Honey crème brûlée
The silky French custard gets an unconventional twist with a hint of honey.
Admittedly, crème brûlée is a Slow Food dessert. It’s not quick n’easy. But it’s such a divine thing to eat at the end of a good meal. The tiny satisfaction of breaking the brittle caramel crust with the back of your spoon, then dipping into the pale, silky custard underneath … there’s no dessert like it. Also, it impresses the heck out of guests, and so it should, because it really is a labor of love.
There are special ceramic dishes for creme brulee, but small ramekins work too. I prefer them because ramekins can be used for other recipes that make individual servings. Making the crust seems intimidating, but there’s not much to it. The modern way is to use a little kitchen torch, but lacking one, there are other ways to achieve it, and they’re described below.
This version has a touch of honey. Cinnamon adds a little zing. I like to put the ramekins down on the table and then sit back, waiting for bliss to spread over the faces of my family and guests as the first spoonfuls go down.
Roasting pan or large sheet cake pan
6 ceramic ramekins (6-ounce size) or crème brûlée dishes
Tongs (silicon-covered if possible)
- 3 cups heavy cream
- 1 cup milk
- 4 cinnamon sticks
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 cup honey
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 9 large egg yolks
- 1/2 cup sugar
Pour the cream and milk into the saucepan. Add the cinnamon sticks and salt. Bring to the simmering point and then turn the heat off. Allow the cream mixture to infuse 1 hour, covered.
Half an hour into the time that the cream is infusing, preheat the oven to 300° F (150° C).
Set the ramekins down in the roaster (or cake pan). Boil a large kettle of water.
Strain the cream mixture through a sieve into a large bowl. This is to get rid of any cooked bits. Give the pan a quick scrub and rinse if you see any cooked cream in it. Pour the strained mixture back into the pan.
Add the honey and 1/4 cup of the sugar to the cream mixture. Simmer, stirring to dissolve.
In a large bowl, beat the egg yolks until thick. Add 1/4 cup sugar and beat again.
Now “temper” the eggs: ladle the hot milk onto the yolks, mixing well between ladlefuls. This keeps the yolks from curdling.
Now you have a custard. Strain it into the bowl once more, to eliminate bits of cooked yolk. Fill the ramekins.
Put the pan in the oven. Pour just enough hot water to come halfway up the outsides of the ramekins. Pour gently – you don’t want to get water into the custards.
Bake 30-40 minutes, or until the custards are just barely firm but still a little wobbly in the center. Overbaking makes the custard separate into a watery mess, so start watching at the half-hour mark.
Carefully remove the ramekins to a wire rack, with tongs if you have some. This is the only tricky part; you must be careful not to burn yourself with the hot water.
Allow the custards to cool, then cover in plastic wrap and refrigerate 2 hours. You can make the custards up to three days in advance. You can also freeze them.
Before making the sugar crust, place the custards in the freezer for 30 minutes.
3 ways to make the sugar crust:
- Use a kitchen torch. Sprinkle a thin layer of sugar over the custards. Heat the surfaces from about a 10" distance, until golden. Let the layer cool and repeat.
- Use the broiler. Sprinkle custards with a thin sugar layer. Place the cold custards in a pan, then pour ice water in the pan to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins. This is to avoid over-cooking the custards. Broil 1-2 minutes until the crust is golden.
- Cook the crust on the stove. Spoon 4 tablespoons sugar into a small pan, over medium heat. Shake it a couple of times to help the sugar dissolve, but don’t stir. When the caramel is amber-colored, remove the pan from the heat and, working quickly, pour it over the custards. Gently shake each ramekin to distribute the caramel evenly.