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

For most of my life, I refused to try bread pudding.  Not because I had a particularly bad experience–but I just couldn’t get with the idea that mushy baked bread was going to be any good.  I was stubborn and I believed, as though I had eaten bread pudding my whole life, that it was really going to taste like mushy balls of milk flavored bread.  Bleh.  Cue Mike, the boy wonder who eats anything and everything.  I kid you not, he ate waffles, syrup and tuna his whole life.  And I don’t mean waffles and syrup and a side of tuna…but I mean pile one on top of the other.  He swore by it.  It was the breakfast of champions.

In high school, we’d go to hometown buffet after a movie (coupons, people…we had tons of them!) and he’d always finish off that awful meal with a bowl of hot bread pudding.  And I think because I loved him, I was willing to try it because he loved it.  Yes, I really typed that last sentence 🙂  Ahhh…fiancehood (it’s a word in my world) it really takes you to a whole new level of cheese).  Either way, I’m certainly a fan now.  Now, I probably won’t order this in a restaurant, unless their description is out of this world.  Why?  It’s because this recipe is just absolutely amazing!  The bananas and chocolate really enhance what’s already a rich, custardy bread pudding.    This is simply the easiest dessert I’ve ever made.   It’s definitely a wonderful comfort food–and tastes wonderful served hot or cold.

Chocolate Banana Bread Pudding

Ingredients

4 eggs
1 1/2 cups milk
1/2 heavy whipping cream
3/4 cup white sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
4 cups cubed French bread
3 bananas, sliced
1 cup chopped chocolate
dash of cinnamon

  1. Preheat oven to 325° F and grease a 9×5 bread pan.  In a large mixing bowl, mix eggs, milk, cream,  sugar, and vanilla until smooth.
  2. Stir in bread, bananas, cinnamon and chocolate chips, and allow bread to absorb milk mixture.  I like to leave it for 10 minutes.  Pour mixture in prepared pan.
  3. Bake in preheated oven for1 hour, or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.

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!