Taylor Belle came into the room. Visibly upset. But before you get too concerned, I will remind you that Taylor is sixteen. It doesn’t take much to get her upset. Just saying. She was holding one of my cookbooks in her hands. It’s one of my old ones from 1949, entitled Culinary Arts Institute 250 Delicious Soup Recipes. Taylor loves eating soups, and I had told her to look through the recipes and we would make soup if she found one that looked good. Seemed like a great plan. As it turned out, it wasn’t.
Taylor was holding the cookbook and said something like “omg mom, there is a recipe in here for turtle soup”. I laughed and told her to look at the ingredients. That it had to be something kinda like turtle pie, where it’s just the name, there is not actually turtle in it. I thought it was cute that she had really believed that there would be a turtle in turtle soup. I was wrong. She showed me the recipe and there it was – add 1½ cups diced fresh turtle meat. Because I guess frozen turtle meat is just not as good.
I looked over Taylor’s shoulder to make sure that Nutella hadn’t heard our conversation from where she was happily swimming around in her turtle tank. She seemed ok. I don’t think she saw or heard anything. I must admit that made me feel a little better. Taylor loves that little turtle.
Curious, I googled turtle soup. Turns out it has quite a history. Turtle soup was served at presidential inaugurations, on the first transcontinental trains, and was even canned by Campbell’s in the 1920s. And I never knew. Great information. But still not too appetizing.
So, we moved on to something I know. Desserts. One of the great things about desserts is that none of the recipes call for something that we consider a pet. Or at least none of the recipes that I make. And that’s always a good thing. Especially when dealing with a sixteen year old girl.
Taylor found my recipe for crème brulee and was excited because she thought it was a “fancy” dessert and she had never had any. I’m not sure where the idea that crème brulee is fancy came from. Maybe because it has a cool French name. But the name literally means burnt cream, so it’s understandable why we call it crème brulee. Just sounds so much better don’t you think? And the recipe has been around for over four hundred years. So you know it has to be wonderful.
It’s such a simple dessert with just a few ingredients. I looked in the kitchen and found everything we needed to make it, and so, rather than making turtle soup together, I taught Taylor Belle to make luscious crème brulee. The contrast between the cool, creamy custard and the crisp, warm caramelized sugar is amazing. If reading about it now finds you hankering for some yourself, I’m giving you the recipe below. I hope you enjoy making it as much as we did.
For four servings of crème brulee, you will need the following:
1 cup whipping cream
2 egg yolks
1/3 cup sugar
pinch of salt
½ teaspoon vanilla
6 to 8 teaspoons granulated sugar
This recipe can easily be doubled to make eight servings.
Start by preheating the oven to 300 degrees. Make sure your oven rack is one notch below the middle of the oven. This will help ensure that the top of the custard remains soft and pliable.
Put the cream in a saucepan and stir over medium heat, just to the point of boiling. This will take several minutes. Be patient and keep stirring slowly. Once the cream begins to boil, remove it from the heat and set aside. Don’t worry about the skin that forms on the top of the cream as it cools. That will be strained out.
In a small bowl, whisk the egg yolks, sugar, pinch of salt and vanilla until well blended. When mixing the yolks and sugar, do not beat. It will incorporate too much air, which will remain as bubbles on top of the baked custards. Instead, mix with a hand whisk in a circular motion until well blended. Into this, add the hot cream a little bit at a time, whisking as you go until all is incorporated. Do not add all of the hot cream at once. You want to bring the temperature of the yolks up slowly. Strain the mixture by pouring through a fine sieve. If you don’t already have a fine sieve, they can be purchased in the kitchen section of Wal-Mart for just a few dollars.
Place four 4-ounce ramekins into a hot water bath and fill them evenly. A hot water bath provides a gentle, even distribution of heat so that the filling cooks uniformly and keeps the smoothest possible texture. It is made with a baking pan large enough to hold all of your ramekins. Place your ramekins in the pan, pour very hot water into the pan around them so that it comes about half way up their sides, and then fill each ramekin with the custard mixture. Place the hot water bath with ramekins in the oven.
Bake time will be forty-five minutes to an hour. I always start checking at the forty-five minute mark. The custards should be mostly set, but the centers should still jiggle slightly. Once set, remove the hot water bath from the oven and cool until the ramekins are comfortable enough to handle.
Once you remove the ramekins from the hot water bath, cover them with clear wrap and refrigerate at least one and a half hours. They say you can hold the custards in the refrigerator for as long as two days, but I can’t imagine how anyone could wait that long. Taylor had a hard time just waiting the hour and a half.
Just before serving, evenly sprinkle one to two teaspoons of sugar on the surface of each custard and torch until caramelized. To make this go smoothly, keep the torch moving in quick, small spiraling circles. The finished brittle surface should be a light to medium amber color. Taylor had never used a kitchen torch, but she got the hang of it quickly after I showed her how to caramelize just one of them.
If you don’t have a torch, you can place the custard ramekin dishes under the broiler in the oven until the sugar melts, about two minutes. Just be sure to watch carefully so as not to burn.
And there you have it. Simple, but oh so wonderful. It is a rich, creamy sweetness that will bring a smile to your face and have you saying ou la la! So much better than turtle soup. And not one animal had to die in the process, so you don’t even have to feel guilty. Enjoy!