Creme Brûlée with Orange Zest

Matt’s all time favorite dessert is creme brûlée.  He’s not picky about flavor, just as long as it’s rich custard beneath and crisp, burnt sugar on top. He could probably eat it every night – and not gain a pound! if only we were all so lucky – and never complain that he’s had too much.  I also love a good creme brûlée.  Lately, I’ve really been digging French desserts loaded with eggs and cream, so it fits the bill.
 Those French really know what they are doing, I’ll tell ya…how do they make desserts that are loaded with fat and heavy ingredients seem so light and fluffy and like you could eat 20 helpings of it?!?  Oh man, I found an amazing French bakery in Pittsburgh, La Gourmandine.  You have to go there.  It knocks the socks off of anywhere else, hands down…the quiche tastes like an amazing savory custard and all the pastries are TO DIE FOR.  I want to spend a day there learning how they work such magic.  And this, my friends, is why I am not skinny.

Ok, let’s get down to the business of this rockin’ dessert.  It’s actually rather simple to make and you can do most of it the day before, making it the perfect dessert for a dinner party.  The whole kitchen torch is a fun addition as well, unless you are paranoid that you will set the house on fire or burn your eyebrows off, like me, and then make your husband do that part.  Wasn’t the whole purpose of making this dessert just for him, and then I make him help?  Well, I still think I get the awesome wife card anyway.

You will need:
1 quart (4 cups) heavy cream
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
1/2 cup granulated sugar
6 large egg yolks
2 quarts hot water
zest of 1 orange
1 cup raw sugar

Preheat the oven to 325°.  Place the cream, vanilla bean and its pulp into a medium saucepan set over medium heat and bring to a very low simmer, this takes about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat, cover and allow to sit for 15 minutes.

In a medium bowl, whisk together sugar and the egg yolks until well blended and it just starts to lighten in color.  Strain the cream through a fine mesh sieve, then add to egg mixture a little at a time, stirring continually.

Pour the mixture into 6 (7 to 8-ounce) ramekins. Place the ramekins into a large cake pan or roasting pan and set in middle rack of the oven. Pour enough hot water into the pan to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake just until the creme brûlée is set, but still trembling in the center, approximately 40 to 45 minutes. Remove the ramekins from the roasting pan and let cool to room temperature.  Then refrigerate for at least 2 hours and up to 2 days.

Remove the creme brûlée from the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes prior to browning the sugar on top. Sprinkle the top of the custard with finely grated orange zest, then coat generously with the sugar.  Now for the best part, caramelizing the sugar.  Light a kitchen torch and hold it so the flame just touches the surface. Start at the center and spiral out toward the edges of the ramekins. If the sugar begins to burn, pull the torch away and blow on the sugar to extinguish the flame. Serve immediately!

*Note: if you don’t have a kitchen torch, you can place the ramekins under the broiler for a few minutes to caramelize the sugar.  Just watch carefully so it doesn’t burn too much.

serves: 6
time: 35 min active time + 40 min baking + chilling + 10 min prep for serving
adapted from: Alton Brown & Paula Deen

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