I have always believed that when you enter the kitchen, you lock all your worries and leave them out. Call me superstitious if you will, but I believe what you serve up on the dining table is a close reflection of your inner state. A credit note to Mum is due here. In spite of juggling raising two brats, a full-time job and the household chores, she always has had a sense of calm around her when she is in the kitchen. This somehow hasn’t propagated down the DNA sequence. What definitely has though, is that we are both fiercely territorial about our space in the kitchen. I like to call the shots in the kitchen, and even with a well-meaning kitchen hand at an arms distance I always feel claustrophobic. Oh! there’s another thing about me. I can be very fussy about ingredients. I have a strong belief (backed by scientific reason of course) that no two bars of chocolates behave the same when melted. One would most definitely burn before the other even when they are on the same flame.
When I was visiting home a couple of months ago, I browbeat a good friend of mine into inviting a few friends over for dinner to her place (sounds eerily familiar if you are my friend doesn’t it? ), with the promise that I’d fix up the dinner for all of us. I had had one too many sorry Penne in Pesto sauce, at apparently good Italian restaurants in Bangalore by now, so it had to be Pasta for the main course, and I thought I’d delight the chums with my favorite Choc molten lava cake for desserts. Now without delving into the tumultuous waves of emotions I was surfing on my visit home, I did exactly what I had strongly stood against. Cooked when I was firefighting a blaze internally. No prizes for guessing that the dinner was average at best and in spite of the friends giving me a pat on the back, I knew I could’ve done better. I am also a harsh critic of myself (closely followed by, you guessed it -Mum). I decided that I wouldn’t try a new recipe until I had put this uneasiness well and truly behind me.
Cut to Melbourne, two months later. Finally I was feeling ready. The spring in the step was back, I was ready to try something new. Then there was this abundance of Oranges lying around. As my mind usually does, It had wandered back in time to when I had visited Stanley in Tasmania. I wouldn’t mind going back time and again to Stanley Hotel for their stupendous crème brûlée. The one thing that stood out for me was the immaculate presentation and the even caramel coating on top of the crème brûlée. This exotic sounding dessert when literally translated into plain English reads – Burnt cream. Who would’ve guessed! I have made crème brûlée before and blow torched the hell out of caster sugar to make coating on top, but never got an even coat. I did some research on it and one option suggested, putting the creme brulee with generous dusting of caster sugar into the broiler of an oven for an evenly melted caramel. After wolfing down the crème brûlée at Stanley Hotel, I asked if I could have a word with the chef. After exchanging a few pleasantries, I asked him what was the secret behind the perfect coat of caramel? And when he said that they made the caramel on a pan and poured it into the ramekins for that even coat, I felt like a fool. Why hadn’t I thought about it! simple yet ingenuous.
In the end, orange infused crème brûlée served with candied oranges turned out to be a hit and somewhere deep within, I felt absolved of my Bangalore fiasco. So if I am ever serving up some supermarket bought pizzas, you’ll know well to keep me away from knives ;). Now here’s how to make some silky smooth Orange Crème Brûlée.
- zest of 4 oranges
- 3 cups heavy cream
- 6 large egg yolks
- 1/2 cup
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 tbsp orange liqueur
- Zest your oranges, then run a knife through it and chop it up even finer. You want as much of the orange zest to infuse into the cream as possible.
- Combine the chopped orange zest and the cream, and let it sit in the fridge for 2 hours.
- The orange zest needs time to infuse into the cream since we will be straining the zest out later.
- Preheat the oven to 150 degree Celsius.
- In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix egg yolks, and 1/2 cup sugar together on low speed for 2 minutes.
- Heat the cream in a heavy bottomed saucepan over medium high heat until scalded, bringing it almost to a boil, but not quite. An indication of scalding is lots of steam and bubbles forming on the sides.
- With the mixer on low speed, slowly pour the cream into the egg mixture.
- Add the vanilla and orange liqueur, and once it’s all combined, pour the mixture through a fine meshed sieve to strain out the orange zest.
- Pour the strained custard into ramekins until almost full.
- Place the ramekins in a baking pan and pour boiling water into the pan to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins.
- Bake for 35-40 minutes, until the crème brûlées only jiggle slightly when shaken. Take the crème brûlées out of the water bath and let cool to room temperature, then refrigerate until they firm up.
- When you’re ready to serve them, sprinkle over 1 tsp of sugar evenly on top of each crème brûlée, and either use a blowtorch or do it old school and use the broiler coils of your oven to caramelize the top (this process happens very quickly. Leave the door open as you broil and watch, don’t walk away from it).
- Candy oranges separately on a pan and use to decorate.