, Gloucester, MA

July 24, 2013

Pat's Kitchen: A classic Creme Brulee

Pat's Kitchen
Patricia Altomare

---- — Homemade crème brulee can taste as good as what you find in the restaurants.

Baking individual custards was very popular in the 1940’s and 50’s. The difference here is the sugar topping which is caramelized with a torch until it is crispy, called “burning the sugar.”

Now we have a dessert that will make it to the “Hall of Fame.” Just recently I saw that they are selling flavored sugar toppings for brulees, such as raspberry and praline.

I first tried Crème Brulee when in Kansas for a family wedding. Four of the evenings we were there we would meet at a different restaurant for supper. That first night my sister-in-law suggested we try a crème brulee for dessert. We ordered one with 2 spoons and shared it. I was hooked and each night thereafter we would share a crème brulee to end our meal. They are delicious and light and absolutely went perfectly with my after dinner coffee.

In regards to the torch, the consensus is that a small propane torch purchased at Wal-Mart, Target, or Home Depot for $20-$40 works well, apparently better than a butane torch. Check around to find a good buy. If you have any suggestions on this from your experience, please let me know so that I can share it with others.

Basics of crème brulee:

“Temper” the warm cream into the eggs, slowly whisking it in. Tempering raises the eggs’ temperature without the risk of scrambling.

Setting them in a pan of water, a water bath, also ensures the custard will not curdle. The sides of the pan should be no more than 2 inches high.

Bake the custards just until set. Test by tapping one, if it is still runny, bake 3-5 minutes more then test again. When they quiver like jello they are done.

The custards must be cold before caramelizing or they will melt.

Vanilla Crème Brulee’

Makes six 4-ounce ramekins

Preheat oven to 325 degrees

1. For the most intense vanilla flavor, pulverize one-half of a vanilla bean (that has been chopped into one- quarter inch pieces) with 2 tablespoons sugar to make “vanilla sugar”. (A coffee grinder works great.)

Note: May substitute vanilla bean with 1 tablespoon of pure vanilla extract (not imitation).

2. Warm 1 cup heavy cream, 1 cup half and half and vanilla sugar (if using) in a saucepan over medium heat just until steam rises.

3. In a mixing bowl whisk together 3 egg yolks, 1 egg, one-quarter cup sugar, pinch of salt, and adding vanilla extract at this time if not using vanilla bean.

Temper hot cream mixture into eggs, strain into a measuring cup with a pour spout, and divide among six 4-oz. ovenproof ramekins or custard cups. Arrange dishes in a baking pan, and then carefully transfer the pan to pre-heated oven. Add hot water to the pan and bake custards 35-45 minutes, or until just set; do not overcook.

Remove ramekins from the water bath, cool, then wrap loosely in plastic wrap in plastic wrap. Chill until completely cold, preferably overnight.

Crème Brulee Sugar Topping -- Makes three-quarters cup (for six 4-oz. crème brulees)

Combine one-half cup brown sugar and one-quarter cup white granulated sugar (raw sugar is good). Spread the mixture on a parchment-line baking sheet. After baking the brulees, turn off the oven and place the baking sheet in the oven for an hour to dry out the sugar. Transfer to a food processor or coffee grinder to pulverize until fine. Store in a tight container until ready to caramelize.

To caramelize top of brulee:

1. Blot custards dry with a paper towel. Sprinkle 1-2 tablespoons of sugar mixture over each.

2. Using a propane torch, melt sugar by waving flame 4-6 inches from surface. “Burn” until no dry sugar is visible.


Hi Pat

A few years ago you had a recipe for a salad that was layered and had hard-boiled eggs in the middle. I made it once and brought it to a family barbecue. My daughters have asked me to make it again and I can’t find the recipe. If you know the one I mean any chance of getting another copy? Look forward to your recipes and I thank you in advance.

— Marilyn, Bradford

Dear Marilyn

That salad is called Wisconsin Layered Salad. It didn’t have a name other than layered salad when given to me by friends that live in Wisconsin, so that is what I have called it for the past 15 years or so. It makes a big salad so I have always used it to bring to parties. Like you, someone always remembers it and asks for the recipe. I am happy to send it to you.

— Pat

Dear Pat

I remember that you grilled a whole turkey once in your column. I am sorry now that I didn’t cut it out. Could you send me the directions on how you did it if it was on a gas grill not charcoal.

Thank you from my husband and myself.

— Will and Ann-marie

Dear Will and Annmarie

That was the first time I tried grilling a whole turkey and it did come out good. I also was using a gas grill.

What I think really helped was that I used a digital meat thermometer that enables you to close the grill and you can watch the dial to see when it is cooked without opening the cover too often. I have sent you the recipe which used a simple spice rub and I basted it with chicken stock a few times.

Hi Pat

I never made hummus before, but decided to try it after seeing your recipe in the paper. My husband, son and daughter love hummus and I am always buying it for them. Your recipe was easy and now I have made it again and doubled the recipe.

My husband and son like it with chips and my daughter likes it with celery sticks.


— Suzanne and family


Patricia Altomare invites your letters; write to, or to Pat’s Kitchen, c/o the Gloucester Daily Times, 36 Whittemore St., Gloucester MA 01930.