Editor’s note: Cook Like a Chef is a feature designed to help you master cooking techniques that will give your homemade meals professional style and carefully crafted flavor. Each month, a chef instructor from Cascade Culinary Institute at Central Oregon Community College walks us through a skill or recipe.
It’s not Thanksgiving dinner without something made with pumpkin for dessert.
Go ahead and make, buy or assign the traditional pumpkin pie or pumpkin cheesecake, but consider kicking it up a notch this year to impress your guests with your culinary skills.
Cook like a chef and wow your family and friends with individual pumpkin creme brulees (krem brew-LAYS).
This dessert is a showstopper, but it’s pretty simple to put together. It’s a lot easier than a pie, honestly!
“I like the contrast of textures. If you pull a creme brulee off well, the silkiness of the cool cream contrasts really well with the warm, crackly caramel topping,” Cascade Culinary Institute Chef Instructor and Certified Pastry Chef Laura Hagen said.
The literal translation is “burnt cream,” and you’ll need a small butane or propane torch to achieve the caramelized sugar top. Some home cooks use their oven broilers to finish off creme brulee, but it’s hard to get uniform caramelization that way.
So we’re including only the torch technique here.
But if you’re like a lot of us, you’ve always wanted that tool in your kitchen arsenal anyway. Creme brulee is a good excuse to spend about $30 for the torch and fuel canister. (Check out America’s Test Kitchen’s equipment reviews to research some different brands: www.americastestkitchen.com.)
You may want to practice making creme brulee well before the kitchen is busy with holiday meal preparations on Nov. 24. It’s good to know that the custard part (the pumpkin creme) can be made up to five days in advance.
To make the pumpkin creme, pumpkin puree (fresh or canned, not pie filling) is combined with egg yolks, sugar and spices. Heavy cream is warmed up separately over medium heat until it’s steaming, and then the heavy cream is whisked into the puree mixture.
“Stir the cream occasionally as it’s heating. The proteins in the cream will scorch if you’re not attentive. Once the cream starts to steam, I shut the heat off the burner,” Hagen said.
After the hot cream is combined with the pumpkin puree mixture, it’s strained through a sieve. Then it’s time to bake the custard in the oven or store it in the refrigerator until you’re ready to bake it.
The pumpkin cremes take 30 to 40 minutes to bake, so plan to pay close attention to them as they get close to being done. Hagen told us that when the custard starts to set, it goes fast.
“It’s done when you have a slight wetness in the middle. They should be set around the edges, and just a teeny bit jiggly in the middle,” Hagen said.
When you take the pumpkin cremes out of the oven, remove them from their water bath. Cool them and then place them in the refrigerator for at least two hours before serving.
“After you bake them, the custards can be held in the refrigerator for up to five days (before the tops gets bruleed). I put them in a Pyrex dish with a cover,” Hagen said.
When you’re ready to serve dessert, sprinkle a heaping tablespoon of sugar evenly over the top of each ramekin, and, using a blowtorch, slowly melt the sugar into a layer of caramelized crackle.
“Spread the sugar all the way out to the edge. Get a good, sandy layer on top. Make sure every area has sugar on it, not just the middle. Get the blue part of the flame, the hottest part, about 2 to 3 inches from the surface and wave it over the top of each ramekin to get the top evenly warmed up. You’ll see the sugar start to melt, and it’ll start to melt over the other sugar crystals. It will get nice and syrupy. Once you see the sugar starting to brown a little, move to another area of the same dish, and then come back to the first part. You want the top to be nice and brown and caramelized,” Hagen said.
If you overdo it and get some little burned, black areas, don’t fear, said Hagen. That won’t ruin your burnt cream at all. Be patient. Hagen said it takes her a couple of minutes to brulee each creme with the torch.
As with most recipes, it’ll take a couple of tries to master your technique, so be patient and enjoy the learning curve.
We hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving Day, filled with friends and family and good food.
We’re thankful for our chef instructors at Cascade Culinary Institute who help us to become better home cooks all year long.
— Reporter: ahighberger@ mac.com
Pumpkin Crème Brulée
(Makes 6 individual servings)
Note: You’ll need a hand-held cooking torch to create the crackly caramelized sugar topping.
1-1/2 C. pumpkin puree, fresh or canned (not pie filling)
6 egg yolks
1/3 C. granulated sugar
1/3 C. honey or maple syrup
1-1/2 tsp. ground ginger
½ tsp. ground cloves
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 TBS. Amaretto liqueur (optional)
4 C. heavy cream
½ C. granulated sugar for the brulee top
6 ramekins (or 6 small, shallow, heatproof baking dishes)
Preheat the oven to 325 F.
Combine all of the ingredients except the heavy cream and the granulated sugar for the brulee top in a medium bowl and whisk until well combined. The egg yolks should be completely incorporated with the sugar and spices.
Heat the cream over medium heat just until steaming, but just under a boil. Add the steaming cream to the puree and egg yolk mixture, and whisk until well combined. Be careful not to over mix. You don’t want to create excessive air and bubbles.
Strain the mixture through a fine sieve. You can store it in the refrigerator at this point or continue with baking.
Place the six ramekins in a large casserole dish with 2-inch deep sides. Ladle or pour the crème brulée mixture into the ramekins. Place the casserole dish in the oven and fill the casserole dish with boiling water from a teapot or pitcher, surrounding the ramekins until the water reaches half-way up the sides of the small dishes. If possible, place a cookie sheet over the top of the dishes to hold in the steam.
Cook for approximately 30 – 40 minutes until just set. If the pumpkin crème is really jiggly, put them back in the oven for five more minutes, and then check them again. You want a slight wetness to the middle, set around the edges, with just a teeny jiggle in the middle. When done, immediately remove them from the oven, being very careful with the hot water in the casserole dish. Remove the crèmes from the hot water, cool and place in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours before serving.
When ready to serve, coat the top of each pumpkin crème with a layer of granulated sugar (about 1 heaping tablespoon of sugar on each). Using a blowtorch, patiently melt the granulated sugar. Working on one at a time, wave the torch over the top to warm the sugar up evenly, and then focus in. Let the melted sugar syrup run over the other sugar crystals to continue the caramelization. Once you see some browning, move the torch to another area. Don’t worry if you get a few burned black spots. Torch the entire surface until it is evenly caramelized. Be patient, it should take a couple of minutes to brulee the crème in each ramekin.
Recipe from: Chef Instructor and Certified Pastry Chef Laura Hagen, Cascade Culinary Institute, Central Oregon Community College, www.cascadeculinary.com
Other uses for a kitchen torch
From Chef Instructor and Certified Pastry Chef Laura Hagen:
• Brown the marshmallows on a sweet potato casserole
• Put the finishing touch on a meringue
• Brulee the top of a tart
• Warm up a knife to cut through chocolate, etc.