As with many culinary creations, the origins of crème brûlée are contentious, with the English, Spanish, and French all staking claim. The Spanish have taken credit for this sensuous custard as crema catalana since the 18th century, while the English assert this dish originated in 17th century England, where it was known as burnt cream or Trinity cream. The earliest known written reference to crème brûlée is found in François Massialot’s 1691 cookbook, Nouveau cuisinier royal et bourgeois. Later, the French were attributed with advancing crème brûlée into vogue in the late 19th century. Since then, this elegant and satiny egg dessert with its sweet textural top has graced menus across the western world.

Crème brûlée is literally translated as “burnt cream.”

In recent years, chefs have embellished this dessert with a host of flavors — ginger, lavender, basil, chiles, coffee, mango, coconut, citrus, chocolate, berries and liquers, et al. I prefer Crème brûlée naked, savoring the basic mix of egg and sugars.

CREME BRULEE

4 vanilla beans, flattened and cut in half lengthwise
8 large egg yolks
3/4 C granulated sugar
1 C whole milk
3 C heavy cream

1/2 C dark brown sugar

Preheat oven to 275 F

Spoon out the vanilla seeds inside the open pods and place them in the bowl of a heavy duty mixer fitted with a whisk. Add the egg yolks and granulated sugar to the bowl and whisk at high speed for 2 minutes. Stir in the milk and cream. Cover and refrigerate several hours or overnight to allow the flavors to marry.

Pour mixture evenly into ramekins until almost full.

Place ramekins in a baking dish and carefully pour boiling water in pan to come halfway up sides of ramekins. Bake oven 35 to 40 minutes, until custards are set and the center jiggles slightly when gently shaken. Immediately remove custards from water bath to halt the cooking process; cool to room temperature, cover and refrigerate until firm.

Remove from refrigerator and sprinkle brown sugar over the custard. Either heat with a kitchen blowtorch or the broiler until sugar caramelizes evenly and forms a crust. Allow to sit at room temperature for a minute or two until caramelized sugar hardens.

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