Classic vanilla bean créme brûlée with a hidden layer of tart lemon curd.
This weekend is Mother’s Day and I’ve had this recipe tucked into my back pocket just for the occasion. My mom almost always has room for dessert–she even orders brunch dessert like crepes or french toast for the table to share when we go out! Créme brûlée definitely tops her list of favorites though, she always orders it on any menu and loves cracking through that top layer of brûléed sugar before delving into the creamy custard below…I mean, who doesn’t though?
While I think classic créme brûlée is basically perfect, I couldn’t help but want a little contrast of tart flavor to play against the crunchy brûléed top and creamy custard beneath. I thought about fruit jam but ultimately decided on a hidden layer of lemon curd on the bottom of each créme brûlée. The curd offers a similar texture to the custard while bringing a brightness that jam doesn’t (it can be too sweet), plus you can use storebought curd which saves an entire step without sacrificing any flavor (of course, homemade works as well).
We cook these custards gently in a water bath, also called a “bain marie”, to ensure the custards come out creamy and smooth. This requires a simple set-up of a baking dish–try to use one that will snuggly fit the ramekins so they don’t move around too much–and boiling water. If you find the ramekins are sliding around line the bottom of the dish with paper towels before placing the ramekins on top to create a non-skid surface.
We bake these custards until they’re just set around the edges but jiggle in the middle. Zoe Francois has a tip in her Butterscotch Pots de Creme recipe for recognizing the correct consistency–they shouldn’t ripple like water in the middle but should look more like jiggly jello.
I like to use a real vanilla bean for this custard, though good quality extract works too. If you do use a vanilla bean, do not discard the pod once you’ve scraped the seeds! Place the pod into a jar of sugar and let it dry out completely. It will flavor the sugar, plus once it has dried and you have used up all the sugar, you can grind it in a food processor or blender along with more sugar to create another batch of vanilla sugar.
You can use homemade lemon curd here (here’s my go-to recipe) or storebought. The jarred lemon curd is pretty easy to find in any supermarket and I like to whisk in about 1-2 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice to storebought curds to bring up the tartness level just a bit.
- ¾ cup prepared lemon curd (homemade or storebought)
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 1 vanilla bean
- ⅓ cup sugar
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
- 4 large egg yolks
- 6 tablespoons sugar for the brûlée
- Preheat the oven to 325°F.
- Place 6, 4 oz, ramekins in a baking dish and spoon 2 tablespoons of lemon curd into each ramekin. Smooth the curd using an offset spatula or the back of a spoon in
a evenlayer and set to the side.
- To make the custard, pour the cream into a saucepan. Split and scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean and whisk the seeds into the cream (save the pod for making vanilla sugar). Whisk in the sugar and salt, then heat the cream over medium heat stirring occasionally until bubbles form around the edges of the pan (this is called “scalding”). While the cream heats, whisk the egg yolks in a separate bowl (preferably a large measuring cup or spouted bowl) until smooth. Once the cream has been scalded, gradually whisk the hot cream into the egg yolks to temper them--gradually adding the cream will bring the yolks up to temperature without scrambling them.
- Bring a kettle of water to boil for the water bath.
- Gently pour the custard over the lemon curd in the prepared ramekins. Carefully transfer the ramekins in the baking dish to the preheated oven and place on the center rack. Pour the water you boiled into the baking dish so it reaches about halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake the custards for 30-35 minutes, or until the custard is just set around the edges but still jiggles in the center. Carefully remove the custards from the oven, so none of the water from the baking tray gets into the ramekins, and cool in the water bath on a wire rack until the custards reach room temperature. Remove the custards from the water bath, place on a tray or sheet pan, cover with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours (a day in advance works as well).
- When ready to serve, sprinkle a tablespoon of granulated sugar evenly over the top of each custard. Using a torch (this can be done with your oven broiler as well), caramelize the sugar until golden and melted (some spots may burn, but that’s okay). Let the sugar cool to a hard finish and serve immediately.