Growing up, I remember her not being much of a dessert person. If we would go out as a family, she was more likely to order "just a coffee", or an extra fork in order to try whatever my brother and I were having (that is, if she could reach across the table in time to reach my brother's plate before it was empty ... if it was cheesecake, she didn't stand a chance). At a stretch, if there was something apple-y on the menu, maaaaaybe she would get it and share it with my dad.
But then there was the creme brulee. For my mom this was the "back off and get your own sandwich" of desserts. No matter where we were, or how full she may be, if they had creme brulee on the menu, that was it; the second "dessert stomach" would kick in and all bets were off. The hard crack of the sugar crust combined with the creamy inside became something of a custard kryptonite, and to this day remains by far and away her favourite dessert. This one is dedicated to my mom, for this, and another very special reason ...
This recipe requires the use of a kitchen torch. And despite my being in the food industry and, at the time, using a torch everyday for work, my mother more or less refused when I asked for one for Christmas. Despite my protestations and assurances, she was convinced I was going to somehow burn my house to the ground or otherwise maim myself. Fortunately for me, my dad, who also used to work in the food industry, seemed to have a little more faith in my ability to not get myself killed, and that Christmas morning, I unwrapped not only a brand new kitchen torch, but the mandolin I'd been wanting as well ("Don't worry dear" he said to my mother "if she loses a finger on the mandolin she can cauterize it with the torch" ... thanks dad, thanks a bunch). So here you go mom, with limbs and digits attached, and otherwise unscathed, writing this from the comfort of my structurally sound and non-singed apartment ... this one's for you.
When I was thinking about this recipe, I knew I didn't want to make just a standard creme brulee. As delicious as the classic is, I'm never really one to go the standard route, so I wrestled with various flavour combinations until I finally settled on ... lavender. Now, I don't make a habit out of eating flowers. I mean, they're beautiful and everything, but when it comes to things like rosewater, or flower petals in my salad ... no thanks, you can go ahead, and hey, have mine while you're at it. Lavender, however, is a bit of a different story for me. I don't know, it just works.
When working with lavender, there's definitely a fine line between achieving a delicious floral hint to your baked goods and ending up with something that tastes soapy, or like perfume. But the tablespoon that this recipe requires, infused in the cream for the custard, is that perfect floral hint that lingers on the palette and will make this recipe one of the front runners in your dessert arsenal, guaranteed. The lavender can be omitted completely, if the delicious classic is what you're after, or replaced with orange zest and cinnamon, or earl grey tea, or numerous other flavour combinations. Feel free to play with it and have a little fun, and as always:
Lavender Creme Brulee:
2 Cups Heavy Cream (35%)
1 Vanilla Bean (the seeds and the pod) OR 1 tablespoon Vanilla Extract
1 Tablespoon Culinary Grade Dried Lavender
4 Egg Yolks
1 Whole Egg
3/4 Cup Sugar
Extra Sugar for Topping
Preheat oven to 325F. In a small pot, combine cream, vanilla bean (with seeds removed, and the pod) and lavender, and simmer over medium-low heat for about 8-10 minutes, being careful not to bring to a full boil. In the meantime, boil 3-4 cups of water, either in a separate pot or kettle. Set aside. Pour cream through a strainer and set aside, making sure to keep warm. In a stand mixer, or a relatively large bowl, mix eggs and sugar until thick and pale yellow in colour. With mixer on low to medium-low speed, carefully and very slowly pour your cream mixture into the eggs and sugar, being careful not to pour too quickly (otherwise you'll have a bowl of scrambled eggs. Yuck!). When about a third of the cream has been incorporated successfully, the rest of the cream can be incorporated more quickly. Mix until combined. Using a high-rimmed baking sheet, place ramekins (5 large, more if making mini) evenly spaced, and fill with creme brulee mixture. Place the tray into the oven, and pour your boiling water into the pan until water reaches about half way up the sides of the ramekins. Push tray further back into the oven, being VERY careful not to let water slosh into the ramekins. Bake for 30 minutes, or until set. The mixture should still be wobbly, but not liquid. When set, remove ramekins one by one from the oven (not the whole tray at once as the water will slosh) and set on a cooling rack until cool to the touch. Cover each with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least three hours. When ready to serve, top each individual ramekin with an even layer of sugar, tapping out any excess. Igniting your torch and holding it close enough so the sugar caramelizes but not too close to burn, move the torch in an even motion until all of the sugar is caramelized. Serve immediately.