Bitter Orange Crème Brûlée
The simple addition of orange zest adds a delightful dimension to this French classic, with subtle, tangy citrus notes enhancing the creamy-sweet custard. Home cooks who don’t have a chef’s blowtorch can easily use their broiler to caramelize the sugar topping. But remember to leave the oven door slightly open and keep watch. A golden sugar crust can quickly turn black if left too long under the flame.
This dessert was born of a collaboration between the cellar and the kitchen. Some years ago during the creation of Chandon Riche—our “off-dry” sparkling wine, which has a hint of sweetness—our winemaker recalled the aromatics issuing from the orange tree that grew not far from the wine cellar. He ran to the kitchen with a bottle of the new wine and asked if the chefs could produce a dessert that evoked the same citrus impression. Bitter Orange Crème Brûlée is now a signature dish at the restaurant.
For a nice pairing with this dessert, add the classic ladyfinger sugar cookies, if you like; they bring a crisp element to join the silky custard and the crunch of the sugar. Make them in advance of the crème brûlée.
For the cookies (optional):
3 large eggs, separated
1/2 cup/100 g sugar, plus 2 tbsp
1/2 tsp vanilla extract/essence 1/2 cup/60 g all-purpose/plain flour 3 tbsp confectioners’/icing sugar
For the crème brûlée :
2 cups/480 ml heavy (whipping) cream/double cream
1 cup/240 ml whole milk
5 tbsp grated orange zest
12 large egg yolks
1/2 cup/100 g sugar, plus 6 tbsp/75 g
To make the cookies: Preheat the oven to 350°F/180°C/gas 4. Line a baking sheet/tray with parchment/baking paper.
In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the egg yolks with the 1/2 cup sugar until the mixture turns pale yellow, about 1 minute. Add the vanilla and beat until the batter gets very thick, about 1 to 2 minutes longer. Using a rubber spatula, add the flour and mix slow and gently into the yolk mixture, just until it’s barely incorporated. (It is important not to overmix; some of the flower should still be visible along the edges and in the center of the bowl.)
In a clean bowl, using the electric mixer and clean beaters, beat the egg whites with the 2 tbsp sugar until soft peaks form. Using the rubber spatula, gently fold the egg white mixture into the batter. Do not stir vigorously. Using a ladle, in small batches if necessary, carefully scoop the batter into a pastry bag with a size 4 tip. Pipe thin lines of batter about 3 in/7.5 cm long and 1/4 in/6 mm thick onto the prepared baking sheet, spacing them about 1 in/25mm apart. Use a sifter or fine-mesh sieve to dust the cookies with the confectioners’/icing sugar.
Bake until golden, 10–12 minutes. Remove the tray from the oven and let the cookies cool on the pan for about 1 minute to allow them to firm up a bit. Using a spatula, carefully transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Repeat to use the remaining batter. You should have 25–30 cookies.
To make the crème brûlée: Preheat the oven to 300°F/150°C/gas 2.
In a medium saucepan, combine the cream, milk, and orange zest and heat until steam begins to rise. Do not let boil. Remove from the heat and nestle the pot in an ice bath. Let stand, stirring occasionally, until the cream mixture cools to room temperature, 5–10 minutes.
While the cream mixture is cooling, in a large bowl, combine the egg yolks and the 1/2 cup/100 g sugar. Whisk until the sugar is dissolved and thoroughly blended with the yolks. Gently whisk in the cream mixture.
Pour the custard through a fine-mesh sieve set over a large glass measuring pitcher or bowl with a pouring lip to strain out any solids. Divide the custard evenly among six 4-oz/120-ml ramekins. Place in a roasting pan and add water to come 1 in/2.5 cm up the sides of the ramekins. Bake until the custards are firm, 35–40 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool in the water bath to room temperature. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until well chilled, at least 2 hours and up to 2 days.
To serve, remove the plastic wrap and gently lay a paper towel/absorbent paper on top of each custard. Gently press down on the towel to remove any moisture buildup, being careful not to dent the custard. Sprinkle 1 tbsp sugar evenly over each custard. Using a blowtorch, pass the flame above the sugar until it melts and turns golden brown. Alternatively, preheat the broiler/grill and slip the custards under the broiler 4–6 in/10–15 cm from the heat source to melt the sugar; leave the oven door open slightly and watch closely, as the sugar can scorch suddenly. Let the crème brûlée stand at room temperature until the sugar hardens, 1–2 minutes.
If serving with the sugar cookies, lay 2 cookies over each custard, leaning them on the edge of the ramekins. Serve at once. Enjoy any extra cookies the following day or with a sweet, dessert wine.
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