Crème brûlée used to be one of my favourite desserts. Whenever I went out to a restaurant and crème brûlée was on the menu, I ordered it. But then I grew disillusioned. I ate one too many bad crème brûlées. With crème brûlée there is nowhere to hide. If the custard isn’t creamy and unctuous and the sugary top doesn’t shatter when you whack it with your spoon then, quite frankly, it’s not a proper crème brûlée. It’s surprising how often chefs get these simple factors wrong.
Given the industrial quantities of crème brûlée I must have put away in my youth, it is criminal that I have never made the dish myself. So I was pleased to see that the lovely Jen over at Blue Kitchen Bakes has chosen the crème brûlée as the topic for this month’s Classic French Challenge. Particularly as I have had this recipe for an Amarula and chocolate brûlée by South African chef Justin Bonello, bookmarked for ages.
Now the thing is with Justin’s recipes, he’s a bit too kool for skool when it comes to detailed instructions. Which is fine if you are just cracking open a beer and chucking a big chunk of meat on the braai but not when it comes to something a little more complicated like a crème brûlée. Especially a creme brûlée which involves two different flavours and colours of custard.
It took me several attempts to get the dish right. My first brûlée didn’t set, then on the second I burnt the sugar. On the third go, I undercooked the sugar but overcooked the custard and it wasn’t until attempt number four that I produced a brûlée that passed muster.
I really struggled to get the right degree of caramelisation on the brûlées. I am still a bit nervy of my blow torch (after the incident with the table cloth) and I find that a grill produces uneven results (as well as heating up the custard underneath). I know it’s not traditional but I found that the easiest way round this is to make a simple caramel in a pan then pour it on top of the brûlée. If the brûlée is fridge cold, the caramel sets immediately and you get a nice even layer that has the requisite ‘crunch’ when hit with a spoon.
I might have cursed his lack of instructions but I have to give kudos to Justin for the flavour of his crème brûlée; it was divine. Combining two different custards in one dish is a clever twist on the classic recipe and the slightly bitter chocolate custard really complements the sweeter notes of the Amarula.
Amarula and Chocolate Crème Brûlée
(Makes enough for four 200ml ramekins)
- 500ml whipping cream
- 1 tsp vanilla paste
- 8 egg yolks
- 200g caster sugar plus 4tbsp for the tops
- 4 tbsp Amarula
- 4tbsp good quality dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa), grated
1. Preheat the oven to 140C/120C/gas 1. Heat the cream and vanilla in a small pan until just boiling. Whisk the egg yolks and sugar until smooth and then gradually pour the hot cream into the yolk mixture, whisking constantly. Return the whole lot to the pan and cook over a low heat, whisking constantly, until the mixture has thickened ever so slightly and the custard coats the back of a spoon.
2. Remove from the heat and pour half of the custard into a jug along with the Amarula. Return the remaining custard to a gentle heat and add the chocolate, stirring until melted. Pour the chocolate custard into a separate jug. Allow the custards to cool slightly (you can speed up the process by placing the bases of the jugs in cold water.) The custard needs to be thick but still pourable.
3. Now take a jug of custard in each hand and simultaneously pour equal quantities of each mixture into the ramekins. If your custard is the right consistency, you should be left with a two-tone ramekin of custard. Place the ramekins in a baking pan and fill two-thirds of the way up with hot water. Bake for 30 minutes then remove from the oven and allow to cool. Chill for at least 2 hours.
4. For the topping, heat 4 tbsp of caster sugar in a small pan over a medium heat until the sugar dissolves and turns a deep amber colour (do not stir otherwise the sugar may crystallise.) Pour some of the caramel over each brûlée and quickly tilt the brûlée so that the caramel completely covers the top. Return to the fridge until ready to serve.