Friday, February 15, 2013

Lemony Creme Brulee

The only thing I don't like about creme brulee is that it's a little boring. It's also incredibly easy to make at home, so much so, that I'm always surprised to see it on menus at fine restaurants, particularly ones that take such care with the rest of their menus, dishes like shaved brussels sprouts drizzled in truffle oil or homemade tagliatelle in a wild boar ragu.

These days, I'm only tempted to make creme brulee when I can make it special or unique in some way, like this lemon-flavored creme brulee I made for Valentine's Day yesterday. Again, really no magic here at all. Just shave a healthy amount of lemon zest into your cream and bring it to a simmer.

The original recipe called for dressing up the dessert with some raspberries soaked in liqueur, but I couldn't find any raspberries, so I just served my lemon creme brulee naked, which was just fine by us. The addition of lemon adds a high, clean note of freshness that also cuts against the sometimes cloying sweetness of the custard.

My modifications:  I divided the recipe in half, which worked out just fine. And I didn't follow the directions about brown sugar and the broiler, though you can try that if you wanted to. Instead I covered the brulee with white sugar right before serving, then heated it up with a blowtorch. In a minute, the sugar crust had formed.

I could eat this for hours.

Lemon Creme Brulee
(from Bon Appetit)

3 cups whipping cream
5 teaspoons grated lemon peel
3/4 cup sugar
6 large egg yolks
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt

8 teaspoons golden brown sugar

2 1/2-pint containers fresh raspberries
1/4 cup Chambord (black-raspberry liqueur) or crème de cassis (black-currant liqueur)


Preheat oven to 325°F. Arrange eight 3/4-cup custard cups or ramekins in 13x9x2-inch metal baking pan. Combine cream and lemon peel in heavy small saucepan and bring to simmer. Whisk sugar and yolks in large bowl until thick, about 3 minutes. Gradually whisk in hot cream mixture, then vanilla and salt. Let stand 10 minutes. Strain custard, then divide among cups. Pour enough hot water into baking pan to come halfway up sides of cups.

Bake custards until just set in center, about 55 minutes. Remove custards from water bath; chill uncovered until firm, at least 3 hours. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and keep refrigerated.)

Preheat broiler. Place custard cups on baking sheet. Strain brown sugar through small sieve onto custards, dividing equally. Broil until sugar melts and browns, about 2 minutes. Chill until topping is hard and crisp, at least 1 hour and up to 2 hours.

Combine raspberries and liqueur in bowl. Let stand at room temperature at least 15 minutes and up to 1 hour. Spoon berry mixture atop custards.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Cookie Sticks

I'd heard good things about the Taste of Home series, so when I saw their Cookie book on sale while doing an errand at K-mart, I couldn't resist. Maybe this makes me low-class, but I'm the kind of guy who likes a photo accompaniment to each recipe, so if you're like me, this is the book for you.

The whole idea of these books and magazines is that they're collections of recipes by home chefs, which are then tested by professionals. Each recipe comes with a homey-sounding note from the bakers, whom I imagine toting their wares to church suppers (an impression that probably stems from the fact that when I entered "Taste of Home" on Google, the first you link I got was

My first attempt from this book were these cookie sticks, which are basically a chocolate chip cookie baked in two rectangular slabs and then cut into breadstick-like fingers. The ingredients are wonderfully basic--all stuff you'd have in your pantry--and since the fat here is vegetable oil instead of butter, it's pretty easy to put together. You don't even need to wait for the butter to come to room temp.

I know what you're thinking because it's what I was thinking--vegetable oil instead of butter? Heresy, I guess, and the batter has that funky oily taste to it. But when these guys bake, the cookie remains extremely moist and the flavor is rich and addictive. I mean, like crack addictive. Like, get these out of my house now before I consume the whole batch.

NOTE:  Don't forget to divide the dough in half!

Cookie Sticks
(adapted from Taste of Home Cookies)
Yield:  3 dozen

1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar (I used half dark and half light)
1 egg
1 tsp vanila
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
about 1 cup (6 oz) semisweet chocolate chips

In a large bowl, combine oil, sugars, egg, and vanilla. In another bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt, then gradually add into sugar mixture.

Divide dough in half. Line a large baking sheet with parchment, and shape the two dough halves into two 15-inch x 3-inch rectangles, about 3 inches apart. Sprinkle chocolate chips over dough and press lightly.

Bake at 375 for 6-7 minutes or a few minutes longer for crisper cookies. Cool for 5 minutes. Cut with a serrated knife into 1-inch strips and remove to racks to cool completely.