Before Alain Sailhac took over the back of the house, Le Cirque had no pastry kitchen. He carved one out of part of his office and brought in pastry chef Dieter Schorner and his lieutenant, Francisco Gutierrez. Schorner and Gutierrez perfected the iconic egg custard under a lid of caramelized sugar. The recipe, which is more than thirty years old, is still so popular it’s stenciled on the bottom of the ramekin in which the dessert is served.
Here’s the full recipe:
2 cups heavy cream
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise, seeds scraped
A pinch of salt
4 large egg yolks
½ cup granulated sugar
8 teaspoons sugar in the raw, for glazing
1. Heat the oven to 300 degrees. In a medium saucepan, heat the cream with the vanilla bean, seeds, and salt over medium heat until bubbles appear around the edge.
2. In a large glass measuring cup, blend the egg yolks and granulated sugar with a wooden spoon. Slowly add the hot cream mixture, stirring gently. Remove the vanilla bean.
3. Arrange 4 shallow 4½-inch-long ramekins in a roasting pan. Slowly pour the custard into the ramekins, filling them almost to the top. Set the roasting pan in the center of the oven and carefully pour in enough hot water to reach halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Cover the pan loosely with foil and bake until the custards are firm at the edges but still a bit wobbly in the center, about 1 hour.
4. Transfer the ramekins to a rack to cool completely. Cover and refrigerate until cold, at least 3 hours.
5. Heat the broiler. Set the ramekins on a baking sheet and blot the surfaces of the custards to remove any condensation. Using a small sieve, sift 2 teaspoons of the sugar in the raw over each custard in a thin, even layer. Broil the custards on the top rack of the oven until the sugar is evenly caramelized, 30 seconds to 2 minutes. Let cool slightly, then serve at once.
At Le Cirque, the chefs use a kitchen torch to caramelize the sugar topping. You can find one at Williams-Sonoma stores. If using deeper 6-ounce ramekins, bake the custards for about 20 minutes longer and reduce the sugar topping to 1 teaspoon per custard. A fresh vanilla bean that’s been used once still has a lot of flavor. Rinse the bean and then let it dry at room temperature before wrapping and refrigerating. Used beans rehydrate when added to poaching liquid or milk to make a sauce. They can also be added to the sugar jar to make vanilla sugar. Variations pastry chefs love to play around with the flavorings in crème brûlée, infusing the cream in step 1 with toasted fennel seeds, coffee beans, strips of orange or lemon zest, or cardamom seeds. Or you can spread fresh raspberries in the ramekins before adding the custard—the possibilities are almost endless. Make ahead the crème brûlées can be refrigerated, covered, for up to
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151 E 58th St
New York, NY 10022