When I was 19 or so, I was introduced to the wonder of creme brûlée by the mother of a child I was nannying in the summers during college, Mrs. Keith. She knew I loved to cook, though my ambitions were not yet in the realm of becoming a chef. Cream, eggs, sugar, vanilla, and ramekins were always on hand in their well-equipped kitchen, yet they had never been converted into the caramelized sugar-coated classic that we all know and love. One day, she simply said “I feel like creme brûlée. Let’s make some and put blueberries in it.” At this point in my life, I had had no exposure to the magical custard with the crispy crust. Mrs. Keith’s straightforward approach made it seem, well, completely approachable! She gave me a recipe in a cookbook and told me to follow it, and returned just before I put it in the oven to plop a scoop of freshly-picked summer blueberries into each little ceramic pot. We carefully loaded the water-laden tray into the oven, eventually caramelizing the sugar on top with the broiler. The entire family, myself included, ate creme brûlée with jammy blueberry bursts at the bottom straight from the fridge as a snack for the next couple of days.
As the creme brûlée set, so did my mind-set...
My following experiences with the dessert were typically reading its name either on dessert menus at upscale restaurants, or in dinner party cookbooks featured in special occasion chapters, but the truth was already firmly planted in my brain. Creme brûlée is a simple recipe, easy to make, and perfect for anytime.
As my life choices began to lead me down the path to chefdom, this creamy custard became a mainstay in my repertoire, and a teacher to me, as well. It taught me about the joy (and relaxation) of making dessert in advance, about the benefits of a water bath, and how delicious and wobbly flan and creme caramel were not dishes to fear! Making creme brûlée taught me about the sensitivity of cream over a too-high flame and the potential delicious changes in flavor by adding one (or more) ingredient.
But why sous vide?
Fast forward to the present, to the age of Anova, and this impressive dessert could not get any easier to execute perfectly, and for larger groups than ever before! Creme brûlée is the perfect dessert for sous vide cooking. The temperature is always precise and there is no wrangling a full water bath in and out of the oven. You simply CANNOT overcook it! You can make as many portions as you can fit screw-top mason jars in your cooking vessel with water still circulating around them. You can make it five days in advance and literally stack your jars in the fridge, not having to worry about entire trays of ramekins being perfectly covered and taking up entire shelves. And just when you thought it couldn’t get any better, I am here to tell you - IT CAN!
This ties into my favorite part about cooking in general - the creativity. Creme brûlée does not have to be vanilla, in any sense of the word.
You can change it up to reflect your personality or better match your menu with such little effort, it’s amazing. I have noted on other websites that you can skip the step of heating the cream in a saucepan, but as a chef with almost twenty years of creme brûlée making behind me, I advise that you cherish this step as the perfect time for FLAVOR INFUSION!
Swap out the vanilla extract for something like peppermint or almond. Sprinkle crushed candy canes or toasted almonds on top after you’ve caramelized the sugar. Or invoke the South of France with a spoonful of lavender and a couple of pieces of lemon zest in the pot, to be strained out when you add the cream to the yolks and sugar. Perhaps add a tea bag to infuse your favorite blend. Make it Moroccan with the addition of orange blossom water and almond Madeleine cookies on the side. Or turn it into a rose cremeuse with rose water and skipping the crispy crust, instead garnishing with candied flower petals.
Some of my favorite flavor additions:
When testing and creating the recipe
- Sprigs of fresh herbs - basil, rosemary, mint, bay leaf
- Aromatics - galangal, ginger, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaf, star anise, etc
- Teas - Earl Grey, Chai blends, rooibos
- Extracts - almond, pandan, orange, peppermint, anise
- Spices - pumpkin pie spice, nutmeg, ginger, saffron
- Florals - rose water, orange blossom water
- Citrus - zest of lemon, lime, orange, Buddha hand, tangerine
- Little bits - berries, chocolate chips, crystallized ginger
, I decided to use ground vanilla bean and Meyer lemon zest. I also opted for sugar substitute Xylitol since I follow a Keto diet and didn’t want to miss the deliciousness. Guess what? Still perfect! The Anova is meant to help you get restaurant quality results at home, and this includes desserts. I hope that I have helped make this highly regarded dessert a little more approachable for you. I hope that it's also inspired you to get creative with the flavors to bring your dinner party - or afternoon snacking - game to the next level. Tell us what flavor combinations have worked for you so far, or which ones you’d like to try. There are SO many options, #anovafoodnerd community. I want to hear about you getting creative! Until then, Keep Calm and Creme Brûlée On!