  I tried that argument with a visibly shocked Mike that morning…and I could tell he did all he could to not strike me 🙂  Oh…and did I mention I was also suppose to make cheesecake for a birthday party the following day.  Yeah, it brought tears to my eyes.

Either way, I just wanted to share some pictures with you and I’ll be writing up the recipe shortly.

Before I go, you should know that this was an extremely difficult but rewarding challenge.  I’ve learned so much about my process and I really shocked myself with how much I was able to push myself.  I am so grateful to have had such an opportunity and I really hope I’ll be able to do this again.

Candied Orange Rind!

Aside from creme brulee, I’ve never been a huge fan of desserts in this custard/creme desserts.  Truth be told, there’s no reason for my hesitancy.  For some inexplicable reason, I had convinced myself that these desserts would just be high calorie disappointments.

But that has since changed and I couldn’t be more than enthusiastic.  Strangely enough, leave it to a Vietnamese restaurant to enlighten me.  About a year ago, Mike and I had dinner at one of those trendy/semi-upscale/fusion Vietnamese restaurants that are becoming ever so popular.  While I can’t say that I’m a huge fan of these types of restaurants (I think I’m always disappointed with the lack of traditional flavors that then leaves me further deflated when I see the bill), but  Benley: A Vietnamese Kitchen (you can find more information and reviews here) in Long Beach had great reviews on Yelp and we were feeling adventurous.  Food was great–but he highlight of the night was the complimentary panna cotta the owner sent to us at the end of the meal.  It was absolutely divine!  Creamy, rich, and just bursting with flavors–fantastic citrus anglais topped with fresh pomegranate seeds.  I almost melted.  Hands down, one of the best desserts I’ve ever had.  I know you’re thinking, “I’m sure the fact that it was free helped,” and it certainly did, because Mike and I came back for our anniversary last year and couldn’t have been more pleased.  Excuse me, while I wipe the side of my mouth.

Well, Mike and I were hosting a handful of friends one weekend and I was looking for something other than chocolate to serve.  I thought panna cotta would be a great option, but considering I had never made one before, I was a bit nervous.  Thankfully, the panna cotta came out beautifully!  Panna cotta is a rather simple dessert to throw together and you couldn’t ask for a more impressive looking dessert.  A friend said that Panna Cotta should “quiver like a woman’s thigh.”  Top Chef, anyone?  That being said, while it was still jiggly I will cut down on the gelatin a bit next time around.  I think I prefer my Panna Cotta a tad more delicate.  Other than that, if you’re a fan of pomegranates and tangy desserts, this one is for you.

Pomegranate Panna Cotta

Ingredients

Nonstick vegetable oil spray
3 tablespoons plus 2 cups pomegranate juice (such as Pom)
2 teaspoons unflavored gelatin
1 cup sugar
Peel from 1 orange, removed in strips with vegetable peeler
1/2 cup fresh orange juice
1/2 cup whipping cream
1 1/2 cups buttermilk

Directions

Spray six 3/4-cup ramekins or custard cups with nonstick spray. Place 3 tablespoons pomegranate juice in small bowl. Sprinkle gelatin over; let stand 10 minutes. Meanwhile, heat remaining 2 cups pomegranate juice, sugar, and peel in large saucepan over high heat, stirring to dissolve sugar. Boil until syrup is reduced to 1 1/4 cups, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat.

Remove peel from pan; transfer 1/3 cup syrup to small bowl and reserve for sauce. Add gelatin mixture to remaining hot syrup in pan, and stir until dissolved. Add orange juice and whipping cream, then buttermilk. Strain. Divide among prepared ramekins. Chill until set, at least 4 hours or overnight. Cover and chill sauce separately.

Run knife around edge of ramekins; invert onto plates. Drizzle with sauce and serve.

Don’t waste the orange peel: It makes an attractive garnish. Remove it from the syrup and let it cool, then thinly slice it lengthwise. Toss it with 3 tablespoons sugar in a small bowl; cover and chill.

Original recipe from Epicurious