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Commercial Hardware and Techniques (part 9) - Cooking with Heat - Blowtorches for crème brûlée

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4. Cooking with (a Lot of) Heat

Common and uncommon hot temperatures.

If cooking at 400°F / 200°C produces something yummy, surely cooking at 800°F / 425°C must produce something twice as yummy.

But there are some edge cases—just as with “cooking” with cold—where extremely high heat can be used to achieve certain effects that are otherwise difficult. Let’s take a look at a few dishes that can be made by transferring lots of heat using blowtorches and high-temperature ovens.

4.1. Blowtorches for crème brûlée

Blowtorches can be used to provide very localized heat, enabling you to scorch and burn just those parts of the food at which you aim the flame. Torching tuna sushi, roasting peppers, and browning sous vide–cooked meats are all common uses, but creating the sugary crust on crème brûlée is the canonical excuse for a blowtorch in the kitchen. You can also use a blowtorch to prerender the fatty side of meats—try scoring and then torching the fatty side until it begins to brown before roasting.

When it comes to buying a torch, skip the “gourmet” torches and head to a hardware store to pick up a propane blowtorch—not a MAPP gas one, though. The smaller torches sold by kitchen specialty shops burn butane and work okay, but they don’t pack the same thermal punch as the hardware-store variety, which have larger nozzles and thus larger flames.

Quinn’s Crème Brûlée

Prepare six ramekins for baking by placing them in a large glass baking dish; set aside. Preheat oven to 325°F / 160°C.

In a bowl, separate out five large egg yolks, saving the egg whites for some other dish . Whisk the egg yolks until light and frothy; set bowl aside.

In a saucepan, measure out:

2 cups (475g) heavy cream

½ cup (100g) sugar

Heavy cream and whipping cream are essentially the same thing in the United States. Heavy cream usually has a slightly higher percentage of fat while whipping cream typically has a stabilizer such as carrageenan added, but you can usually use either one regardless of what is called for.

Cut a vanilla bean lengthwise and use the edge of a spoon to scrape out the seeds. Add both seeds and bean to saucepan. Set the burner to medium heat and cook the cream, sugar, and vanilla for 10 minutes, stirring continuously. Meanwhile, in a separate pot, bring to a boil enough water to partially fill the glass baking dish holding the ramekins.

After the cream mixture has been cooked for 10 minutes, fetch out the vanilla bean and discard it. Strain the mixture through a ~400 micron filter (cheesecloth works fine) into a measuring cup or other container that’s easy to pour from.

Set the bowl with the egg yolks on the counter, where you can whisk the yolks with one hand and hold the saucepan with the other. Slowly drizzle the hot cream mixture into the egg yolks, whisking the entire time to prevent the hot cream from cooking the egg yolks. Too slow is okay; too fast, and you’ll end up with scrambled eggs. (Sweet, tasty scrambled eggs, to be sure.)

Ladle the mixture into the six ramekins, taking care to not transfer any foam that you may have whisked up. (The foam will float and set on top of the brûlée.) Add the boiling water into the baking dish—enough to reach halfway up the sides of the ramekins—and transfer to oven.

Bake until the centers of the custards jiggle just a little when shaken, about 30 to 35 minutes. They should reach an internal temperature of 180°F / 82°C. Remove ramekins from baking dish and chill in fridge until cold, about three hours. (You can store them longer, of course.)

You can create a quick work surface for blowtorching by flipping a cookie sheet upside down and setting the ramekins on top.

Once cold, sprinkle a thin coating of sugar over the top of the custard. Using a blowtorch, melt and caramelize the sugar, sweeping the flame slowly across the surface until you’re happy with the color and appearance. Keep in mind that darker sugar will be more bitter; also make sure to at least melt all of the sugar, as otherwise the granulated, unmelted sugar will give an odd mouth-feel.

Transfer ramekins to fridge and store for 10 minutes to allow the sugar to cool; then serve. You can hold the torched brûlée for up to an hour before the sugary crust begins to get soggy.

Note

  • Try infusing other flavors into the cream as you cook it, such as orange, coffee, cocoa powder, or tea.


You can “upgrade” Bananas Foster—a simple and tasty dessert where the bananas are cooked in butter and sugar, spiked with rum, and then served over vanilla ice cream—by sprinkling sugar on the cooked bananas and then using a blowtorch to caramelize the sugar. To create a work surface, flip a cast iron pan upside-down, line it with foil, and set the bananas on that.

Practice using a blowtorch by melting sugar sprinkled on a sheet of aluminum foil on top of a metal cookie sheet or cast iron pan. Don’t get the flame too close; this is the most common mistake when cooking with a blowtorch. The blue part of the flame is hottest, but the surrounding air beyond the tip will still be plenty hot. You’ll know you’re definitely too close when the aluminum foil begins to melt—around 1220°F / 660°C.

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