Sour Creme Brulee

I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with Creme Brulee. Most restaurants make the same version with little or no creativity. It always ends up a rich vanilla custard covered in burned white sugar. In a nutshell, it’s boring. However, by introducing a little sour cream to the custard, it adds an exciting flavor profile brought on by the fermentation of the sour cream.

The trick to making a perfect dessert is using a water bath surrounding the custard and cooking at a lower heat. Experiments have shown that cooking custard at lower temperatures creates a margin of error of almost 10 degrees Fahrenheit, whereas custard heated quickly only has a 5 degree margin of error before curdling. Cooking it slow is like trying to stop a car on a dime while driving at 10 miles per hour instead of 60 MPH.

1 3/4 cups cream
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp orange zest
6 tsp Sugar
7 egg yolks
1/4 cup sour cream
6-8 tsp Turbinado/Raw sugar

1 – Preheat oven to 325 Degrees.

2 – Combine vanilla, orange zest and 1 cup cream in a saucepan over medium high heat.

3 – Combine sugar, egg yolks and remaining cream and whisk well. Bring vanilla/cream mixture to a boil.

4 – Slowly add hot cream mixture to cold egg mixture, starting with a small amount of hot mix whisking well and then gradually adding more hot cream, until the two are combined.

5- Add the sour cream to the custard mix and whisk well.

6 – Place 4 ramekins of at least 1 cup in volume each into a larger baking pan. Pour the custard through a sieve into ramekins, filling no more than 2/3rds of the way full.

7- Add water to the larger baking pan, filling until the water level is 1/2 of the way up the ramekins.

8- Bake for 25-40 minutes, until the middle of the custard reaches a temperature of 175 degrees. The edges will be set, but the center will be just slightly jiggly. There is a HUGE difference in time baking as the amount of water added to the pan, and the volume of each ramekin will cause cooking times to vary greatly. On this recipe, “doneness” is more important than the actual time in the oven.

9- Transfer ramekins to a cooling rack for 1 hour, then cover with plastic wrap and place them in the fridge for at least 4 hours for custard to set. You can keep the custard in the fridge for up to 4 days.

10- Prior to serving, gently blot up any condensation from the surface of the custard with a paper towel, sprinkle 2 tsp of turbinado/raw sugar over each ramekin and then turn the ramekin, making sure the an even layer of sugar is distributed evenly across the top of each custard. Clean the edges of the ramekin of any excess sugar.

11- Using a either a butane “creme brulee” torch or a propane blowtorch (the kind you find at your local hardware store, and also my preferred method) apply heat to the sugar in a circular motion until the sugar is bubbly and brown. Once the sugar is browned, the custard can be stored in the fridge for up to 45 minutes, but best served immediately.

12 – Garnish with chocolate shavings and berry fruit.

Notes: Egg proteins have a very narrow window between setting and curdling, be very careful not to overcook the custard (you’ll know it if you do it as the custard will be far from smooth.)

The 1/4 cup of sour cream lowers the pH of the custard, making the cream more likely to curdle, so it is extremely important that your whipping cream is extremely fresh. Fresh cream has a higher pH, and is not affected as much by the sour cream. However, if you have old cream the sour cream will cause your custard to curdle at a much lower temperature.

If you choose to make regular creme brulee, omit the sour cream and increase whipping cream to 2 cups.

Variations include:
Date Creme Brulee:
Use 5 Tbs of date sugar instead of white table sugar. Omit sour cream.
Agave Creme Brulee:
Use 5 Tbs of Agave Syrup instead of white table sugar, Reduce 1/2 cup of tequila by 3/4ths and add during step 5. Omit sour cream.
Almond Creme Brulee:
Reduce 1/2 cup Amaretto by 3/4ths add in step 5. Omit sour cream.
Orange Creme Brulee:
Increase orange zest to 3 Tbs, after bringing cream/vanilla/zest mixture to just boiling, remove from heat and let sit for 15 minutes prior to adding to egg mixture. Garnish with orange segments with skin, pith, membranes, and seeds removed (Orange Supreme). Omit sour cream.
Lemon Creme Brulee:
Replace orange zest with 3 Tbs lemon zest, after bringing cream/vanilla/zest mixture to just boiling, remove from heat and let sit for 15 minutes prior to adding to egg mixture. Omit sour cream. Garnish with twisted lemon peel and mint leaf.
Pumpkin Creme Brulee:
Add pinch of nutmeg, 1/4 tsp cinnamon and pinch of ginger powder to cream/vanilla mixture After bringing mixture to a boil, let sit for 15 minutes and then strain into egg mixture. Whisk in 1/4 cup of canned pumpkin in step 5 and don’t strain the custard mix into the ramekins. Omit sour cream.
Cherry Chocolate Creme Brulee:
Combine 1/4 cup Kirsch (or any cherry liqueur) and 1/4 cup Creme de Cocoa, reduce by 3/4ths. Add in step 5. Omit sour cream.

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