Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The crème brûlée

You take a mandarin in your hand and you press your finger against and into the peel. You rip part of it open and the small molecules of juice and heady aroma come flying out into the air and penetrate the nostrils. They make you salivate with anticipation before you have even laid eyes on the flesh of the fruit. The aroma is unsurpassed, that fresh aroma, the sweet, tangy promise of juicy fruit.

Mandarin. Mandarin. Mandarin. My favorite fruit of this time of year, early spring. I'm not looking at strawberries yet, no, not yet. Too soon. Not when there's still time to enjoy the mandarin. Its wrinkled orange skin and those little green leaves coming out every which way from its stem, is a beautiful sight.

Juiced, the mandarin makes the most refreshing drink, especially during the first hot days of spring. Eaten in segments, as a snack or after a meal, it can substitute a whole dessert with its unparalleled sweet flavor. Used in desserts, you might as well have hit the jackpot.

Mandarin crème brûlée can possibly be the most exciting dessert I've made in a long time, especially since I got to use my new toy. Remember this?

Crème brûlée may sound all difficult and complicated but trust me, it's not. It's burnt cream. You make a custard, you bake it in the oven until set, you then sprinkle some golden sugar on top and brûlée, or burn it, until a hard caramel is formed that cracks the minute you sink your spoon in it.

The blow-torching part may sound intimidating—S was actually afraid I was going to burn the apartment down, and granted he has reason to believe that, but I'm not going into any details right now—, but it's so incredibly easy to do.

The crème brûlée has a delicate, smooth and creamy texture, with an elegant and fresh mandarin flavor and a sweet, hard and crisp caramel topping. Not too sweet, even though you get a sugar rush once you bite into the caramel, leaving you with a fine, subtle mandarin aftertaste that lingers on long after you have finished eating the dessert. That's what this is; the splendid mandarin crème brûlée.

Mandarin Crème Brûlée
Adapted from here

What I love about this recipe, is the fact that you don't have to stand over the stovetop, stirring the custard until it thickens, which is what happens with some crème brûlée recipes. In this case, the custard is thickened as it cooks and sets in the oven. This results in an even more creamy and velvet-like texture.

I experimented with both fine and coarse demerara sugar for the caramel topping and I found that the finer the sugar, the easier it melts and caramelizes. I prefer demerara sugar over white sugar, because it has a more robust and full flavor, but white caster sugar will do as well. Don't use brown sugar, since it burns before it has a chance to melt and caramelize.

A blow torch is commonly used for caramelizing the sugar on top of the cream but if you don't have one, then no worries, you can use your oven grill.

Yield: 8 small or 4 large ramekins (about 1 liter of custard)

5 large egg yolks
3 large eggs
110 g caster sugar
120 ml mandarin juice, freshly squeezed (juice from 3 large mandarins)
590 ml cream, full-fat
20 g mandarin zest (from 6 large mandarins)
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
½ tsp salt

About 1 Tbsp fine demerara sugar (or white caster sugar) for each ramekin, for the caramel topping

Special equipment: rasp grater, fine sieve, 6 small (about 150 ml capacity) or 4 large and shallow (about 230 ml capacity) heatproof ramekins, large baking pan

In a large bowl, add the egg yolks, eggs, caster sugar and mandarin juice, and whisk lightly, until the eggs break apart and the ingredients are blended.

In a medium-sized, heavy-bottomed saucepan, add the cream and the mandarin zest and heat over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until it starts to simmer. Turn the heat off and let steep for 35-40 minutes.

Preheat your oven to 175 degrees Celsius.

Turn the heat on to medium and reheat the cream, stirring often, until it just starts to simmer. Turn the heat off and very slowly, pour the warm cream over the egg mixture, whisking quickly and continuously, being careful not to scramble your eggs.

Add the pure vanilla extract and the salt to your custard and whisk to combine.
Pour the custard through a fine sieve and into another large bowl. Discard the mandarin zest.

Place your ramekins into a large enough baking pan to fit them all. Fill the ramekins with the custard by 3/4 each. Fill the baking pan with enough boiling water to come 3/4 up the sides of the ramekins. Cover with aluminum foil and place the pan carefully on the lower rack of the oven.

Note: You can fill the baking pan with water once you put it in the oven so you don't run the risk of spilling the water in the ramekins.

Bake the custards until just set, about 20 minutes for small ramekins and 30 for larger ones. Check them 5 minutes earlier to make sure you're on the right track, and since not all ovens are the same, to make sure that the custards have not overcooked. Check doneness by gently touching with your finger the center of the custard. It needs to be wobbly but set, not liquid. It mustn't be hard in the middle.
Do not overcook the custards because that will ruin their creamy texture.

Remove the baking pan from the oven and remove the ramekins from the pan. Place them on a wire rack and allow the custards to come to room temperature. Cover them with plastic wrap and place them in the refrigerator to thoroughly chill, about 3 hours.

At this point, you can keep the custards covered and refrigerated for up to 4 days.

When you want to serve a custard, take the ramekin out of the fridge and continue with the brûlée part as instructed below.

How to brûlée the custard
Take the custards out of the refrigerator and sprinkle the tops with about 1 Tbsp sugar for each ramekin (with enough sugar to cover the cream).

• With a blow torch
Take the blow torch, turn it on to high, and burn the sugar with swift, swirling motions, until it takes on a rich golden-brown to deep brown color, it caramelizes and hardens.

• In the oven
Turn your oven grill on to high and place the custards at the top rack of the oven, the one closer to the grill. The sugar needs to melt and harden as quickly as possible or the cream underneath will overcook, so make sure the grill is nice and hot before you put them in. Allow the sugar to caramelize for 1-2 minutes, until it takes on a rich golden-brown to deep brown color, and hardens.
The result of the grilling is not the same you get with the blow torch but it's pretty close.

Serve them immediately.

Note: Once you have brûléed the custards, they need to be eaten straight away. Do not put them back in the fridge. If you do, the caramel will soften and become liquid.


  1. This is a creme brulee after my own heart - spiked with beautiful citrus. You've also inspired me to finally go get that kitchen torch I've been lusting over all this time :)

  2. And let's face it, the blow torch is, first and foremost, darn fun to use! I am always looking forward to new excuses for it. Now I am craving mandarins.

  3. Looks and sounds amazing. Great pics too!

  4. I am so making this! Do you know I spent 45 minutes today at the store down the street trying to get these guys to show me how to A. Fill with gas and B. Operate the blow torch I bought. Finally I think it is done and I can safely operate it and of course my first dessert was going to be crème brulée which is my mothers favorite. We have some clementines too, so this is perfect!!!

  5. Aha this may well be the tool that would get hubby in the kitchen!

  6. I love your description of peeling a mandarin. Such a wonderful fruit. I know I'd adore your Mandarin Crème Brûlée. I've recently also gone through a loving kumquat phase, and now it is the clementine... Ah, citrus.

  7. Ohhhh, myyyyy. And there are just a few mandarins still on the trees here... A must try! And your photos are as beautiful as ever, Magda! ~ David

  8. This is a really creative idea! ^^ I love mandarin oranges so much as well - I need to try this!

  9. It looks divine. Love your description of the mandarins, they do bring such pleasure, not to mention vitamins!! Would love to try this recipe!

  10. Hi Magda, what a beautiful creme brule! i never tried making it, but is on my list of things to try at least once. I might decide to go with your recipe!

    Something for you is waiting on my blog http://www.italianinthemidwest.com/2012/03/burger-bun.html

  11. I love creme brulee and I'm made it often but I've never made it with mandarins. Our mandarin season is about to start so I'd like to give this a try xx

  12. I love creme brulee and this looks amazing with mandarin oranges. I love the step by step pictures shown and I am really craving this right now.

  13. Love creme brulee but not a big fan of mandarins although I wouldn't mind eating it in a dessert. I just don't like eating the fruit although I like the zest and making marmalade with it.

  14. I love the picture with glittery looking sugar - so pretty!

  15. Magda, I love creme brulee and I love mandarins - why have I never combined to two! I bet it is delicious.
    And I love all of your detailed photos.

  16. What a gorgeous brulee! I think mandarins would be wonderful in it.

  17. As much as I love the pictures of the crackly caramelized layer on top, I think that last photograph of the mandaring sums up all your words of praise for this lovely fruit at the beginning.

  18. Brulee! I have just only really appreciated it recently! Need to make some soon :)

  19. Absolutely beautiful Magda. I have a blow torch in my cupboard that I've been afraid to use. I adore creme brulee and this mandarin version looks divine.

  20. I love the idea of adding the flavour of mandarins to a classic creme brulee. This looks SO tasty! My husband adores creme brulee, but I often find them too sweet. This recipe looks like the perfect compromise!

  21. Mhmm I love creme brulee. I haven't made it in a while though, because my torch ran out of gas and in my opinion the caramelized sugary top is definitely the best part. I love the addition of mandarin orange juice. Looks delicious!

  22. What an amazing and exciting flavor combination. It looks incredible.

  23. Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful and delicious I am sure.

  24. i adore creme brulee, and the addition of the mandarin must be heavenly. so glad to have stumbled upon your blog! it's great to find other expat food lovers like myself. :) can't wait to peruse through your other recipes!

  25. Beautiful pictures and the food looks so delicious. Now I am craving for it.