When Company Comes (Recipe: Orange Crème Brûlée)

Disclosure: The original title of this recipe was Crème Brûlée à l’Orange, which is nice—and fancy—but in truth, can appear a bit intimidating to some home cooks. I’m all for accuracy, but plain speak appeals to me more than foreign tongue and my goal is to make this surprisingly easy-to-prepare dessert approachable for cooks of all skill levels.

Crème Brûlée, with its mystique stripped away, is merely the French term for “burnt cream” (albeit the French name is endlessly more appetizing). Boasting a rich, custard base and traditionally topped with a layer of caramelized sugar, the origins of Crème Brûlée can be traced back as far as the 1600’s, when this luscious dessert was first referenced in Francois Massialot’s anonymously-penned1691 cookbook. But is it possible Crème Brûlée’s origins go back further than that?

Catalans claim their scrumptious Crema Catalana predates the French adaptation. The difference between the two? Crema Catalana, which is also custard based, is not baked in a bain-marie (or water bath) as is the French version. Other regional differences begin to show in how the Crème Brûlée (or Crema Catalana) is prepared and flavored: the Catalan version is often made with milk and cream (as well as some form of thickener), flavored with citrus zest and often, cinnamon.

While both histories lay claim to the origins of Crème Brûlée, the origins of this particular variation are decidedly more French than Catalan. And whether you opt to call it Orange Crème Brûlée or Crème Brûlée à l’Orange, this is one dessert you’ll want to try—particularly when company comes—for it is as smooth, delectable, sultry and impressive as dessert can be!

Orange Crème Brûlée (or Crème Brûlée à l’Orange)

adapted from Crème Brûlée by Lou Seibert Pappas

Yield: 5-6 servings depending on size ramekins used

6 large egg yolks

1/3 cup granulated sugar

2 cups heavy whipping cream

2 teaspoons freshly grated orange zest (plus more for garnish if desired) 

3 tablespoons Grand Marnier

*an additional 5-6 tablespoons granulated or superfine *sugar for topping

optional – fresh berries (blackberries, raspberries) for garnish 

Additional equipment needed: a hand-held culinary torch

Preheat oven to 275 degrees F. Place 5-6 standard-size ramekins in a baking dish deep enough to hold water halfway up the sides of the ramekins.

In a medium-sized bowl, whisk egg yolks until pale in color. Add 1/3 cup granulated sugar and continue whisking until sugar dissolves; whisk in cream, zest and Grand Marnier until all ingredients are thoroughly combined. Pour prepared custard mixture into individual ramekins, filling each approximately 2/3 full. Add enough hot (tap) water to the baking dish to create a bain marie (or water bath) that cradles the ramekins about halfway up their sides. Place baking dish (holding water bath and ramekins) in a preheated 275 degree F oven and bake for approximately 35-40 minutes—until the outer edges of the custards are set and their centers jiggle just slightly. When done, remove baking dish from oven. Carefully remove ramekins to a heat-safe surface (such as a cookie sheet) and place in the refrigerator, allowing custards to cool at least 2 hours, and up to 48 hours when covered airtight. 

When ready to serve, place the ramekins on a heat-safe surface (the same cookie sheet the ramekins were cooling on is fine) and sprinkle tops of each custard-filled ramekin with 1 tablespoon *sugar, creating an even layer. Using a culinary torch, caramelize the sugar until evenly golden and browned, not blackened. Tip: keep the torch flame approximately 4″ from the top of ramekins and keep the torch moving to prevent over-browning or burning the sugar.   

If desired, top caramelized sugar with additional orange zest and an assortment of fresh berries. Serve immediately. Printer-Friendly Recipe