On My Way to Creme Brulee

It seemed so simple really. I researched the web for a good Creme Brulee recipe. I found one, but on the way to Creme Brulee, I got sidetracked with the exciting world of vanilla beans. For two weeks I virtually traveled to Madagascar and learned my way around this exciting, expensive and delicious bean.

So, you say “Big. Hairy. Deal. Creme Brulee- blah, blah.” And then I say, “YA! IT IS- a Big. Hairy. Deal. Because I never made it. SO!” I was a late getting this in for the first of the month, but my adventure paid off and I not only got enough information for one article, but I also mined enough for two! Now, go quietly pour yourself something civil like coffee, or tea and enjoy the adventure. We are on our way to Creme Brulee.

Madagascar here I come, or maybe not

Keep in mind, I would have enjoyed traveling to Madagascar and it would have been a LOVELY (please say that with a British accent, you know like in the Jane Austin novels), but my writing pocketbook said N.O. Being Dutch, I was going for the great business tax deduction also.

My recipe called for one full vanilla bean. It also suggested that I use a Madagascar bourbon vanilla bean. Oh brother. Obviously the recipe author was unaware of my geographic location and I had a good chuckle. But, wanting to be true to the recipe and the experience, I decided to get a vanilla bean, or maybe… ten vanilla beans.

I started with amazon.com, but the reviews were not stellar, and for the price, I shook my head and headed out to search the web. Scrolling, typing, searching and somehow I stumbled upon SloFoodGroup.com.

SloFoodGroup is an online gourmet spice and flavor store. They had the vanilla beans I was looking for. But besides getting my beans, I got an education on vanilla beans. So I will “spill the beans” on the vanilla bean with you. Try to contain your excitement! You better go get some more tea or coffee. You will be the envy of coffee time or the hair salon with all this knowledge.

That’s one mean vanilla bean

According to the SlowFoodGroup article by Kidni Vance “Understanding the Difference in Frades of Vanilla Beans“. Vanilla beans have two key differences in the grade of vanilla beans. The first being moisture and the second being appearance. Then they have a “grade” of Grade A or Grade B.

Vance goes on and compares the grades of vanilla beans. Grade A vanilla beans are considered ‘gourmet’, or ‘prime’. They contain a higher moisture content than Grade B beans. Grade A bean flavor is more diluted but its transferal of flavor in a dish doesn’t take long. Grade A beans are plump, pliable, visibly oily and mostly uniform.

Making the grade

Image by Béa Beste from Pixabay

Grade B vanilla bean is considered ‘extraction grade’, and is used to make vanilla extract. Grade B beans have a lower moisture content, so their flavor is highly concentrated. This highly concentrated flavor is only brought out if the bean is steeped in a liquid for a long period of time. Grade B vanilla beans are skinny, dry and do not have the oily sheen on their skin.

When deciding which bean to use, one must consider what you will be making and the time required for the vanilla to infuse itself. Grade A vanilla beans don’t necessarily work well in a recipe where Grade B vanilla beans would be more suited.

I’ve “bean” in here awhile

Now that you have been educated, we can move on. I told you we would have some stops before we talk about Creme Brulee. Let’s get back to me ordering my beans. I went ahead and ordered my 10 beans with free shipping! They arrived relatively quickly and I was ready to get to work. BUT WAIT! Another adventure awaited.

I opened up the packaging and was pleased to see my 10 beans in a sealed, airtight package. The label contained a recipe for homemade vanilla extract. Since I had 10 beans and my recipe only called for 1 bean, I went ahead and made my own vanilla extract.

I took a flipper bottle from my kefir water stash and filled it with 16 oz Smirnoff Vodka. I took 6 vanilla beans, cut them open from top to bottom exposing the vanilla beans inside, and then cut them each in half and dropped them into the flipper bottle already containing the vodka. Then every few days I give the bottle a little shake. It is suggested to wait 90 days, but a purist will wait 180 days for the best vanilla.

What to do with spent vanilla beans

Since you’ve already spent a small fortune on these vanilla beans, once you have “spent” them making your homemade vanilla you can use them to make:

  • Vanilla Sugar– toss your leftover vanilla pods into an airtight container with granulated sugar. The vanilla beans will infuse the sugar with delicious vanilla flavor.
  • Flavored Maple Syrup– add vanilla flavor to maple syrup by adding in a few spent beans into the syrup container.
  • Vanilla Powder– dry out your vanilla pods and then grind them in a small spice grinder or food processor.
  • Simple Syrup– simmer water and sugar together to make simple syrup, toss in the used pods to make a vanilla simple syrup. Fun to add into iced coffee, iced tea, or cocktails.

See? Once again we got sidetracked. We are zig-zagging our way to Creme Brulee, we will get there I promise! So everyone back on the Creme Brulee bus and I will tell you about how the vanilla bean grows.

Warm climate orchid vine that grows above ground

Image by Kranich17 from Pixabay

The vanilla bean is actually an orchid. This orchid vine https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nhju7wj-LnI does not grow in the ground but on top of the ground and attaches itself to a tree and then takes off. It forms pods that look like green beans and are harvested https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2H0jdVv0fZ0 when they are yellow at the tip. Come next January, you will pull up stakes and move to Costa Rica and raise vanilla beans.

On with the show

The below recipe is an adaptation from Chelsea’s Messy Apron https://www.chelseasmessyapron.com/?s=creme+brulee . Please stop by her wonderful website and feast upon all her lovely recipes. Without further delay…

Creme Brulee-adapted from Chelsea’sMessyApron

Ingredients

  • 1 full vanilla bean, you MAY substitute with 1/2 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp. sea salt- you will be fine with just regular salt if that is all you have
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 5 large eggs at room temperature– NO EXCEPTIONS
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar but superfine white sugar is preferred, separated- 1/2c. and 1/4c.
  • 6 cups of water for boiling
  • Berries for topping is optional
  • Ramekins- 5/5oz, or 6/4oz, or 4/6oz
  • Oven at 325 F
  • Kitchen torch or broil setting on your oven for the sugar finish

Directions

  1. Take your vanilla bean and split it down the center with a sharp knife. Scrape out all the vanilla bean seeds, placing them in a large bowl and set the large bowl aside. Take the empty vanilla bean pods and place them in a small saucepan with the sea salt and heavy cream. Hang on if you’re using vanilla extract, don’t add it yet.
  2. Heat the heavy cream, sea salt, and bean pods in the saucepan, bringing the cream to a SIMMERDO NOT BOIL! Once the cream has been brought to a simmer, remove from heat to slightly cool. Go ahead and remove the vanilla bean pods from the simmered cream. If using vanilla extract, stir the vanilla extract into the cooling cream now.
  3. Grab your large bowl with the vanilla bean seeds in, or an empty bowl if you’re using vanilla extract, add the 5 large egg yolks and the 1/2 cup sugar. Beat this mixture for 2-3 minutes till it is light. In the mean-time take your 6 cups of water and place them in a pot, bringing to a boil.
  4. You now have two mixtures: Your Vanilla and Cream, Your Eggs and Sugar. Take 1/4 of the vanilla cream mixture and mix it into the egg-sugar until it is combined, then add the remaining vanilla cream mixture into the egg-sugar and stir until combined.
  5. Pour your mixture into your chosen size ramekins. Taking the filled ramekins and place them in a 9×13 cake pan and carefully add the boiling water around the ramekins till the water reaches halfway up the sides of the ramekins. (I, Michele, used a juice pitcher that had a small spout to prevent splashing water into the creme brulee mixture).
  6. With your oven already at 325 F, place your 9×13 with filled ramekins and water into the oven for 30-35 minutes, bake UNTIL the centers are barely set- a little jiggle. Remove from oven and completely cool at ROOM TEMPERATURE, then refrigerate for 3-4 hours before serving.
  7. Once you are ready to serve, take the remaining sugar and equally disperse ontop of each ramekin. Taking a kitchen torch, torch each top till the sugar melts and browns. If you have no kitchen torch then set your oven rack to the top rack position, turn your oven to broil, once the oven is ready, place your ramekins on a cookie sheet, slide your cookie sheet under the broiler and WATCH CLOSELY as it only takes 1-3 minutes to melt the sugar.
  8. Top immediately with fresh berries, cherry or blueberry pie filling and enjoy!

Friends! We made our way to Creme Brulee and got a little bit of education on the way. I sure hope you enjoyed our little adventure!

Michele

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