As most engaged couples do, Mike and I registered for every kitchen gadget under the sun. Tiny kitchen space be damned, we most definitely did need that asparagus steamer! Oh? And glasses for port which are completely different from glasses with which to serve sherry? Two sets, please.  Well sure, we don’t really drink sherry but we might… one day.

We realized the error of our ways a few months after being married and living with all this… stuff. Most extraneous items have gone the way of the dodo, much to Goodwill’s joy. Somewhere in the DC-Nova area, a budget shopper’s kitchen is decked out with the finest items Crate & Barrel has to offer, courtesy of our family and friends. I hope they found a good home.

However, one item remained unused but stubbornly, cozily at home in the kitchen. It sat in the drawer, peeking out at me every time I grabbed a clean dish towel and mocking me and all of my intentions. That item is the creme brulee blow torch, which we registered for right away because obviouslywe would be throwing DC’s most delightful dinner parties as newlyweds and everyone knows no dinner party is complete without a luscious creme brulee.

Four years later, it was still in the packaging. My mother, perhaps hoping to prod me along, gave us a book of creme brulee recipes for Christmas one year. I thumbed through it dutifully and then onto the shelf it went, next to The Best of Russian Cooking (and we all know how well that turned out). But the June Cookbook Challenge brought this book off the shelf with a vengeance and I am so grateful that it did.

For my first ever creme brulee, I could have gone with the classic vanilla bean. That would have been a safe approach. But once I saw the recipe for ginger chile creme brulee – a spicy and sweet dessert?? – I was hooked. 

Looking back, I learned two key lessons from my first creme brulee experience. One, it takes some patience. Kinda like making risotto. And two, it’s helpful to have a blender at the ready for custard emergencies.

Recipe and more info after the jump.

Creme brulees consist of three main ingredients: egg yolks, sugar, and heavy cream. This forms the base custard consistency we all know and love. Additional ingredients create the flavor profiles, which makes me think this would be an exciting and easy recipe for experimentations. But this challenge is all about recipes so I followed it to the letter.

After mixing the egg yolks and sugar, I put them into a standing mixer with a whisk attachment and slowly added cream, orange liqueur, ginger, and two types of chiles. The result is a lovey golden cream flecked with red and green chili polka dots.

The next step is to heat the mixture without cooking the egg yolks (clutch detail). I fashioned a double boiler (oh, great the one thing we didn’t register for coming back to haunt me) out of pots and pans. Suddenly this becomes a lot like risotto – plenty of stirring and not a lot of action. Although I’ll be honest, after long workdays of deadlines, multitasking, strategizing and email, the simple action of standing over a stove to stir simmering cream with a wooden spoon is incredibly therapeutic. I bet the early settlers never had Restless Leg Syndrome.

Creme Brulee cookingSo the goal here is to slowly and gently reduce the cream until it “covers the back of a wooden spoon.” For novices like me, this is an especially vague direction. How heavily should it coat? Should it be like egg whites and stick to the back of a spoon? Should it be an opaque coating or something thinner? As I stirred, I watched the mixture gradually thicken, taking comfort in its changes. Until I began to see small flecks in the custard. Small golden flecks. Oh crap. The egg yolks were cooking. I was making a spicy scrambled egg.

Rather than toss the entire batch, I poured it into a blender and buzzed them for a few seconds then poured the mixture into the “large clean bowl” they were destined for via a chinoise. The time in the blender broke up any pre-cooked yolk and the strainer removed lingering pieces of pepper, helping to create a smooth, creamy dessert. I poured the entire batch into a shallow bowl and let it sit overnight in the refrigerator.

Before heading out the next evening, I transplanted the custard from the single large bowl to their ramekins, per the book’s directions. I don’t see the point in this step. Next time, I’ll pour it directly into ramekins so they are ready to serve from the get go.

The next evening, Bacon Terrorist and Itty Bitty Boozy Betty joined us for drinks and dessert. I sprinkled sugar over IMG_8170the ramekins and whipped out the blow torch, carmelizing the top like a pro.

The final result? Perfctly crusty tops breaking way to a creamy, spicy dessert. The heat from the peppers seeped into the cream, leaving a lingering spice on our tongues as we plunged in for the next bite.

This may have been an intense dessert process, but it was worth it.

Ginger Chile Creme Brule from Elegantly Easy Creme Brulee  

8 egg yolks
1/2 cup of graulated white sugar
2 cups heavy cream
2 TB orange liqueur such as Triple Sec or Grand Marnier
2 TB grated ginger
2 diced serrano peppers
1 dried habenero pepper or chili pepper, diced
1/4 cup white sugar for the carmelized topping 

In a large bowl, whisk together egg yolks and sugar until the mixture is thick and yellow. Add the cream, liqueur, gignger and both peppers and stir until mixed. 

Transfer mixture to a double boiler or a heatproof bowl set over bowling water. Stir constantly for 30 to 45 minutes or until mixture thickens. Careful not to let the egg yolks cook. Remove custard from heat and strain into a large, clean bowl (or preferred ramekins). The chili flavor will have diffused into the custard at this point – you do not want tiny bites of chili in the final product. Chill for 2 hours or overnight. The custard will thicken as it cools.

When you are ready to serve the creme brulee, sprinkle about 2 Tb of sugar over the top and torch until brown and bubbly. Enjoy!