Patty’s crème brûlée

I love crème brûlée. Cold, silky custard, topped with a layer of caramelized sugar, which looks like a golden brown pane of glass, waiting to be crunched with a spoon. Made with real vanilla bean and I’m in heaven. Oh, bliss!

This is my dessert of choice when I dine out, and I learned to make it at home in 2010. Making the custard is the easy part, but getting the caramelized sugar just so is tricksy.

perfect!

Time required: 2 days (custard takes 40 min, plus over night chilling)

Yields: 6 portions

Cost per custard: $2.16

Total cost if you have none of the ingredients: $16.00  (plus $12.00 for a real torch)

Special kitchen implements I used:

  • strainer
  • 6 glass ramequins
  • 1 deep baking pan 9″ x 13″
  • blowtorch (propane tank, regulator, and flint)

getting started

Good to know before you start:

TIMING this dessert is difficult. The custard has to be prepared, baked, left to stand, chilled, left to stand again, sugared, torched, and chilled again. Ask 5 people how to make this dish and expect 5 different opinions on how long each stage takes. You might need to experiment. I highly recommend making the custard the night before you plan to eat this. If you want to make the topping out of brown sugar or demerara sugar, leave 6 TBSP of that sugar out to dry over night, dry sugar is much easier to caramelize.

TORCHES: you can make your own blowtorch for $12.00, with 3 parts; a mini propane tank, air regulator, and flint. This works much better than any kitchen torch you find in kitchen-specific shops. Don’t caramelize the sugar with an oven broiler because that heats the custard, when it’s supposed to be served cold.

SUGAR TOPPING: I’ve tried using granulated white sugar, golden brown, dark brown, icing/confectioners, turbinado, demerara, and a blend of white and brown. It’s hard to make it look right. I think brown sugar tastes best but since it is moist, it’s hard to caramelize (so leave some out overnight). Neither white sugar nor icing sugar produced the result I wanted. Fine-grain sugars like demerara and turbinado are what most recipes recommend, yet I haven’t been able to get the consistency that I want. Your kilometers may vary.

RAMEQUINS: these are very cheap, made from fluted ceramic or glass. The best ones for this dish are shallow and wide, because that provides more surface area for the caramelized sugar.

Although it’s called “burnt cream”, you do not want to actually burn it, one or two dark spots is okay, but you’re trying to achieve a golden brown caramelized colour, not dark brown or black.

Crème Brûlée ingredients:

  • 2C light cream, room temperature (some people use Heavy or Half  & Half)
  • 5 egg yolks, room temperature
  • ⅓ C granulated white sugar
  • ½ vanilla bean, split & scraped
  • ⅛ TSP salt
  • 1-2 TSP demerara sugar per portion (do not add until serving)

Step 1 – pre-heat oven to 325°F / 162°C, using centre rack.

Step 2 – fill kettle with water and simmer

Step 3 – add cream and vanilla bean (pods and shell) to sauce pan

vanilla bean split vanille bean scraped

Step 4 – heat on LOW until scalded and remove from heat.  When scalded, the bubbles have just started to form and break the surface.  It’s normal for a skim to form.

scalded cream

Step 5 – in a medium bowl, mix sugar and salt together

Step 6 – separate the yolks from the egg whites, (freeze the whites), and gently whisk yolks into sugar mixture until just combined

egg yolks eggs and sugar

Step 7 – temper the hot cream into the egg mixture; add about a third of the cream, gently stir,  add another third, stir, then add the final third (doing this slowly in thirds prevents the egg from scrambling)

temper the cream into the yolks fully tempered

Step 8 – pour liquid through a strainer, into a glass measuring cup

straining the liquid

As you can see, straining is important for this dish. You don’t want any part of the skim or shell pieces in your custard:

sludge

Step 9 – fold a dish towel until it sits evenly in the bottom of a 9″x13″ pan, and place your ramequins atop the towel.

Step 10 – use a spoon to scrape the bottom of your glass measuring cup, where all the vanilla bean has sunk, and make sure each ramequin has a fair amount of the bean; then pour the strained liquid into the ramequins:

ramequins in place

Step 11 – place pan in oven, and carefully fill pan with hot water from the kettle, until the water reaches at least halfway up the sides of the ramequins, this is a bain marie which ensures the custards cook evenly without drying out. Don’t let the water touch the custard:

water bath

Step 12 – bake for 30-40 minutes until the edges of the custard are set. Test for doneness by shaking, the centre should wobble like Jell-o. If the whole surface shakes give it 3-5 more minutes. If nothing shakes it’s overdone.  This depends heavily on your oven, and the size and shape of your ramequins.

Step 13 – remove from oven, and carefully remove ramequins from pan. Set them on a rack to cool for at least one hour.

cooling

Step 14 – cover each ramequin with plastic wrap, and chill at least 2 hours (overnight chilling is best)

ready to be chilled

Step 15 – removing from fridge 30 minutes before consuming.  After 20 minutes, remove the plastic wrap, and use a folded piece of paper towel to gently blot the surface to remove any condesation.

Step 16 – sprinkle the demerara sugar on top, tilting and tapping each ramequin to cover the entire surface.

Step 17 – place the ramequin on a fireproof surface, like a marble slab, and use the blowtorch, with a low flame, holding it about 2-3 inches from the surface. I start in the middle and slowly go in clockwise circle to the edges. The sugar will turn a dark golden brown, but if it turns black it’s burnt.

I’ll show you a custard with too much sugar, and another with just enough.

This one has far too much sugar:

1st one; too much sugar

Step 17 – return to fridge for 10 minutes, then eat.  How long to leave it in the fridge before eating is up for debate. Some people say 30 min, some say 45, I do 10. If you leave it too long the sugar starts running down into the custard and won’t crack, so this is where you really have to experiment.

Attempt # 1 is so ugly, I’m ashamed:

burnt

Attempt # 2 is perfect! This used 2 rounded teaspoons of sugar:

perfect! oh yum

Using a blow torch makes me nervous. I’m afraid of fire. The key to not buring the sugar is be patient, don’t hold the flame too close, and keep it moving in a circle.

So, I didn’t realize before I bought my ramequins that the shallow ones work best.  Mine are narrow and deep, holding: 0.25L / 0.2 qt / 105 x 550 mm / 4.8″ x 2″. Eventually I’d like to replace them with shallow ones.

Last night I used demerara sugar… the ugly one was used with the sugar fresh out of the bag, the nice one was made with sugar that had dried out over night and was crushed with a rolling pin. It was definitely easier to melt the sugar this way. I still prefer the taste of brown sugar, so I will look at drying out equal parts brown and demerara, and combining them.

Update Oct 9, 2011: When this entry was posted I forgot to add the salt measurement. Oops. Fixed.

Red velvet cupcakes with vanilla buttercream frosting

Mmmmm, sinfully delicious. I vividly remember the first time I had a red velvet cupcake; Boyfriend brought me a surprise from StarBucks, one bite and I was in heaven. I thought, “I can make this”.

They pair well with vanilla buttercream, chocolate buttercream, or creamcheese frosting. If that special someone is allergic to food colouring, you can substitute with fresh fruit juice, as long as the juice doesn’t contain whatever sets of their allergies.  Red velvet cupcakes add a special touch to any romantic occasions, particularly Valentine’s Day.

Usually I make mini cupcakes on the theory that eating 2 minis is like eating 1 regular but decided to go for the medium size  this time. I prefer buttercream frosting and that’s what I made last night.


Time required: 2 hours

Yields: 24 medium cupcakes or 48 mini cupcakes

Cost per cupcake: $0.40

Total cost if you have none of the required ingredients: $46.00

Special kitchen implements I used:

  • electric beaters
  • 1 hard spatula
  • flour sifter (optional)

Good to know before you start:

Use a hard plastic spatula because wooden spoons absorb dye.

Red batter splatters, wear old clothes.

As soon as you’re done with the bowls, rinse and soak to make clean-up easy

Take out the butter required for the batter and the frosting at the beginning. While the cupcakes are cooling, you have enough time to make the frosting and the butter is already softened.

You can either make the batter with buttermilk, or fake it by adding either white vinegar or lemon juice to regular milk. Unless you cook with real buttermilk often, why bother buying it for one recipe? If you use cranberry juice instead of dye, try lemon in the milk to get a complimentary flavour.

Cupcake ingredients:

  • 2¼ C of flour
  • ¼ C of unsweetened cocoa
  • 1 TSP salt
  • ½ C unsalted butter (1 stick)
  • 1½ C granulated white sugar
  • 2 large eggs, at room temp
  • 2 TBSP red food colouring
  • 1 TSP vanilla bean paste
  • 1 C buttermilk  – or 1 C regular milk mixed with 1 TBSP white vinegar
  • 1 TSP baking soda
  • 1 TBSP white vinegar (in addition to the portion used in the milk)

Step 1 – use centre rack. Pre-heat oven to 175°C / 350°F. Line cupcake tray.

Step 2 – in a small bowl, mix flour, cocoa, and salt; this is a good time to use a flour sifter as cocoa is lumpy, but I  forgot.  Oh well. Set bowl aside.

Step 3 – measure out the milk and vinegar (or lemon juice), also set aside.

Step 4 – in a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar on Medium speed, until combined.

Step 5 – add eggs, beat 2 minutes until fluffy.

Step 6 – stir in food colouring, then stir in vanilla. Ever play that game where you see shapes in the clouds?  I see a scorpion. Or a busted aorta.

Okay now I see something from a Japanese horror film.

Step 7 – On Low speed, beat in half of the flour mix until combined, then half of the milk. Continue adding half of each until everything is added.

Doesn’t that look vile?

Step 8 – beat in baking soda and vinegar, mix well:

Step 9 – fill the cupcake liners about two-thirds. Bake 20 minutes for regular size or 13 minutes for mini…. oops, I overdid it. Wow, those are huge!

Step 10 – let cool in pan 2 minutes, then remove from pan and set on cooling rack for at least30 minutes.

After an hour it’s frosting time! At this point I was kicked out of the kitchen while Boyfriend made dinner, so I moved operations to the dining table.

Buttercream frosting ingredients:

  • 3 C icing sugar
  • ⅓ C butter, room temperature (5⅓ TBSP)
  • dash of vanilla bean paste (or 1½ TSP vanilla extract)
  • 2 TBSP milk
  • 1 TSP to 1 TBSP of lemon juice (optional)

Step 1 – using a large bowl, mix the butter and icing sugar. In my experience using an electric mixer will send sugar flying, it’s easier to do this by hand. Confession: every time I make frosting I get sugar all over myself.

Step 2 – after butter and sugar are mixed, add half of the milk, and mix well

Step 3– add vanilla, mix well

Step 4 – add remainder of the milk and mix well, then stir as if your life depends on it. Sample a little bit, if you can still feel the sugar granules keep stirring.

Step 5 – for visual interest I frosted some plain white, and then added a drop of red dye to get a pale pink, then added more red to get darker pink, et cet.

One reason I rarely make creamcheese frosting for these is that it has to be refrigerated, and a refrigerated cupcake doesn’t feel moist. You could put the frosting in the fridge and frost the cupcakes as you need to, but that seems like a pain. Buttercream does not need to be refrigerated.

Hope you had a happy Velntine’s Day!

Patty’s Belgian chocolate Irish Cream cheesecake

Let your senses guide you to this decadent chocolate cheesecake, made from Belgian chocolate and Baileys Irish Cream, on a crust of crushed chocolate cookies. One little slice goes a very long way.

Recipe, instructions, and pictures below. Click on pictures to enlarge.

Time required: 2 days (overnight chilling)

Yields: one 7″ cheesecake, with 16 portions

Cost per slice: $2.75

Total cost if you have none the required ingredients: $61.00

This post is to commemorate my first cheesecake.  I had 2 goals: create my own recipe, and make a cake without cracks. Lofty goals indeed!

I hit up the St. Lawrence Market to re-stock my supply of Belgian chocolate. I buy my hard-to-find ingredients at Domino Foods, they sell delicious Callebaut chocolate. As for the pan, you don’t actually need a springform pan to make cheesecake, but it makes things easier, and those pans can also be used for other delicate desserts. I have four sizes; 9″, 7″, 6″, and 4″. I consulted Older Sister 2 for some advice, and got started.

Special kitchen implements I used:

  • electric beaters
  • frosting knife or thin blade
  • 7″ springform pan
  • parchment paper, plastic wrap, & heavy tinfoil
  • 9″ x 13″ deep baking pan

Crust ingredients:

  • 1¼ C chocolate cookie crumbs
  • 5 TBSP unsalted butter, melted

Filling ingredients:

  • 2 blocks of cream cheese, softened
  • ½ C granulated white sugar
  • 2 large eggs, at room temp
  • 1 TSP vanilla bean paste
  • 4 oz of Callebaut semi-sweet chocolate, melted
  • ¼ C Baileys Irish cream

Good to know before you start:

Some recipes, including this one, require that the crust be baked at a higher temperature, and once the filling is added it’s baked at a lower temperature. Don’t forget to adjust the oven heat.

Cheesecake will collapse and crack if exposed to sudden temperature changes, don’t open the oven door during baking, and don’t place the finished cake in a drafty area to cool. (A cracked cheesecake tastes fine.)

Never insert a knife or toothpick into a cheese cake to test it, see step 10.

When serving, let cheesecake stand at room temperature for 30 minutes for best flavour.

Step 1 – use centre rack. Pre-heat oven to 175°C / 350°F to bake the crust. If using a bain marie, (which prevents cracking), fill kettle and turn on Low, now.

Step 2 – grease springform pan and line bottom with parchment paper. Optional step: line outside of pan with heavy tinfoil to use in bain marie.

Step 3 – mix the cookie crumbs with melted butter:

Step 4 – press crumbs firmly into bottom of pan to form crust, bake in oven for 10 minutes AND THEN LOWER OVEN TO 150°C / 300°F.

Step 5 – chop chocolate with a serrated blade and set it aside. Er… this was supposed to be 4 oz… but it’s more like 8 or 12. Oops.

Step 6 and 6.5 – gently beat the cream cheese, not too much and not too fast. Try 2 minutes on Low, and continually scrape down the sides of the bowl. I wish I had a Kitchen Aid mixer!

Don’t over-beat because that will add too much air to the mixture, creating air bubbles which collapse during the baking process, causing cracks.

After the cream cheese is beaten, add the sugar and beat until combined.

Then beat in the eggs (one at time), until combined.

Finally beat in the vanilla, and set aside.

Step 7 – melt the chocolate and stir in the Baileys. Normally I melt chocolate in a double boiler to temper it, but that is pointless for a dish destined for the oven. Instead, microwave on High for 30 seconds, stir, repeat until melted.

Step 8 – beat chocolate into cream cheese mixture (gently!)  I originally was going to use my red mixing bowls, but I read that cream cheese rises up high in the bowl so switched over to a big metal bowl instead.

Step 9 – “pour” mixture onto crust – since I used too much chocolate my filling was very dense, it had to be scooped out of the bowl, smooshed down, and smoothed out.  If your filling is normal (runnier), gently shake the pan to even it out and remove air bubbles.

Optional step: I set my springform pan into a 9×13″ baking pan, set that in the oven, and carefully poured hot water from the kettle into the larger pan. This  created a hot water bath that rose halfway up the side of the foil-wrapped springform pan. That served 2 purposes: a) prevents top from drying out, b) prevents cracking.  The hot water should never come in contact with the ingredients.

Step 10 – DID YOU LOWER THE OVEN TEMPERATURE EARLIER?

Bake cheesecake 50-60 minutes at 150°C / 300°F.

How do you know it’s done? The same way you check custard; gently shake it.

If the entire thing jiggles, give it another 5 minutes and check again.

If the edges are firm but the centre jiggles, it’s perfect.

It nothing jiggles at all it’s overdone.

Step 11 – remove from oven but do not open the springform pan.

Carefully use a frosting spatula or thin blade to loosen the pan away from the cake, go slowly around the edge of the pan, all the way down to the bottom. This will prevent the cake from tearing or collapsing when the spring is released after chilling. Be careful and take your time.

Cool on a wire rack for 1 hour.

The cake will firm up as it cools.

See the dark ring around the bottom of the pan?  That’s from the water bath.

Step 12 – cover and refrigerate overnight, or at least for 8 hours

Here’s my cake the next day, see the part in the centre that looks pale? That is where the plastic wrap touched the top. Oops.

Step 13 – remove tinfoil, and very carefully open the latch on the pan, and lift it away from the cake, hopefully it will stay intact:

Step 14 – cut the cake with a sharp, hot knife, cleaning the knife after each cut.  This prevents the filling from tearing or getting crumbs on it.

Alternatively, you can use a tight line; unflavoured dental floss, piano wire, or a new piece of fishing line – whatever works for you.

Cut it half, and then into fourths – I got 16 pieces out of this.

Step 15: serve and enjoy!  Cheesecake tastes best after standing at room temperature for 30 minutes.

Verdict:

I liked this and will make it again, with some adjustments.  The flavour was intense. I finished my slice throughout the day, 2 bites at a time.

I used 1/2 Cup of Baileys and found that was too much, that’s why I say above to use 1/4 Cup. However, the 4 people who have tasted this said the Baileys flavour was just right, so you might need to experiment with this.

Next time, I’ll definitely measure the chocolate more accurately, I need a better kitchen scale. I’ll let the cream cheese sit at room temperature for longer, 40 minutes wasn’t enough. I will also beat the cream cheese more, I was afraid of over-mixing and ended up not mixing enough, there were a few white bubbles in the filling. They tasted fine but were aesthetically irritating.

Overall I’m quite pleased with the result, it was my first cheesecake, and my own recipe, and it turned out wonderfully!

It’s not easy being cheesy

I made my first cheesecake tonight!

Normally when I bake something for the first time, I’ll follow the recipe exactly to get a feel of what the regular process it, to learn the batter consistency, and get a sense of what the finished product should taste like.  But tonight I was feeling adventurous.

Now, perhaps that was not the brightest idea since I have no basis to judge what consistency is normal. So before I began I consulted with Older Sister 2, a cheesecake adept.  She gave me a few pointers and so far, everything seems normal.

It’s cooling right now, pictures and taste test tomorrow… we’ll see.