Adding Flavor to Crème BrûléeCrème brûlée typically includes cream, salt, egg yolks, sugar, and flavoring in the form of a vanilla bean, rosemary stems, etc. In this case, Meyer lemon peel adds bright citrus to the mix. Since it’s wildfire season in California, I had to scrub a thick coating of ash off the lemons I picked from my tree before getting started. Certainly not complaining from where I’m sitting in the Bay Area — smoky air and ash feel like the least of my 2020 concerns. To extract the vibrant lemon flavor, zest the fruit into some heavy cream in a small saucepan. Warm the mixture until steam just begins to rise from the surface. Turn off the heat and let the cream steep for 10 to 15 minutes.
Preparing Crème BrûléeWhile the lemon peel does its magic with the cream, gather the tools needed to continue the recipe. Once you start mixing the egg yolks into the cream, you don’t want to go digging around for something you need. Traditionally, crème brûlée is prepared in low-edged dishes that maximize real estate for the caramelized topping. Since the custard bakes in a water bath, I prefer to use higher-edged ramekins to avoid accidentally splashing water into the dessert. It means less crisp topping, but for me, it’s not worth the risk of sloshing water into the cups. If you decide to use more traditional crème brûlée dishes, you’ll probably need to adjust the baking time for this recipe. The six 6-ounce ramekins indicated for this recipe fit perfectly in a 9 by 13-inch baking dish. You will also need a fine-mesh strainer to separate the lemon zest from the custard base. I like to strain the mixture into a one-quart spouted glass measuring cup. The water for the water bath should be boiling, so you’ll want to begin heating it so it’s ready when you need it. One quart of water works just right with the ramekins and baking pan noted for this recipe. Once the cream has finished steeping, whisk together five egg yolks with one half cup of sugar. Add a bit of the cream to the eggs and then pour the egg mixture into the saucepan with the cream. Stir to combine and then strain the mixture into the spouted measuring cup, which makes it a breeze to divide the custard between the ramekins.
Baking Crème BrûléeSet the ramekins in the baking pan and transfer it to an oven preheated to 325° F. Carefully add boiling water to the pan, taking care not to burn yourself or splash water into the cups. You’ll want the water to reach halfway up the ramekins. Bake the custard until the centers wobble slightly when you nudge the side of the pan. This should take about 35 to 40 minutes. Cool the cups in the water bath until you can remove them without burning your fingers. Transfer the cups, uncovered, to the refrigerator. Chill them for several hours until completely cold.
Torch and Serve!Just before serving, scatter about a teaspoon of granulated sugar atop the custard in each ramekin (if a layer of foam extends up around the edges, you can scrape it off carefully with a toothpick for a tidier presentation). Caramelize the sugar with your oven’s broiler or, for a more satisfying experience, with open flame. If you don’t have a culinary torch but like the idea of finishing desserts with one, here’s a tip — a propane torch (available in the plumbing section of any hardware store) costs about the same and works about a hundred times better than most torches designed for kitchen use. To use a torch, move the flame rapidly over the sugar until it melts and turns as deep golden brown as you like. The sugar burns quickly, so watch carefully and be ready to pull the flame away swiftly! Also, the cups get quite hot as you work, so take care when moving them. To use the oven, set the ramekins on a baking sheet and place them on the oven’s top rack. Turn on the broiler and bake until the sugar melts and caramelizes, about 5 minutes. You’ll want to watch the ramekins carefully to avoid burning.
What to do with Leftover Egg Whites and Zested LemonsSince this recipe only uses egg yolks, you may be wondering what to do with the leftover whites. Egg whites form the basis of some incredible treats like meringues and Angel Food Cake. If you don’t feel like preparing another sweet treat right away, you can freeze the egg whites for later use. As for finding a way to use the zested lemons, I recommend mixing up some Vanilla Lemonade. It’s so refreshing and addictive! You can also slice and freeze the lemons to use in beverages later.
Meyer Lemon Crème Brûlée Serving IdeasThis luscious, decadent dessert, with its bright lemon flavor and crisp, toasty caramelized topping works well simple and unadorned. If you like, garnish with lemon verbena or mint, or toss on a few fresh berries for color. Come to think of it, I really should have garnished these little Meyer Lemon Crème Brûlée’s with fresh rosemary. Next time, for sure!
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Meyer Lemon Crème Brûlée
With its thin, crisp layer of caramelized sugar and a rich, luscious lemon custard, this Meyer Lemon Crème Brûlée is surprisingly simple to make.
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 3 medium Meyer lemons zested
- 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
- 5 large egg yolks
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 6 teaspoons granulated sugar
- Preheat oven to 325° F. In a medium saucepan, combine cream, lemon zest, and salt. Warm mixture over medium-low heat until steam just begins to rise from the surface. Remove from heat and let the mixture sit for 15 minutes.
- In a small bowl, whisk yolks and sugar together until well combined. Add a splash of the the cream into the egg-sugar mixture, then pour the mixture into the saucepan of cream. Add vanilla extract and stir to combine.
- Strain the warm mixture into a 1-quart heatproof measuring cup with a spout. Pouring carefully, divide the mixture between six 6-ounce ramekins.
- Set the ramekins in a baking dish and place it in the preheated oven. Carefully add boiling water to the pan so it reaches halfway up the sides of the ramekins, taking care not to splash water into the ramekins (if you use a 9 by 13-inch glass pan with 6-ounce ramekins, you’ll need about 4 cups boiling water).
- Bake until centers are barely set (they should still wobble when you nudge the pan), about 35 to 40 minutes. Remove the baking pan from the oven and let the ramekins cool in the water bath until you can remove them without burning your fingers.
- Transfer the ramekins, uncovered, to the refrigerator. Chill until cold, at least 3 hours. .
- Just before serving, top the custard in each ramekin with a teaspoon of sugar, jostling the cups to spread it in a thin, even layer (if the foam on top of the custard extends up the sides of the cups, you can scrape it off with a toothpick before adding the sugar for a tidier presentation if desired).
- Melt the sugar with propane torch by moving the flame quickly over the sugar until it turns golden brown. It burns quickly, so watch carefully.
- If you don’t have a torch, place ramekins on a baking pan and set them in the oven on the top rack. With the broiler on high, cook until the sugar melts and browns, about 5 minutes, watching carefully to prevent burning.
- Take care when serving as the ramekins will become quite hot as you caramelize the sugar.