Growing up I wasn’t a fan of desserts with a pudding consistency, except for chocolate pudding. (My love for the chocolate flavoring won out over my preference for cakes and cookies.) After reaching adulthood, I discovered crème caramel and crème brûleé. Thanks to those two delightful French desserts I’m now a confirmed believer in non-chocolate, creamy concoctions. And this easycrème brûleé with ginger is the best of the best.
Like its Hispanic relative the flan, French crème caramel is a custard with a soft caramel top. Crème brûleé has a hard shell of caramel on the top, typically made with a blow torch or by broiling a sugar coating after baking the custard underneath. If we’re doing a custard family tree, there is also pot de crème, but I digress. For more information check with my friend Jenni Field (PastryChefOnline); she has a great description of the differences among the traditional versions of these three French desserts.
But as you know, I’m not exactly a traditional gal.
This adventure started when my friend and neighbor Jamie (sister of Lanie, the creator of my favorite pasta and garlic, tuna with capers) gave me three lovely egg yolks. I know what to do with egg whites – meringue cookies of course – but egg yolks had me stumped for a moment. Then I thought of the crème cousins.
I really wanted to do a crème brûleé, because I love the crunchy top. But my blowtorch, a long ago gift from my kids, is currently in the basement, buried under piles of stuff. And besides, how many of you happen to have a blowtorch at the ready, just in case you get a hankering for a brûleéd dessert? While there is the broiling option for the topping, I am never quite sure that my ramekins will survive, especially as I have a rather bad record when it comes to fires.
So I glanced through my cookbooks, and happened upon an idea in a book, appropriately named Crème Brûleé, that includes a version with a separately caramelized top that requires neither a blowtorch nor a broiler. Eureka! Well, not exactly, as it turns out that the specified proportions and method didn’t work – at least for me. But it was a start.
After two more tries and a lot of dirty dishes, by Jove, I think I got it. (Cue the My Fair Lady music!) A caramel disk-topped custard that takes the best from the traditions I love and twists them just enough.
This version of crème brûleé with ginger is not as heavy as Jenni’s crème brûleé because I use whole milk and half heavy (whipping) cream. It also contains one of my all-time favorite sweets, candied or crystallized ginger. If you’re not a ginger lover, just leave it out or substitute another flavoring. With a light caramel sauce it reminds me of flan, but unlike “normal” flan, the sauce is on the bottom, not drizzled over the custard. Topped with a crazy looking but tasty no-blowtorch, no-broiler caramel disk, this dessert is anything but traditional.
Easy Crème Brûleé with Ginger
Servings – 3 ramekins of about ½ cup (4 ounces) each Cost – $4 for 3
Caramel – for top and bottom of each ramekin
- ½ cup white (granulated) sugar
- ¼ cup water
- tiny amount of oil (tasteless, such as canola or safflower)
- 3 egg yolks (Save whites for another use – meringue cookies in my house)
- 2 tablespooons plus 1 teaspoon of white sugar
- ½ teaspoon vanilla
- ¾ cup whole milk
- ¾ cup heavy (whipping) cream
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped candied or cystallized ginger
- ¼ – ½ teaspoon flour (just barely enough to coat the chopped ginger)
- pinch of salt
- Small, heavy pot
- Aluminum foil
- A pencil or pen
- Cookie sheet
- Small pastry brush or spoon
- Cutting board
- Small knife
- Medium size pot
- Measuring cup for liquids
- Measuring spoons
- Bowls for separating the eggs
- Medium mixing bowl
- Three small ramekins or other oven-safe single serving cups – 4 ounce size
- Oven safe dish large enough to hold all 3 ramekins
- Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
- On a piece of foil covering the cookie sheet, put down a ramekin and outline it. Repeat twice more, so you have 3 circles. Brush the circles with oil, preferably with a brush or the back of a spoon if you don’t have a pastry brush.
- Put the ½ cup of sugar and the ¼ cup of water in the small pot and bring them to a boil over medium-high heat. You can stir the sugar to dissolve it in the water before the mixture boils, but once they gets near a boil – and for the duration – don’t stir the mixture. (Stirring would break up the bubbles and prevent carmelization.) Keeping a watchful eye on the mixture, let it boil for about 8-10 minutes until it turns golden yellow brown. Don’t let the caramel get too dark, which can happen quickly – it becomes inedible and a bear to clean out of the pot.
- Once it is golden, carefully pour half of the mixture onto the 3 circles and the other half into the ramekins. The circles will harden as they cool. Don’t be obsessive about getting the circles perfect – I couldn’t and the crispy caramel disc will sit on top of the ramekin even if it isn’t round. Safety note: hot caramel can burn you easily. Several sources suggested wearing long sleeves and keeping a bowl of ice water nearby to immediately submerge any part of your hand if you should happen to spill some. I didn’t do the long sleeves, but I did prepare the ice water. It was like carrying an umbrella; because I was prepared, I didn’t spill any of the hot liquid.
- Chop the candied or crystallized ginger into the smallest pieces that you can manage and toss them with the flour.
- Separate the eggs, using either a traditional method or my slightly silly way. Whisk together the egg yolks, the remaining sugar, the vanilla and the pinch of salt.
- Heat the milk and cream until almost simmering, then add the chopped ginger. If skin develops on top, just whisk it vigorously until it breaks up.
- Pour the heated milk and cream into the egg mixture, whisking all the while.
- Place the ramekins in the larger pan and pour the mixture into the ramekins (which already have a thin layer of caramel on the bottom.) Put water in the pan until it is about halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Be careful not to let the water splash. I used a measuring cup, aiming the water into the corner of the pan, away from the ramekins.
- Bake the custards for 45-50 minutes, until they are set but still slightly jiggly. Some may get slightly browned on top, which is fine as long as they do not get burned. If you prefer a pristine top, cover the custards for the first 20-25 minutes of baking with waxed paper topped with aluminum foil.
- Once you take them out of the oven, cool the ramekins for 30 minutes in the water-filled pan, then refrigerate them for at least 3 hours.
- Let the crème brûleé stand at room temperature for at about an hour before serving. Gently pry the caramel circles off the foil and place one on top of each ramekin.