Creme Brûlée

Creme Brulee is always a winner for a dessert.  It is also much easier to make using this technique then most people imagine.
Great for a dinner party because they can be made a day in advance and chilled in the fridge leaving just the sugar topping to do just before serving.
If you don’t own a blowtorch, you can try to caramelise them under the grill, but I think that rarely works as it takes too long and heats up the custard. My advice is – get a blowtorch.
This makes about 6-8 depending on the size of your ramekins.

Ingredients

  • 600ml double cream
  • 1 vanilla pod
  • 100g caster sugar (you will need extra for the topping)
  • 6 free-range egg yolks

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 150C/300F/Gas 2.
  2. Pour the cream into a saucepan. Split the vanilla pod lengthways and scrape the seeds into the cream. Then add the vanilla pod (halved if too long)
  3. Warm the cream to boiling point, then turn off the heat. It’s best if you can let it get quite cool.
  4. In a separate bowl, beat the sugar and egg yolks together until pale.
  5. Pour the cream over the egg mixture, whisking continuously while you pour until well mixed. I find this makes enough for about 6-8 ramekins, the variation in quantity comes from the egg sizes and the ramekin sizes.
  6. Fill the ramekins leaving a few millimetres for it to expand slightly when cooking.
  7. Boil a kettle full of water.
  8. Place the filled ramekins into a large roasting tray and carefully put the tray into the opened oven. It’s easier if you don’t add the water till you set the tray in the oven.
  9. Before closing the oven pour in enough hot water from the kettle to come two-thirds of the way up their outsides. (This is called a bain-marie.)
  10. Close the oven door and the custards will cook in the warm bain marie. I find this takes about 15-25 minutes. It can depend on the shape and size of your ramekin.
  11. When they are ready they should still have a nice wobble if gently shaken, they will set further when they cool. If you cook them too long they become too firm and may crack on top. I find 15-20 minutes gives them a lovely soft texture when cooled. Take them out of the oven and out of the bain marie to cool. Once cooled they can go into the fridge to chill further. (I find a pair of tongs ideal for removing the ramekins from the hot water. Take care not to drop them. A fish lift might slide under them and be helpful too.)
  12. When ready to serve, sprinkle one level teaspoon of caster sugar evenly over the surface of each crème brûlée, then caramelise with a chefs’ blow-torch. Don’t add too much sugar to the top or you will create a thick layer that’s hard to eat. To be at their best this must be done in the 60 minutes before serving or the crisp sugar top will go soft. I find it only takes a few minutes.

Variants

Fruit

Creme Brulee is especially nice with a thin layer of fruit at the bottom of the ramekin. Ideally, you want to have a contrast, not too sweet. You can make it seasonal almost anything will work. My personal favourites are Rhubarb, and Raspberry. You want to just gently cook the fruit with a little water and sugar to make a very light fruit compote. For me, the fruit has to keep its general shape. Rhubarb must be cooked but still hold together as pieces of stalk. Otherwise, it’s just a mush. Raspberries are also very delicate. I find you can add a handful and cook till they dissolve to give a base, then add the whole fruits just warming and removing from heat before they dissolve. Spoon a small amount into the base of the ramekin before you add the custard. It brings a sharp balance to the dessert and is eaten up through the layers of creamy sweet custard.

Rose Water

I’ve made this with rose water before and it was faint but tasty. I’d increase the quantity if doing again. For the above quantities I’d suggest 2 tbsp rose water. You could do more but it can be a quite overpowering flavour if too strong. I tried 1 tbsp and it was barely discernible. I think some trial and error is required. Actually, rose water goes well with rhubarb. I will try that when the rhubarb is in season. Also, if doing just rose flavour I would reduce the vanilla, you could even omit it completely.

Rum and Raisin Ice Cream

Delicious rum and raisin ice cream which is best served “affogato” style with a shot of Pedro Ximez sherry on the side, which can be poured over, around, or drunk along with the ice cream.
Rum and raisin ice cream, with PX sherry, makes a great alternative Christmas dessert.
Two to three days in advance of making take as many raisins as you fancy and put them in a bowl. Cover them with as much nice dark rum (I try and use Dark Matter) as it takes. Allow them to soak at room temperature for about 48 hours. They should plump up and absorb the rum, an extra day soaking will do no harm.
Once the raisins are ready to use make a classic vanilla ice cream. Right at the end pour in the strained raisins and as much of the rummy liquid as you think it can stand. Put it in the freezer.
Fabulous. You can make this a week or two in advance.

Rice Pudding – A School Dinner Classic

Rice pudding is one of the great classics of our childhood and school dinners. You might even remember the Ambrosia tinned rice pudding. Loved and loathed in equal measure. If like me, you loved it, or you fancy giving it another try this is the recipe for you. Based on a recipe by the wonderful Simon Hopkinson, his is by far the best I’ve come across, from his book “The Good Cook.”
Simple and easy, the ultimate comfort food. It’s relatively quick to assemble followed by a slow cook. It’s also best served lukewarm or about room temperature. So it’s good for doing in advance for that retro school dinner themed dinner party.
Raisins, a welcome fruity addition or an abomination of the devil? It’s up to you. Load ‘em up or leave ‘em out.
Ingredients
  • 40g butter
  • 75g caster sugar
  • 100g pudding rice or Spanish paella rice (a short grain rice, not something like basmati.) It sounds too little and looks too little when you cook, but trust the recipe, it’s right.
  • ½ a vanilla pod, split lengthways
  • 1 litre full cream milk (I usually have semi-skimmed in the fridge so I reduce this by 100ml and add an extra 100ml or double cream.)
  • 150ml double cream (add more if using semi-skimmed milk)
  • pinch of salt
  • generous freshly grated nutmeg, as much or as little as you like
  • Raisins (as many or as few as you prefer, even none, the pudding is great on its own.) Add them at the same time as the milk.
Method
  1. Pre-heat the oven to 140C fan
  2. Melt the butter on the stove top in either a casserole you will cook the pudding in or a suitable pot
  3. Add the sugar and stir, heating gently, till the butter and sugar are soft and amalgamated
  4. Add the rice and the vanilla pod
  5. Stir the rice into the sugary mix. It will coat the rice and the rice will heat up.
  6. After a minute or two add the milk. The cold milk cools the rice mixture and some lumps may form, but don’t panic. Keep stirring and the lumps will dissolve as the milk warms.
  7. Add the cream and salt, and half the nutmeg, and bring it all to the simmering point
  8. Now it’s oven time. Grate over a good amount of nutmeg on the settled milk, don’t stir it in as this will become part of the lovely caramelised topping.
  9. Put it in the oven for 60-90 minutes.
  10. The pudding is ready when a light skin has formed and it is mostly set with a wobbly middle.
  11. Take it out to cool. Best served either lukewarm or at room temperature.

Vanilla Ice Cream

Delicious on its own or use this as a base for any custard-like ice cream (eg. Toasted Oatmeal). Omit or reduce the vanilla depending on your intended end product.
I have to confess I now use a temperature probe (they cost a few pounds and are invaluable.) The temperature for the custard must be no more than 80C. A minimum is 70C. So I aim for about 75C. You can do this by eye by observing how the custard thickens and runs off the back of a spoon. The temperature probe approach makes sure you cook the eggs enough for safety but not enough to scramble them.
Ingredients
  • 1 vanilla pod
  • 300ml full-fat milk
  • 300ml double cream
  • 100g golden caster sugar
  • 4 egg yolks
Method
  1. Place a container in the freezer to chill (to hold the ice cream once it’s made). Split the vanilla pod lengthways, scrape the seeds out with the point of the knife and tip into a pan with the milk, cream and pod. Bring to the boil, then remove heat and leave to infuse for at least 20 mins. For the best flavour, this can be done a couple of hours beforehand and left to go cold.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk the sugar and egg yolks together for a few mins until they turn pale and fluffy.
  3. Put the vanilla cream back on the heat until it’s just about to boil, then carefully sieve the liquid onto the yolks, beating with the whisk until completely mixed.
  4. Pour the custard back into the pan and cook on the lowest heat, stirring slowly and continuously, making sure the spoon touches the bottom of the pan, for about 10 mins until it is about 75C.
  5. Allow the custard to cool in the fridge until completely chilled. You may want to stir occasionally or keep a lid on it to prevent it forming a skin
  6. Chill the container you intend to hold the finished ice cream in the freezer. A warm glass bowl, for example, will just melt the finished product, so pre-chilled is best. A plastic container shouldn’t need to be chilled.
  7. Put the chilled custard in your ice cream maker and churn.

Toasted Oatmeal Ice Cream

The basis for this ice cream is a classic vanilla ice cream, with a crumbled oatmeal praline added at the end.
Lovely served with a raspberry coulis or for luxury some red berry fruits preserved in an alcoholic liquor, the kind that’s often common in the shops around Christmas time.
Ingredients
  • 75g caster sugar
  • 60ml water
  • 50g pinhead oatmeal
  • One amount of the classic vanilla ice cream
Method
In summary, you make a crushed oatmeal praline, then make a simple vanilla ice cream, adding the crushed praline just before you put in the freezer.
  1. Read the vanilla ice cream recipe. There are preparatory stages that you may find useful to do first and then use the waiting time to make the praline.
  2. Make the oatmeal pralines: Toast the oatmeal in a dry pan until it has a nice toasted smell and colour. Critical that you avoid burning as this will have a dark bitter flavour. Once toasted tip the oatmeal onto a cool plate to stop it getting darker.
  3. Lightly oil a baking sheet to receive the praline.
  4. Make a caramel. Dissolve the sugar in the water. Turn the heat up and let it bubble until it becomes a dark golden colour like rich clear honey.
  5. Immediately stir in the oatmeal and quickly pour the mix onto the baking sheet. Spread it to be a layer about 5-6mm thick. (It’s very hot watch the surface below the sheet does not get burned.)
  6. Let it cool thoroughly. This should only take 30-40 minutes max.
  7. Break up pieces of praline and put a few at a time in a mortar and pestle. Grind and crush them till they are like biggish salt crystal size, bits of oatmeal are no bad thing as they give the finished ice cream some texture, you don’t want a fine dust. Do in batches and tip the ground praline into a bowl as you go. Once all is ground cover the bowl with cling film or a lid to prevent steam/moisture making it go sticky while you make the ice cream. Putting it in the freezer till the ice cream is ready for it might help.
  8. Make the vanilla ice cream. You may care to reduce or omit the vanilla according to taste.
  9. As the ice cream becomes ready, tip in the praline and let it mix through.
  10. Dispense it to the pre-chilled bowl.