Creme Brulee

I am off to Italy tomorrow to teach.  As I got up this morning at nearly six to walk the dog, I heard Ferd say “Mom”? “Mom are you there”?  And so I leaned down to give him a kiss and to tell him that I was only taking the dog for a walk; that I would be right back.  But we both know that tomorrow when we get up it will be 3 weeks before I see him again, which feels like it may as well be 3 years.  I always get a sick feeling in my stomach and consider giving up being without him ever again until he is married with children and they are so sick and tired of me, that packing my things and myself into the trailer out back is the right thing to do.

I did the creme brulee test for when I have to fly from Italy to France (where Ferdinand and Jonathan will meet me.)  I am looking forward to heavy cream and the wooden staircase that spirals from the third floor to the first.  And warm croissants that are served with a small plate of chocolates if you order a cup of coffee as well.  Aside from the missing my family bit, I love my job.  My first responsibilities when I get off the plane in Rome are to buy 10 liters of wine from the commune of Cortona, pumpkins for the front door, and piles of soup supplies, fresh bread, salami, pecorino and fresh mozzarella to welcome everyone.  Next, I go through the house to check the towel situation, the chocolate situation (everyone needs chocolate by their bed) and fill the vases in the bathrooms with fresh herbs and flowers.  The wood for the fireplace is kept in the barn attached to the house, and I pile as much as possible into the wheelbarrow, wheel it over to the door below the upstairs living room, and then carry it up.  I check for candles, music, set the table, and then wait for everyone to arrive.  In France it will be very much the same–food, wine, fire in the fireplace, chocolate, but instead of eating breakfast in the kitchen, I am thinking we will have it in the orangery.  It’s nice to have as much sun as possible in the morning on a Fall day.  And of course the creme brulee.  The trick I found is to take them out of the oven, once they have a uniform jiggle.  You don’t want it to be loose in the middle, and you don’t want it to be cooked past the state of creaminess.  Remove them from their water bath immediately once they are done, or use the water bath to continue to cook questionable one for a moment longer, without leaving it in the oven.  Next, they must be chilled before broiling the sugar into a caramel on top.  Otherwise, the cream will boil, and you will have lost the efforts you made to be gentle in the first place.  I don’t go for the torch.  I kneel by the oven, and watch them under the broiler like a hawk.

Bring to the simmer, 3 cups of heavy cream with 1 vanilla bean.  When you see tiny bubbles forming around the edges of the pan, remove from the heat and allow to steep.  (Mr. Pepin throws in a piece of orange zest.  You could also try a small piece of fresh ginger.)  Whisk separately, 6 egg yolks with 1/3 cup of sugar, adding the sugar in a thin stream, while you whisk constantly, until thick—about 5 minutes.  Stir some of the hot cream into the egg, by adding it just a drop at a time.  When this is completed, you want to strain the mixture to remove any bits, as you pour the liquid into your ramekins (leaving room at the top.)
Set the ramekins into a baking pan and pour hot, but not boiling water around them, to come halfway up the top.  Bake for about half an hour.   Cool completely in the fridge, then cover the tops with a layer of brown sugar and broil or torch until bubbly and smooth.

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