Creme Brulee – by Simon Hopkinson

This recipe by request of a subscriber (hint hint!)

Who is Simon Hopkinson?

We all have culinary defining moments in our lives…yes, even those of us who go through life thinking that putting a hash brown in a chicken burger is a culinary leap.

For the Camel, one of the great defining moments was at Bibendum in London, under the guidance of Mr Hopkinson.

Bibendum is a temple to great food. It’s been around for over 20 years, which is no surprise, but the chef has been there the whole time too. This isn’t a restaurant review, so on with the recipe. I’ve made a few comments….

600ml double cream – in Australia you can use the very thick double cream from supermarkets, which will give you a very firm custard; or 300ml of that and 300ml of single pouring cream for a lighter result.
1.5 vanilla pod, split lengthways
5 large egg yolks – that’s typically from a whole egg of around 60g
3 heaped tbsp caster sugar

Chill a (preferably) shallow, Pyrex dish with a capacity of around 700ml. Heat together the cream and vanilla pod using a solid saucepan until just about to boil. Whisk together vigorously to disperse the vanilla seeds into the cream, cover and leave to infuse for 30 minutes.

Briefly beat together the egg yolks and 1tbsp of the sugar in a small bowl until just mixed.

Decant a modicum of the infused (that’s pommy for pour a little slowly from the top of the bowl) cream on to the egg yolks and sugar and mix together. Reintroduce this to the saucepan of cream and thoroughly combine. Gently heat over a very low light (pommy for the lowest heat setting on a small burner), stirring constantly with a wooden (yes, it matters) spoon. After a few minutes, begin to take a break from stirring and look to see whether there is the occasional tremor of heat emanating from the base of the pan; this is clearly signalled by the odd blip (a bubble) upon the surface. Now is the moment to change from spoon to whisk and beat the mixture with vigour.

Resume stirring, but the whisk may have to be used again. A sure sign that the custard has achieved its ultimate thickness before disaster sets in (ie, sweet scrambled eggs), is when the consistency seems almost jelly-like, when a whisk clearly leaves its trail marks across the surface. Give it a final whisk and strain (through a sieve) into the chilled dish. Put directly into the fridge, uncovered, to thoroughly chill for at least 6 hours – preferably, overnight.

Or, if you want individual ones, pour the mix evenly into individual bowls, like the picture. I have seen brulee dishes like this used, but I think you miss out on the depth sensation, and the contrast between the cold bottom and the hot do get more crisp top though.

Either preheat an overhead grill to its highest temperature or have to hand a handyman’s blowtorch. A couple of hours or so before you wish to serve the crème brûlée, remove it from the fridge and evenly strew the surface with the remaining caster sugar. Using a water spray (as you may use when ironing clothes), play a light mist over the layer of sugar; this helps it caramelise evenly. To glaze, either place the dish as near to the heated grill as possible, watching it like a hawk and turning the dish around to achieve an even burnish or, to take a modern approach, burn it with the blowtorch.

Serve immediately.

Flavour variations are common, but I would caution against them, as they mask the beauty. Mild ginger is quite lovely (add about a teaspoon of ginger slices as well as vanilla, making sure to remove them before pouring), as is a trace of cardoman (3 pods in the cream) . Espresso (2 shots) is quite good, but I’m not in favour of fruits or chocolate. I will do a pot of chocolate recipe if you like sometime soon.


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