Vanilla Bean Creme Brûlée. A classic dessert, made with a blowtorch, and a life lesson from Julia Child. (This is a wordy post, if you choose to skip to the recipe, I won't be offended.)
(post originally published in Sept 2013/updated Feb 2021)
"Every woman should have a blowtorch" - Julia Child. I wholeheartedly agree. I finally own one and I finally made creme brûlée just so I could use it. I can see myself using my new kitchen blow torch for all kinds of things.
A month or so ago I was scrolling through Twitter just seeing if there was anything interesting going on when I spied a tweet about a Julia Child project called #LiveLikeJulia. I was intrigued so I decided to check it out.
The link led me to the author Karen Karbo's website, where she was inviting bloggers to live out one of the chapters of her new book for one week and in turn write about their experiences and thoughts. The book is called, " Julia Child Rules: Lessons on Savoring Life".
There are ten chapters and each blogger that was interested in the project was to pick just one chapter to write about. They all sounded so awesome. In fact I can't wait to read the entire book. I chose Chapter 10, " Every Woman Should Have a Blow Torch".
This chapter is about the last few years of Julia's life, with her traveling to France for the last time, saying bye to her beloved husband Paul when he passed away and traveling the states for various birthday celebrations, never ever slowing down.
" 'Make every meal an occasion' Sounds like 'Live each day as though it were your last' - just plain overwrought. People do preach it, but does anyone practice? Not me! But to love your art as well as your audience does seem to make for a pretty good living day by pleasant day."
I grew up in Santa Barbara, California, where Julia and Paul spent a lot of their time and where Julia lived the last years of her life. She actually lived in the same retirement community as my great aunt and uncle, just a little over a mile away from my childhood home.
We used to see Julia all the time at the grocery store or at the beach when we walked our dog. She would always stop to say hi to us and pet our dog.
Julia just loved life and lived it well. She was a non-stop worker but never looked at it as work. It was what she loved to do. Even towards the end of her life she didn't know how to slow down. In this chapter " she didn't just have a blowtorch, she was a blowtorch."
Old age didn't slow her down one bit. Nothing in life slowed her down.
I read the chapter several times to think about how I was going to " Live like Julia" and be the blowtorch. I first went out and bought a blowtorch. I stuck with a safer kitchen blowtorch rather than a benzomatic ( although I think that would be a better one to own, the kitchen one is a bit tame). And then I made my version of her creme brûlée from her cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking.
When people think of a kitchen blow torch, they think of creme brûlée, however with Julia being Julia she would often improvise in the kitchen with it in other applications.
This is one way how I live like Julia. If something doesn't go exactly how it is supposed to, I improvise quickly enough and never skip a beat. At least I try to most days.
I asked my husband how he sees me living like Julia and I had him read the chapter. He interpreted it as " Julia made small things into occasions. Like you ( that would be me) do with our kid's birthdays, anniversaries, end of summer or what not. You make sure these occasions are extra special for the person or event being honored. You thrive through thick and thin".
He thinks being a blow torch means thriving through whatever is thrown your way and never once wavering that it's a tough situation. You make the best of it, and thrive. This is me. I have always been as adaptable as I can. So much is always changing around us and I try my best to always roll with it and make it as best I can.
I am a blowtorch; I work hard, I am always improvising if the situation calls for it, pull it all together somehow. The busier I am the more I accomplish.. Old age wasn't an option for Julia Child, and it wont be for me either. What is old anyway?
I do take time to slow down and enjoy not being busy. I think people glorify being busy all the time, there definitely needs to be balance in life. Like a salad for dinner and luscious vanilla bean creme brûlée for dessert.
Creme Brûlée is a classic dessert based on creme anglaise, the base for many recipes from custards to ice cream. I make homemade ice cream fairly often and am familiar with creme anglaise so it is beyond me why I hadn't made creme brûlée before now. I can finally check this off of my culinary bucket list.
This is incredibly easy to make and the torching part was a little too much fun. I tested the recipe a few times and we throughly enjoyed a week of blow torching dessert.
What is creme brûlée made of?
Creme brûlée is made of just a few ingredients : egg yolks, cream, sugar, vanilla and a pinch of salt. I added in vanilla bean.
What does creme brûlée taste like?
Creme brûlée tastes like a rich vanilla ice cream but instead of cold, a warm, thick pudding like consistency with that crunchy, caramelized sugar crust you get to bust through with your spoon to get to the custard.
A few more notes about this vanilla bean creme brûlée recipe:
- This is a very easy recipe, but can be made into sweetened scrambled eggs easily. So pay close attention to tempering the egg yolks
- The custard is baked in ramekins set on a baking sheet with hot water for a water bath to ensure even cooking. You don't want the ramekins swimming around the water so use a cookie baking sheet or jelly roll pan and just enough water to reach halfway up the sides of the ramekins.
- The custard will not fully set when baked, that would be over baked. You still want it to have some jiggle in the middle and then it will set completely once cooled.
- Be careful when torching the custards to caramelize the sugar. It can burn quickly. Burnt sugar doesn't smell that great nor does it taste good either. Keep the torch a good distance away and use slow back and forth motions. You will see the sugar start to smoke and melt. If you burn the sugar, let it cool and carefully lift that part off with a spoon, then sprinkle on more sugar and try again.
Vanilla Bean Creme Brulee #LiveLikeJulia
- 4 cups organic heavy cream
- 2 vanilla beans
- ½ cup plus 1 Tbsp. organic cane sugar
- 8 egg yolks
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- Pinch salt
- Extra granulated sugar for topping 1-2 tablespoon per ramekin
- Set 8 – 6 ounce ramekins in a shallow baking pan (or two). Have hot water ready to go for the water bath when it is time to bake the custards.
- In a medium sauce pan pour in all of the heavy cream. Split the vanilla beans and scrape out the seeds into the cream. Whisk to disperse the seeds. Add the beans and set the heat to medium. Heat until steaming, being careful not to let it boil. Once hot, turn off the heat, cover and let steep for 20 minutes.
- Preheat oven to 325 deg F.
- In a separate bowl combine the egg yolks, sugar, salt and vanilla extract. Mix well until thick and pale and when you lift the beater a ribbon of mixture pours back into the bowl.
- When the cream has steeped for 20 minutes, strain it into another bowl or large mixing cup. Rinse and reserve the vanilla beans for another use. Start to whisk the eggs slowly and add the warmed cream mixture a little at a time to temper the eggs, about a fourth of a cup, slowly heating the eggs yolks being careful not to scramble them. Keep the cream pouring in a thin stream as you whisk, being careful not to incorporate too many bubbles or cause the mixture to foam up. You can strain again at this point to make sure none of the egg scrambled during the tempering.
- Divide the mixture amongst the ramekins in the baking pans. Pour hot water into the pan, making sure it reaches to about halfway up the ramekins. The water needs to be hot to ensure even cooking
- Place pans carefully in the oven, making sure no water splashes into the custards. Bake for 30-35 minutes. The custards will set on top but still be a little loose, they will set fully once cooled. Remove from the oven and remove the ramekins from the water bath to a cooling rack to cool completely. Chill at least 4 hours or overnight.
- When ready to serve, bring the custards to room temperature. Spoon 1-2 tablespoon granulated sugar over the top (you don’t want too much, but you don’t want too little either). Heat with a blowtorch until the sugar starts to bubble and darken, moving the flame around so no one spot gets too heated up and burns. Make one pass around each ramekin and then repeat to make sure all the sugar topping is caramelized. Serve immediately.
I really enjoyed this project and I am thrilled I found out about it. Karen Karbo is an award winning author of 14 novels including this one " Julia Child Rules" and " The Gospel According to Coco Chanel" ( I want to read that one as well). "Julia Child Rules" comes out October 1st and you can pre-purchase through Karen's site HERE
I didn't receive any compensation for this post, just a fun project to participate in.