Sweet Autumn in Prague: Honey Brûlée
I always get a bit anxious when the plane begins to land; the rumbling hydraulics of the landing gear extending from the metal belly, the wing tailcoats firing upwards to slow our speed, and my personal conviction that we are always landing too fast and destined for a skidding, fiery wreck. Last week was no different as the non-stop New York flight bound for Prague touched down at Havel Airport safely thus concluding our summer holidays were now officially behind us. I survived to hear all the phones switching on, arms panicking to reach overhead bins, and the Czech language filling and fracking once again in my ears. We were home. “Let’s get out of here,” I mumbled as I looked down. I spun my new wedding ring around my ring finger with my right digits. It felt cool and calming. “You have everything?” the husband asked. I nodded with a slight reassuring smile.
Now back home and relatively starving, I opened my fridge – ho-hum! “Old Mother Hubbard,” I thought, remembering that we purged our ice box before our 2 week trip to New England. Well, it certainly was an opportunity to start anew. Clean shelves brimming with colorful vegetables, fresh meats, and my favorite – dairy. I happen to love grocery shopping you should know. See, some people go to Temple, others church, and some go to the grocery store. That’s me. I’ve always figured nothing bad can ever happen to you at a grocery store, number one. Number two, how creative you can be! Your mind wanders silently through different combinations and recipes, tastes and smells, and you retreat into your own contemplative world. That afternoon I opted to do the shopping and headed down the 4 stories to the grocer without any trace of jet lag.
Fall is officially here, well, according to my market that is. Pumpkins and butternut squash were abound in the produce section. Parsnips were back, too (but no, thanks). I resigned myself to autumn cooking that day and thought of the Vermont maple syrup I had purchased during our trip. I reminded myself of the Vermont Maple Cream Pots I had made some time ago for The Bell Kitchen. Remembering the forest honey I had at home I wanted to return to this site with something sweet, autumn-like, and satisfying. After all, what dessert gives you that satisfaction of a spoon tap, tap, tapping across a crust? A brûlée, of course! But how about we do a honey brûlée this time, shall we? We shall!
Below you’ll find my recipe and some tips to create your own perfect brûlée.
First, brûlée is a custard made mostly from cream and egg yolks that rests under a crisp sugar crust. (“Brûlée” is the past participle from the French “brûler” or, “to burn”). Without the caramelized sugar, created by a kitchen torch to create that desired sugary crust, it would be referred to as a custard. If you do not have a kitchen torch (you can find them rather inexpensively for about $20) there truly is no substitute. I have tried to broil and use other methods but the advice is if you don’t have a blow torch proudly serve a delicious custard.
- Spend time whisking the egg yolks at room temperature, appx. 2-3 minutes. It prepares the eggs for the bake.
- If your milk/cream mixture is too hot when adding to your egg yolks beware – you will scramble and cook your eggs thus rendering the dessert to the bin! Make sure the temperature is just warm to the touch
- Add the boiling water once you have the baking dish/ramekins in the oven. This will prevent spillage if you were to move from a counter top to the oven. Also, if baking in large batches, the weight can sometimes be cumbersome.
- Remember to rotate the baking dish at the 30 minute mark.
- Your custards will be ready to remove from the oven once the edges are firm but the center remains with a slight jiggle.
- Apply the sugar and torch before serving, never before storing. Torch twice for a delicious crispy crust.
- 1 vanilla bean pod, scraped & split
- 3/4 cup honey
- 1 cup tepid milk
- 3 cups tepid heavy cream
- 8 large egg yolks or 10 medium
- 3/4 tsp salt
- Sugar for caramelizing
- Preheat oven to 300 F (150 C) and set the baking rack to the lowest part of the oven
- In a medium-sized sauce pan, bring honey and vanilla to a slow boil over medium heat. Whisk continuously. Caramelize honey until brown, appx. 5-8 min, and until the foam begins to subside
- Add the milk/cream mixture to the honey, combine thoroughly, and set aside to cool
- In a large bowl, add salt to the egg yolks and whisk for 2-3 minutes. Remove the bean pod. Slowly add the milk/cream by drops at first, whisking continuously, and add the rest of the mixture
- In a large baking dish, assemble the ramekins and evenly distribute the custard. Add boiling water to the dish until the water level reaches 3/4ths of the way up the ramekins. Bake for 55-65 minutes, turning the dish at the 30 minute mark. Custards are baked once the edges are firm but the middle jiggles slightly
- Remove from oven a chill for min. 1 hour then place in the refrigerator to thoroughly set - appx. 2 hours. Custards will last for up to 5 days
- Just before serving, add a small amount of sugar and, with a kitchen torch, caramelize the sugar. Repeat this step twice leaving a minute in between heat applications to ensure a satisfying, crispy crust.