Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Fancy Dinner Party: Lemon & Bananas Foster Créme Brûlées

If there's one thing I've learned over the past year of cooking, it's that it's incredibly fun to play with fire (I'm waiting for a knowing is half the battle message from G.I. Joe). When Danielle invited us to her dinner party, I decided créme brûlée would be the most sophisticated way I could play with fire showcase my baking skills to enhance the evening. Never one to do things simply, I made two separate batches- one a delightfully zesty lemon version and the other a New Orleans spin with the fiery favorite bananas foster.

Lemon Créme Brûlée
Adapted from
Servings: 3-4 ramekins
Time: 4 hours (2 1/2 inactive)

Juice of 2 lemons
2 cups heavy cream
Zest of 1 lemon
1/2 cup sugar, plus extra for torching
2 tsp vanilla extract
5 large egg yolks

  1. Preheat the oven to 300 F.
  2. Bring the lemon juice to a boil over medium heat in a small saucepan. Once boiling, reduce the heat and let simmer until about 1 tbsp remains.
  3. In a separate saucepan, combine the cream, lemon zest and sugar over medium heat. Stir occasionally until steam rises (about 3 minutes). Then remove from heat and let sit for 15 minutes.
  4. Whisk the vanilla and egg yolks together in a large bowl until smooth.
  5. SLOWLY add the cream mixture while whisking constantly. 
  6. Mix in the lemon juice.
  7. Pour the mixture evenly into several ramekins then put the ramekins in a baking pan. 
  8. Fill the baking pan with warm water about halfway up the ramekins to help insulate them from the harsh heat.
  9. Cover loosely with aluminum foil and bake for 40-60 minutes until the custards set.
  10. Cool to room temperature then refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
  11. Sprinkle the tops with sugar then brûlée it with a handheld torch. Let the sugar harden for a minute.
  12. Resist the desire to see what else you can set on fire.
  13. Garnish with berries and serve.

As soon as you dig into the ramekin (which is one of my favorite words to say), you'll notice the bountiful but not overpowering lemon that helps separate this from any créme brûlée you've had before. It's finished off nicely by the berries, but it also goes splendidly with the bananas foster topping in case you forget to label them and accidentally mix up all the ramekins (but seriously what kind of idiot would do that...).

Bananas Foster Créme Brûlée
Servings: 5 ramekins
Time: 4 hours (2 1/2 inactive)

1 extra-large egg
4 extra-large egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar plus extra for torching
3 cups heavy cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp bourbon
2-3 bananas
Light brown sugar

  1. Preheat the oven to 300 F.
  2. Mix the egg, egg yolks and sugar together in a bowl until smooth.
  3. Scald the cream in a saucepan until steam starts to rise and tiny bubbles start to form on the sides.
  4. SLOWLY stir the cream into the egg mixture. 
  5. Stir in the vanilla extract and bourbon and pour into ramekins about 2/3 full. Set in a baking pan.
  6. Fill the baking pan with warm water about halfway up the ramekins to help insulate them from the harsh heat.
  7. Cover loosely with aluminum foil and bake for 40-60 minutes until the custards set.
  8. Cool to room temperature then refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
  9. Cover the tops with sliced bananas sprinkled with cinnamon.
  10. Generously sprinkle on brown sugar and white sugar.
  11. Carefully torch the sugars on top. Brown sugar will burn much more rapidly than white sugar.

You may notice some slight scorches from the fast burning brown sugar.
This was a solid addition to the dessert course, but it just didn't have the same pop as the lemon. The base is a standard and quite delicious créme brûlée, but the bourbon doesn't really show up. It's then elevated by a fabulous banana topping that makes it seem almost like the most incredible banana pudding ever. To make this even more awesome, I'd consider two alterations. The crispy sugar layer is somewhat disjointed due to the height variations of the bananas, so I would try to remedy this by adding a traditional brûlée layer prior to the bananas. Additionally, you could try to get even more of that incredible bananas foster flavor out by topping it with actual bananas foster (obviously, ignore the steps in the recipe that involve converting them to cupcakes, or go nuts and have cupcakes and créme brûlée to make you everyone's favorite diabetic friend).

Apparently I look super serious while torching, which is probably a good thing (at least for Danielle's kitchen's sake).
I was pleasantly surprised by how easy it easy to make créme brûlée (assuming you have the spare time to let it cool, it's very little work). There's nothing like finishing off a meal by cracking in to that hardened sugar barrier to reach the rich and creamy center. Fortunately, there is one thing that manages to come close- watching Scotty shake off the extreme fullness to give us an important lesson in dancing. 

Scotty shows his approval of the dessert with a traditional dance.

Still to come: I go even more overboard on dessert with peanut butter butterscotch cookies, and the rest of the dinner party dishes are shown along with even more shaking of tail feathers. 

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