It’s our third Valentine’s Day as parents. (I almost wrote second but I did some counting back and corrected myself – parenthood does a number on your math skills and sense of time!) We should be experienced hands at juggling life and baby and dog and us, right? Sort of? We did remember to make dinner reservations in time this year instead of making a panicked realization a week before to look up what places still had tables open. And I finished all of Isabelle’s valentines for daycare a week in advance, so I almost feel like I’m winning at being organized, for this brief blissful moment.
Of course, all these little victories take a lot of coordination, understanding, and helping out on both sides. Here’s what love means to me right now: telling my hubby, “Can you hold Isabelle still over there while I torch these crème brûlées?” There’s nothing like knowing someone is watching your back and keeping your baby safe so you can play with fire in the kitchen in peace. So this post is dedicated to my husband, without whom we wouldn’t have a dinner reservation, and without whom these desserts might never have been finished and photographed in time. Don’t worry, he got to eat them after the shoot was finished – the ones that Isabelle didn’t get to first.
I was surprised to find out it had been a while since I had done crème brûlée on this blog. That’s the challenge, I guess with blogging and staying creative: I always want to try something new rather than go back to a recipe I’ve already done. Sometimes my hubby will ask, “What about that cheesecake/cookie/bread you made that one time?” and I’ll kind of squint and ponder and say, “Nah, I don’t really feel like making that again right now.”
But I’m not going to say no to a request on Valentine’s Day. I took it as a challenge to get even more creative and do a spin on this classic. Luckily, I recently received a shipment of wonderful products from Rodelle to try, and their selection of vanilla-y and chocolate-y items pretty much informed what I was going to do.
The deep dark secret to this crème brûlée is the layer of homemade chocolate sauce at the bottom, waiting to be swirled into the top layer of rich vanilla custard. Chocolate sauce is one of those things that once you make it yourself, you think, that’s it? Just a couple ingredients and a few minutes and I can have warm chocolate goodness to drizzle over anything? You don’t even need to melt chocolate – cocoa powder is all you need.
The easiest way to make chocolate sauce is with your favorite cocoa powder, sugar, and water. I added a bit of butter for some extra richness, plus some chocolate extract from Rodelle. I have never used chocolate extract before; it’s meant to be used similar to vanilla extract to add extra flavor to baked goods and dishes. As I discovered while reading up on chocolate extract, it’s made by soaking cacao beans in alcohol, which soak up the chocolate flavor and scent. When cacao beans are ground up to make chocolate, a lot of the “top notes” of the flavor are lost in the process. Chocolate extract brings back these notes, so adding it to your chocolate recipes basically rounds out and punches up the chocolate flavor.
This chocolate sauce is intense, not too sweet, and just the right thickness to blend with the crème brûlée. I decided to go with a sauce and not say a ganache, because the custard is already so rich, that I didn’t want a thick gooey layer of chocolate competing.
The crème brûlée, which doubles up on the vanilla intensity with vanilla beans and vanilla extract, is, as always for me, deceptively unnerving but surprisingly easy, just as I remembered. The key is to trust the jiggle test; if they look mostly set with the centers just wiggling when you jiggle the pan, take them out. If most of the custard seems to still be sloshing around, put them back in to cook. Remember, they will set up more as they cool and chill, so don’t worry that they don’t look totally done. I’m just really enamored of how all the colors and textures play against each other here: the sweet crackle of the caramelized sugar, the smooth, silken custard, and then the dark ribbon of liquid chocolate curling through. Date-night worthy, indeed. Apparently also toddler-worthy – Isabelle took one spoonful and deemed it, “yummy pudding.” I am going to take that as ringing endorsement of this recipe.
By the way, I had a lot of fun shooting these crème brûlées on Alessi’s gorgeous plates. You might remember I did a collaboration with them last year, and I’m still in love with their modern-meets-whimsical designs. These little heart shaped coffee spoons on a heart shaped crème brûlée – too twee? Somehow, Alessi makes it work.
Have a very sweet Valentine’s Day!
Disclaimer: I received several products from Rodelle to review. I was not compensated for this post and all opinions are my own.
- 1/2 cup cocoa powder
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1/2 teaspoon chocolate extract
Vanilla Crème Brûlée
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 1 vanilla bean
- 4 large egg yolks
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup extra sugar for brûléeing
For the chocolate sauce:
- Combine cocoa powder, sugar, water, and salt in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-low, whisking constantly to break up the lumps.
- Remove from heat and add in butter. Stir to melt and incorporate. Add in chocolate extract.
- Pour sauce into bottom of six to eight small ramekins, coating the bottoms evenly. You don't need to use all the sauce; just a thin layer is fine.
- Place ramekins in freezer to chill while making the creme brûlée custard.
For the creme brûlée custard:
- Place cream in a medium saucepan. Split vanilla bean and scrape pulp into the cream. Add vanilla bean to the cream.
- Bring cream to a boil over medium heat. Turn off heat and cover saucepan, and let steep for 10 minutes.
- Preheat oven to 325 minutes.
- Whisk egg yolks and sugar together in a medium bowl.
- Slowly pour about half of the cream mixture into the eggs, whisking constantly to temper the eggs. Pour the rest of the cream mixture in and whisk to combine.
- Add in vanilla extract and salt and whisk to combine. Strain the custard if desired to get rid of any lumps.
- Remove ramekins from freezer and divide custard mixture among the cups.
- Place ramekins in a large baking or roasting pan. Carefully fill the pan with hot water, taking care not to get water in the ramekins. Carefully place the pan into the oven.
- Bake for 40-45 minutes, until the custards seems mostly set and the centers still jiggle slightly. When the custards are done, they should shimmy slightly when you move the pan (careful not to spill water!) but the center should not move separately. If, however, it has set like Jello and there are bubbles forming on the top it is becoming overcooked and you should remove the custards immediately. If the custards start rising at any point they have become overcooked.
- Remove pan from oven. Take ramekins out of the water and place on wire rack to cool.
- When ramekins are cool enough to touch, cover and chill for at least 4 hours in the refrigerator.
- When you are ready to serve the crème brûlées, take one ramekin at a time and sprinkle the top with sugar evenly over the top. Using a hand-held blowtorch, carefully caramelize the sugar. Keep the flame at least 2 inches from the sugar to prevent burning the sugar. You can also caramelize the sugar under a broiler.
- Let the sugar cool for a couple of minutes before serving. Do not brûlée the custards more than 20 minutes before serving or the sugar may melt.