What is a custard, anyway? It is a delicious dessert, yes, but technically speaking it's a liquid that has been thickened or set via the coagulation of egg protein. The key to perfect custards is to keep the internal temperature of the mixture below 185 °F / 85 °C—above that point, they have a tendency to curdle. And curdling, dear friends, is the bane of any custard baker.
Enter sous vide. By cooking custards in a sous vide bath, we can precisely dictate the temperature to which they are heated, thus eliminating the risk of a curdled dessert. We prepare our Crème Brûlée—along with other delightful eggy treats, scroll down for those recipes—in small Mason jars, so the desserts emerge individually portioned in their own adorable vessel. Before serving, we add a golden-brown layer of caramelized sugar using a blowtorch—don't worry if you've never tried it, we'll walk you through the technique. The result: a sunshine-hued dessert with a deliciously crackly top and a whisper of elegant sweetness, easy to whip up (even if you're serving a large group) and eminently satisfying
5 to 6 servings x4
Timing 3 hrs
Heat cream; slowly pour cream into egg mixture.
In a pot on the stove, heat cream to 158 °F / 70 °C.
Begin slowly pouring cream into the egg mixture—introducing the cream slowly ("tempering") allows us to combine ingredients without causing the eggs to curdle. You can increase the pour rate gradually as you go.
When you're tempering liquids together in a bowl, it helps to make a sturdy foundation for the bowl, so it doesn't wiggle around while you're holding a pot of hot liquids above it.
Here's the technique: Dampen a kitchen towel. Twist the ends of the towel and make a circle on the table that's big enough to hold your bowl. Place the bowl inside the circle.
Strain the mixture, then allow to rest for 20 to 30 minutes so that bubbles have time to rise to the top and dissipate.
Skim away any remaining bubbles.
If bubbles form on the surface of the custard as you pour, lightly flash the top with a blowtorch to remove them. Remember to do this quickly, using a pulsing action. You can easily cook the eggs on the surface if you torch too long.
To close the jars "finger-tip tight," place the lid on top of the jar, then twist the band to tighten using just your fingertips. When you begin to feel resistance, twist once in the opposite direction, then once more to tighten.
Closing the jars until "finger-tip tight" means that air will be able to escape from the jars when you submerge them in water. If you close them too tightly, the trapped air will press against the glass and could crack or break your jars.
Prepare an ice bath.
Once the jars are cold they will last up to a week, sealed, in the refrigerator.
There's isn't just one correct way to create a crackly top layer of caramelized sugar on your creme brûlée—every chef uses different sugars, torches, and techniques. Use the steps below to get started, and then customize your approach depending on your tools and preferences.
Remove the lid from the jar. If condensation has pooled on the surface of the custard, gently dab with the corner of a paper towel to remove.
Using a small sieve or your fingers, dust a layer of sugar over the surface of the custard. The more sugar you use, the more crunchy and caramelized your top layer will be.
Set blowtorch to a low gas-release setting. Holding the torch in your dominant hand, and the jar in the other, focus the flame on the custard, while rotating the jar. Control the heat by moving the torch closer and further from the custard—the distance should range from between 10 and 24 inches.
Once you have achieved the color you want, allow the sugar to set for five minutes. This will give it time to fully harden and reach its full crunchy potential.