A Small Package of Summer

When I told the editor-in-chief of Seasoned Cooking about this dessert, she nearly accosted me and demanded I write and share this article and these recipes with you. And who would I be to turn down the chance to gloat at what may be one of my finest desserts? So, without further hesitation, prepare your kitchen gear and set aside some afternoon this coming weekend to make a dessert truly worthy to be called "Summer in a Shell."

This dessert is great for many reasons. But first I will share how I came to know it -- its roots.

You may be familiar with one of the Discovery Channel's cooking shows called "Great Chefs." One Saturday morning, while flipping through various cartoons, I stumbled across a particular episode I had not seen previously. The featured dessert was a collection of French creme brulee served in various flavors. The chef, a Hawaiian, made a chocolate, vanilla, and a coffee (with Hawaiian Kona coffee) brulee; each were served in ceramic spoons. Well, you might imagine how seriously my eyes were glued to the television. One hour and one bag of groceries later, I was prepared to make my own batch of crème brulee.

What followed was literally one of the worst kitchen messes I had ever made! Every pot and pan, several various smaller utensils, and many sticks of butter, pints of cream, and copious amounts of burnt (not caramelized) sugar later I had concocted a batch of what was to be the premier dessert of the year. Vanilla crème brulee.

Please read this article. Copy the recipe. Learn from my mistakes. And I promise you that you too can make a crème brulee to wow your guests and win the favor of all family members close to you.

Vanilla Crème Brulee

This recipe is a great "learner's" recipe as it teaches some basics of heat and eggs. "And what is the enemy of eggs? That's right -- heat." If Jill Prescott has impressed upon me anything about the kitchen and cooking, it is this. (To learn more about Jill Prescott and her cooking philosophies, please visit www.ecoledecuisine.com) Pastries are not art. They are cuisine science. Not a hodge-podge of ingredients cooked together at some unknown heat for some unknown time. Let's begin! Ingredients you will need:
  • 2 cups heavy cream- shop around. Look at the ingredients. There should be only one: cream. Look for cream with upwards of 30% more of milk fat. Seaweed juice is not a substitute.
  • 1 Vanilla bean- if you are unable to locate a whole bean, substitute PURE vanilla extract; 2 teaspoons.
  • 4 egg yolks, slightly beaten.
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar.
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons of cold, UNSALTED butter, chunked.
  • A double-boiler. If you have not a double-boiler, substitute with one large pan of water and use smaller pots atop.
  1. In a heavy-bottomed sauce pan, place cream and vanilla bean. Bring to a quick boil, without boiling over, then simmer for five minutes, infusing the Vanilla bean.* Set aside.
  2. Add granulated sugar to egg yolks. With gently simmering water in the double-boiler, whisk together the sugar and egg until it becomes light and fluffy. Constantly whisk and keep the heat low! You're trying to avoid making sweetened, scrambled eggs. If scrambling begins, believe me, scrap it and start again. There is no salvaging at this point.
  3. Place the cream infusion on to the double-boiler. Temper the eggs by slowly adding small spoonfuls to the cream, while constantly whisking. With a wooden spoon, stir the rest of the eggs into the cream and continue stirring until the concoction begins thick enough to coat the back of the spoon. This may take upwards to ten minutes or more.
  4. Finally, place mixture into a glass bowl at room temperature. Immediately add butter, whisking in until completely melted. Store until cooled to room temperature, wrap and chill until needed
*If using the substitute, leave out until final step, then stir in gently.
  • Yields: 12+ servings
  • Preparation Time: 25 minutes

The "Summer" portion of this dessert is in its presentation and topping.

Using your own recipe or a boxed mix, make 12 tart shells. Fill each shell with 2 tablespoons of crème brulee. Top with your favourite summer berry that's in season. Raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries make this dish spectacular! The berries may be served whole, or pureed and sweetened. Serve chilled. Bon a petit!