Macarons are great, no doubt about it, the only caveat when you make them on a regular basis is that you are left with quite a lot of egg yolks. B. will tell you that this is never a real problem and when you consider the endless possibilities if egg yolks based desserts, I’d say he is right. Custards, creme anglaise, pots de cremes, zabaglione, chocolate mousse, etc…and of course cremes brulees!
I have had the same relationship with cremes brulees as I have had with macarons. I love to make macarons, but did not start really liking eatng them until a couple of years ago when I let my imagination free and started to play with fillings, toppings, centers, etc…It was kind of the same with creme brulees. The owner of the restaurant I worked for hated two things: cinnamon and flavored creme brulees. The custards had to remain as plain as possible and since I had to make close to 100 a day I quickly started to hate making them, but still loved eating some whenever we went to diner somewhere. As soon as the owners would go on vacation or took a night out, you can be sure that I was playing with the liquor cabinet and the fruit purees!!
When my mother came to visit she brought with her a couple of syrups I had been eyeing for some time and while I have not completely figured out what to do with some of them, I knew this "Liqueur de Pain d’Epices" would end up in a custard of some sort. Pain d’epices is one of those traditional French cakes that as a child you either love or hate. I happen to love it with a passion.
According to The French Food and Cook, "Pain d’épices originally comes from China and was imported in France in the Middle Ages, in particular in East France, with the cities of Dijon and Reims as leading producers. Today, pain d’épices remains a specialty of Eastern France (Dijon, Alsace…). Pain d’épices that usually contents 30% of honey is very energetic and was considered as a very good medicine." The common spice blend found in the cake loaf is usually a combination of orange peel, anise seeds, cinnamon, coves and sometimes juniper berries. I like that I was already self-medicating at a young age with cakes…
The liqueur itself had definite notes of cloves and anise and was somewhat reminiscent of Bailey’s with a note of orange peel in color and texture. Pretty darn good! The recipe for the creme brulee is my usual standard one; you can add pretty much anything you like to flavor and it turns out smooth and creamy everytime. There is nothing better than the crackling sound your spoon makes when you hit that burnt sugar crust..hmmhmmhmm. I strongly recommend you invest in a blow torch which you can find at any hardware store. Not only will you get great crusts everytime, but you can also use it for meringue pies for example. I find that a combination of granulated sugar and brown sugar helps achieve a tasty crust that is easy to "burn" heavenly.
1 cup egg yolks (between 6 and 8 depending on the size of your eggs)
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup liqueur de pain d’epices, or any other liqueur of your liking
1/4 cup brown sugar mixed with 1/4 cup white sugar for brulee topping
Preheat oven to 350F. Place 4 ramequins inside a roasting pan and set aside.
In a large bowl, whisk the egg yolks with the sugar until pale yellow. Heat the cream until scalding hot. Slowly whisk it into the egg yolk mixture, mix well, but not too vigorously or you will add too much air. Pour into a container and let cool to room temperature. Pass the mixture through a sieve in a container with a spout (the spout is not necessary but it makes pouring easier), and divide among the 4 ramequins. Pour water to about halfway up the sides of the ramequins and put the pan in the oven. Cook for about 20 minutes or until the mixture appear almost set, it should still wiggle a bit in the middle. It is ok to remove the pan from the oven at that point as the custard will continue to bake and set. Let cool to room, cover loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to use. Right before serving: divide sugar on top of each custard and use a blow torch to caramelise the top or put the pan under the broiler.
In my family we say that a good creme brulee is hot on top, room temp in the middle and cold at the bottom.
Last thing: the dishes are minis that my mother sent me the other day so I ended up with 8 minis but they were the perfect 2 bite treats with coffee.