Creme Brulee

Valentine's Day is in few days, and it is time to make a choice. Is it chocolate or else …

The legend is a bit inconsistent with the context of the celebration. It is said that Saint Valentine performed secret marriage ceremonies against the will of the emperor who was trying to grow his army with young single men. The link between Valentine's Day and romantic love seems to have been ignited by the English poet Geoffrey Chaucer, who idealized the concept of courtly love. And it seems that love and roses go together.

So for this week's recipe I thought it would be quite inspiring to prepare rose water crème brulee for Valentine's Day. This recipe is probably the purest of all, for it relies on the quality of ingredients.

Traditionally, crème brulee is custard made of a mixture of cream and eggs, topped with caramelized sugar. The origin is uncertain mainly because English, French and Spanish claim to have invented the crème brulee.

The English called it Cambridge burnt cream or trinity cream and developed a recipe as early as the 17th century. As for the Spanish, their crema catalane was invented in the early 18th century.

There are several versions of crème brulee flavored with fresh ginger, lemon or orange zest, fresh berries, rosemary or chocolate.

I have altered the recipe to make it more of my own signature. The use of rose water makes it quite exotic and brings a sweetness that allows me to use less sugar.

Creme Brulee

Makes six servings

10 egg yokes, farm fresh

2⁄3 cups sugar

1⁄3 cup sugar to sprinkle over the custard prior to caramelizing

1 1⁄2 cup half and half

2 1⁄2 heavy or whipping cream

2 vanilla bean stick

1⁄4 cup vanilla extract

2 Tbsp rose water (available in most specialty stores)

1 cup of toasted unsalted pistachios, roasted then grounded

Preparation

In a large saucepan heat the cream, the half and half and the vanilla beans for five minutes. Stir over low heat. Remove before it gets to a boil. Let it cool down. Open the vanilla beans in two, using a sharp small knife and scoop the beans into the cream. Mix well because the beans have the tendency to go to the bottom.

In a stainless bowl, beat the eggs yolks. Add the sugar, the vanilla extract and rose water and stir well.

Pour the cream into the egg mixture and whisk well together. Using a strainer, pour the mixture into a serving pitcher.

Prepare six ceramic ramekins. Put a baking pan into an oven rack that can be pulled toward you. The pan needs to be shallow, about 3 to 4 inches deep. Place the ramekins in the baking pan. Fill them with the cream mixture. Fill the baking pan with cold water up to two thirds of the height of the ramekin (this process is called bain Marie). Push the oven rack back to its original position. Set the oven temperature to 250 degrees.

The baking time varies according to the size and depth of the ramekins. It should be somewhere between one hour and one hour and a half. After 45 minutes of baking, check the custard every five minutes. You will know they are done when you can stick a knife in the custard and take it out clean. Another way is to shake it slightly and check its firmness.

If the custard is not quite ready and you prefer it a bit softer, take it out of the oven and leave it in its hot water for 15 to 20 minutes. Remove the ramekins from the baking pan and let them cool for 30 minutes, before refrigerating them for a couple of hours.

Sprinkle a thin layer of sugar evenly on top of each custard. Torch it if you have a torch or place them under a broiler for a couple a minutes until the color golden brown. Sprinkle toasted ground pistachios before serving.

Happy Valentine's!

Salim Ben Mami is head chef and owner of Café Collage restaurant in Oregon House.

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