Monday, January 21, 2008

Vanilla Lime Crème Brûlée

Sheesh. Over two weeks since my last post. You'd think I had made a secret New Year's resolution to discourage all my readers! Actually, you might be surprised to learn that my life outside my blog is sometimes a bit crazy, and for no particular reason whatsoever. Except that I have those three cute kids, and one of them is a boy and 3 years old, and one of them is 10 months old. The truth is, the 10-month old, who is perfectly healthy, has been keeping me from sleep quite a bit this whole month, and I've taken my lack of energy out on this blog, since I like to prioritize my family above writing. But I've still been cooking, which means I've always got more to say.

In December I tried another variation of crème brûlée, despite my assertions that the original version is better than any alterations (at least raspberry). I guess I'm stubborn. Or this just sounded like a really good idea. And it actually was. I really enjoyed it. The lime gave it a really bright, clean flavor which did take away from the delicate custard taste but really was a nice burst of something wonderful when I took a bite of it. And the vanilla balanced out the bright flavor just enough to enhance the texture of the custard.

I did try a couple of versions of this recipe, one with the zest baked right into the custard, and one with zest in the sugar that is burnt on top. Both are terrible ideas: the zest on top burns when caramelizing the sugar and the zest in the custard sinks to the bottom and is inedible.

Let me reiterate that if you've never made
crème brûlée, you ought to try it. It's amazingly easy if you have a recipe in front of you. And if you don't want to complicate your first go at it with a variation, leave out the lime and just make the original. The only sticky points are these: incorporate the eggs carefully into the hot cream (which you don't need to worry about with the original recipe), and don't overcook. If you follow the directions, these shouldn't be an issue. And when burning the sugar on top, don't get the whole custard hot - just the top, or you'll cook the delicate inside.

When zesting, the ideal tool is a microplane, which you can pick up at most kitchen stores for $10 - $15. It will only take the very outer zest, which is where the oils are, and leave behind the lighter, whiter rind underneath, which is bitter and will leave you with less-than-stellar results. Most graters will not be so accommodating. If you don't currently own a microplane, break the bank and order one today. I use mine constantly for zest, nutmeg, and ginger (especially zest, since I incorporate a lot of lime and lemon into my cooking).

Well done
crème brûlée should be perfectly smooth and creamy on the inside, not at all runny, and not stiff or curdled. And it should send you straight to heaven when you eat it.

Vanilla Lime Crème Brûlée

2 c. cream
zest of 1 lime, only the very outer part
4 egg yolks
3 T sugar + 2 T or so more for tops
1/2 a vanilla bean, or 1/2 t. vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350
°. If your water bath will be in a stoneware or glass pan, preheat that in the oven as well. Heat about 6 cups of water for the water bath and set aside.

In a small saucepan, combine the cream and lime zest. Split the half vanilla bean, scrape out the seeds, and add the seeds and pod to the cream. (If you don't have a vanilla bean, add the vanilla in the next step.) Set the saucepan over low heat and let steep, without boiling, for about 30 minutes.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, 3 T. sugar, and vanilla extract, if not using a bean. Strain the zest and bean pod out of the cream and whisk into the egg yolks, pouring slowly and whisking quickly to make sure you carefully temper the yolks rather than scorch bits of them. (If you think this may have not gone so well, you can strain out any coddled yolks by straining the entire mixture before moving on.) Place four 4-oz. ramekins in your water bath dish, then fill them to the top with the custard. Gently pour the hot water into the water bath

Bake until the centers are just barely set, like gelatin. I usually bump the edge of the water bath dish enough to see the custards jiggle. If you test them early on, you'll see that they move like liquid and notice the difference when they are done. If you use a preheated stoneware dish, hot water, and your cream is quite warm, this will probably take about 18 minutes, or closer to 25 if your custard is cold going in. If you're using any regular 9" x 13" pan for the water bath, it may take 40-50 minutes. Remove to a rack and cool for 30-60 minutes, then chill in the refrigerator until cold, at least 3 hours.

Sprinkle about 1/2 T. sugar on each of the baked custards, coating the tops evenly. Using a torch, burn the sugar until slightly brown. This is best done by holding the torch 4 to 6 inches from the tops (assuming it's a kitchen-size torch, farther away for an industrial torch) and evenly warming the entire top, rather than trying to completely melt the sugar in one area at a time. Also, if you don't heat the sugar immediately after sprinkling it on, the custard will start to absorb it and you'll need to add more. If you don't have a torch, you can
brûlée the tops under a very hot broiler, placing the custards no farther than 4" from the heating element and burning the sugar as quickly as possible. Watch them closely and be careful not to get them too hot, or you will end up overcooking the custard and destroying the smooth texture. Chill at least 10 minutes more to let the caramelized sugar harden, or up to a day, before serving.


Heidi said...

Glad you're back. Love Creme Brulee, but I haven't ever made it at home.

Anonymous said...

Ooh--thank you for sharing! I'm a sucker for anything with lime. Well, any citrus, for that matter!

Suzer said...

Ooh one of my favourite recipes, and lime makes everything better;)

Tori said...

I tried this recipe (I've made creme brulee successfully many times before) and really liked it. The texture was perfect. My ramekins are about 4" across and 1" deep and I baked it for 18 minutes. The lime flavor is quite subtle, I think you could use twice as much zest and still be tasty. Thanks for sharing your recipe!

Rachel said...


I'm glad you liked the recipe! Thanks for posting about it, and I'm glad the texture turned out just right. :)

Unknown said...


I just have to thank you for this great & super easy recipe. I had recently purchased creme brullee dishes at a yard sale, and happened to have a ton of limes. Google helped me to find your blog. I have made the lime creme brullees twice since, and both times they came out perfectly! This recipe is so well described (I had never made creme brullee before), and so good, it was heavenly; french-restaurant quality. Thanks again!

Rachel said...

Sharon, you're so welcome. The biggest reason I have this blog is so people can eat good food, and I really like explaining things out so it doesn't seem difficult.

And, by the way, creme brulee is my favorite of all desserts, even being the chocolate lover that I am. So glad you liked it!

Erin said...

I think that your recipe looks great and easy to work with, especially for someone who might not know how to do it right without making scrambled eggs. I'm a culinary student and you explained it better than my teacher could. Thanks for the recipe.