Whatever organizations decree these kinds of things have seen fit to announce that there are not one but two “National Crème Brûlée” days, July 21 and July 27. Perhaps it is an indication of how popular the classic dessert is, so the laurels are likely well-deserved.
It’s true that at one time or another every chef makes a crème brûlée and just about every restaurant has it among its desserts; spend a few moments scanning menus, and I’m sure you will find several.
But popular hardly does it justice: there are crème brûlée recipes, attributed to Francois Massialot, dating to the French court of 1692. That’s over 300 years of the treat.
A custard of scalded milk, sugar and egg yolks, crème brûlée means “burned cream” which entails creating and baking in a water bath a soft, silken custard and chilling it before adding sugar to the top and caramelizing it, either under a hot broiler (in a restaurant kitchen, a salamander) or the fun way with a propane torch.
The key is to keep a cool, silky interior while getting just the right crispness – and not a rock-solid layer of impenetrable sugar – on the top for a well-balanced crunch.
Another reason for the dual national days, aside from its deliciousness, is the versatility that a crème brûlée has: that custard is a blank slate that can scrumptiously admit a vast array of sweet and savoury ingredients, from simple vanilla and chocolate to lavender and maple-bacon.
[Banner image/Wikimedia Commons]