Are you going out for Valentine's Day dinner this year? No?
Then you need a dessert, and I've got you covered.
I've got you really, really, really covered because this crème brûlée is embarrassingly simple, creamy, luxurious, flavorful and sexy.
That's a lot of adjectives.
I will say this, though. If you don't own a little propane blowtorch, put out a request to friends and neighbors and borrow theirs on Saturday. These little gadgets are indispensable in helping you create an evenly bronzed, glassy cap, which is really what crème brûlée is all about.
This recipe comes from the book Crème Brûlée by Lou Seibert Pappas (Chronicle Books, 2009), a local author whose other cookbooks tackle ice cream, fondue, biscotti, and crepes, all in single-subject volumes. Her sweet brûlées include those flavored simply with cappuccino, eggnog, or ginger, along with more unusual versions, like a margarita crème brûlée with tequila, curaçao, and lime.
I was, and continue to be, a bit skeptical about the second half of the book, which is devoted to savory crème brûlée, because custards with broccoli and red pepper, shrimp and tarragon, and wild rice and crab sound, frankly, yucky. (Several of the savory recipes end with the option of blowtorching either Parmesan cheese or sugar over the finished product, as though the two flavors were somehow interchangeable. Wuh?)
But the sweet one I tried -- a Catalan Cinnamon crème brûlée with so much lemon zest I was sure I'd be picking it out of my teeth for months -- knocked my socks off so hard I had to chase them halfway down the street. When I served it earlier this week, my boys closed their eyes every time they touched the spoon to their lips.
Now that, more than anything, is the sign of a good dessert.
Recipe for Catalan Cinnamon Crème Brûlée
Adapted from Crème Brûlée by Lou Seibert Pappas (Chronicle Books, 2009)
The author states this yields 6 "standard size" servings, but with my traditional crème brûlée dishes (4-3/4"-diameter, 5 ounces each), I only had enough custard for 5. That said, I wished I had made 100 because we would have eaten them all quite happily.
Makes 5 or 6, depending on the size of your dishes
1-1/2 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup half-and-half
1 cinnamon stick
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg (it really does make a difference)
2 tablespoons grated lemon zest
6 large egg yolks (save the whites in the fridge -- I'll tell you what to do with them soon)
1/3 cup sugar, plus 5 tablespoons for topping
Preheat the oven to 275 degrees.
In a medium saucepan, heat the cream, half-and-half, cinnamon stick, nutmeg and zest over medium heat until small bubbles break along the edges of the pan. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature.
Set a kettle full of water to boil, then remove from heat as well.
Meanwhile, whisk the egg yolks for as long as you can without getting tired. (The original recipe says to whisk them until they're pale, but my wrists gave out far earlier with no ill results.) Then whisk in the 1/3 cup sugar until dissolved.
Discard the cinnamon stick, then whisk the cooled cream into the egg mixture.
Place the crème brûlée dishes in a large baking pan (I used two). Divide the custard among the dishes, then place the baking pans, one by one, on the open oven door. Use the kettle to fill the baking pans with water until the water level reaches halfway up the sides of the custard dishes. Do not overfill, or the water might seep into the custard.
Bake 35 to 40 minutes, or until the custards are set. Remove from the water, cool to room temperature, and refrigerate until very cold, at least 2 hours.
Just before serving, sprinkle each custard with 1 tablespoon of sugar. Shake the dish slightly or give it a little bang on the counter to disburse the sugar evenly. Use a hand-held blowtorch to caramelize the sugar until it's evenly bronzed. (Go slowly.) Serve immediately.