A new taste for creme brulee

Entertaining

Entertaining: White chocolate is a delicious variation for the dessert.

Sunday Gourmet

May 07, 2000|By Betty Rosbottom | Betty Rosbottom,Los Angeles Times Syndicate

I've sampled creme brulee in every flavor imaginable. I've tried it scented with lemon grass and also with ginger. I've enjoyed dark chocolate as well as orange perfumed creations and admired pumpkin and also maple syrup versions. And, even though I've savored every bite of these "burnt custards" (as the name is translated), I can't remember one I liked better than the white chocolate creme brulee served at The Square, a well-known London restaurant.

Several months ago my husband and I and good friends dined in this French restaurant located in the Mayfair area of England's capital. We all ordered the set menu and expected a starter, entree and dessert, but much to our delight, little surprises kept arriving at our table.

Beautiful appetizers preceded the meal, and before our designated desserts came out, our waiter brought over miniature ramekins filled with white chocolate creme brulee. The portions consisted of no more that a few spoonfuls, but immediately I realized that the white chocolate added a silky smoothness to the already rich custards.

I've thought about those custards often since returning home, and last week set out to reproduce them in my own kitchen. White chocolate is quite sweet, so I had to lower the normal amount of sugar used in classic creme brulee. I sprinkled light brown sugar rather traditional white granulated sugar over the tops of the cooked, chilled custards before placing them under the broiler. (I don't have a propane torch, which some cooks keep on hand just to make this dessert, but the broiler method produced a delicious crunchy topping.) And, because strawberries are in season, I garnished my desserts with some of these crimson berries.

Since creme brulee can be made in advance and needs only to be placed under a broiler for a minute or two before serving, it is ideal to use for entertaining. These white chocolate custards would make a fine ending to a spring dinner party or buffet. The recipe serves 6 but can be doubled easily for larger gatherings or for an enthusiastic guest who wants seconds.

White Chocolate Creme Brulee With Strawberries

Serves 6

2 cups whipping cream

4 ounces white chocolate, coarsely chopped (see note)

6 large egg yolks

1 1/2 tablespoons white granulated sugar

3 to 4 tablespoons light brown sugar

8 to 10 ripe medium strawberries, hulled and sliced thinly lengthwise

Position rack in center of oven and preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Arrange 6 1/2 -cup ramekins, souffles or custard cups in roasting pan.

Combine cream and chocolate in heavy medium saucepan set over medium heat. Whisk constantly until white chocolate melts and mixture is smooth, several minutes. Remove from heat.

Whisk egg yolks and granulated sugar in large mixing bowl to blend. Gradually, in thin stream, whisk in chocolate-cream mixture.

Divide custard equally among dishes in pan. Pour enough hot water into pan to come halfway up sides of cups.

Bake custards until just set but still a little soft in center, about 30 minutes. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature. Remove from pan. Refrigerate, uncovered, at least 2 hours or overnight.

Fifteen minutes before serving custards, position oven rack 4 to 5 inches from heat source and preheat broiler.

Force brown sugar through a small sieve to coat top of each custard evenly. Place custards on baking sheet and then place under broiler.

Watch carefully, and broil until sugar melts and bubbles. Turn sheet and/or move custards around if necessary to ensure that sugar melts as evenly as possible. (Some grains of sugar may not melt completely.) Entire process will take 1 to 2 minutes.

Garnish each custard with some sliced strawberries and serve custards immediately.

Note: White chocolate is not a true chocolate because it does not contain chocolate liquor. Most white chocolate contains sugar, cocoa butter, milk solids, lecithin and vanilla. If cocoa butter is not mentioned, the product is known as confectionery coating. I used Ghirardelli's White Chocolate Confection in this recipe with excellent results.

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