History and Notes:
- Crème Brûlée is French for "Burnt Cream". If fact, neither the cream itself nor the sugar on top are "burnt", although both are cooked.
- Although a torch is now the standard tool for caramelising the sugar, or failing that an oven grill, at the time Crème Brûlée was first created neither existed. Instead, a small round iron has heated and then placed on top to caramelise the sugar (historical note: this iron was know as a "salamander"). This is a less controlled method than a torch or grill, so it is likely that some of the cream or sugar on the top was burnt instead of being merely caramelised. Perhaps this is where the "burnt" part of the name comes in. In any case, the term "Brûlée" is used by the French for a variety of different desserts which are toped with caramelised sugar.
- Various countries claim to have invented this recipe, including the French, Spanish and British. In the UK, it is claimed by some that the dish was invented in Trinity College in Cambridge. However, perhaps the earliest known reference was France in the 1691 release of Massialot's cookbook. In any case, there is a strong argument that the recipe was created in France. It is also true that the recipe is more popular in France than anywhere else, being a standard dessert offering in many French restaurants.
- This recipe is typically cooked in a small ceramic disk, known as a ramekin. A ramekin is defined as: "a small dish, often white in colour, typically preferred for the preparation and serving of various baked recipes". If you do not have ramekins, other small oven dishes can be used instead. However, a small and shallow ceramic dish is generally most suitable for two reasons: it allows an even cooking of the cream which results in a smooth texture; it provides individual sized portions. Following is a picture, courtesy of Wikipedia.
- Crème Brûlée is actually fairly easy to prepare. The only tricky thing is to judge when it is cooked enough. The exact cooking time depends on the size and shape of your ramekins. Once you've made the recipe successfully, simply note the cooking time you've used and always use the same in future.
- If you are making this recipe for the first time and are unsure how long to cook it for, simply cook for 50 minutes and then check every 10 minutes until done. A good trick for checking when it is cooked is to stick a toothpick in the centre; if it comes out clean (or with crumbs on it) then cooking is complete. If it comes out wet then cook another 10 minutes and check again. Don't overcook as the texture will become too firm rather than creamy.