There are those who hanker after every kitchen gadget there is: an apple corer, a chestnut roaster, a cherry pitter, a milk frother. I myself am not a huge fan of the single-use kitchen utensil, and this, coupled with my tiny kitchen, has ensured that I do not own any of these examples of dubious ingenuity.
However, I am known among my friends as a good cook, and so last christmas I found myself in receipt of an item at which I confess I have scoffed in the past: a crème brûlée torch. A friend was bursting with pride at her clever choice of gift: it responded to my demonstrated abilities, and it also ensured that I would have what she clearly wanted: my own personal blow torch in the kitchen. I bit back my sarcastic comment and thanked her, then threw the offending item in the drawer and forgot about it.
Then I found out my boyfriend's favourite dessert is none other than crème brûlée - I always thought it was chocolate cake, because that's what he usually chooses in restaurants - so I did a little experimenting to figure out how to make a good crème brûlée and use that pesky torch. Turns out both are quite easy: the recipe is simple and the caramelized topping takes less than a minute to accomplish. I have made a pretty mean crème brûlée several times now.
But this weekend I wanted chocolate. A poke about the pantry revealed only 3 ounces left of a bar of very good bittersweet chocolate, while my favourite molten chocolate cake recipe calls for 4 ounces, so I decided I'd try a chocolate crème brûlée, just to see what it would be like. When I've had this in restaurants it's usually made with white chocolate, which is kind of insipid in my view. I wasn't too sure how this would go, but it was much better than I expected: a tap of the spoon breaks the crust on top, giving access to a creamy custard, not too sweet but with a deep chocolate flavour. I had joined my boyfriend's favourite dessert with the chocolate we both adore, and pleased us both mightily in the process.
For those puritans who say chocolate has no place in a crème brûlée, I say: try this. It's really very good.
What you need for 2 piggy or 4 perfectly adequate servings:
What to do:
Preheat oven to 300°F (150°C).
Heat the cream, chocolate and sugar together in a small saucepan, stirring occasionally, till the chocolate melts and the mixture is steaming. Let cool slightly, then mix in the vanilla.
Whisk together the egg yolks lightly, just enough so they are broken up and combined. Add a little of the cream mixture and whisk together, then slowly pour the rest of the cream mixture in, whisking constantly.
Pour the mixture into the ramekins, dividing evenly. Place the ramekins in a baking dish and pour hot water into the baking dish till it comes halfway up the sides; if they're moving around a lot, try placing a tea towel on the bottom of the baking dish, under the ramekins. Be careful not to splash water into the ramekins, too.
Bake for about 20 minutes, till the custard is set and the centres jiggle slightly. Remove ramekins to a wire rack to cool, then cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate. They'll keep for a day or two.
About an hour before serving, remove the plastic wrap from the ramekins and spread 1 tsp (5 ml) brown sugar around the top of the custard. If you have a torch, caramelize the sugar till it's dark and bubbling. If not, place them under a broiler or salamander till the sugar turns liquidy.
Put the brûlées back in the fridge till ready to serve. Some fresh raspberries or sliced strawberries marinated in Grand Marnier makes a very nice accompaniment to this, and may just make this the perfect dessert.