Crème Brûlée, presumably the undisputed classic amongst French desserts, was the first one I ever tried making when I started dabbling with French pâtisserie many years back. I lived in Paris at the time, and pâtisserie has remained my passion ever since. And Crème Brûlée certainly is a favorite dessert of mine, although as with so many dishes that you favor from early on they begin to pose little challenge to the passionate desser maker after a while, which ultimately makes you wander off to new areas, and sometimes you even stop making a certain dish altogether. So I actually had not made Crème Brûlée for quite some time when I got inspired to try this variation by the simple fact of having too much lavender in my spice drawer.
The dish was a hit with the friends I had over for dinner that night, and since the night was a good one, we spontaneously flambéed the dessert as well – it did not harm it, but it’s a step that can of course easily be skipped.
By the way, the recipe below is also perfect for making a classic (vanilla) Crème Brûlée – just skip the lavender and replace the lavender sugar with finely granulated white (caster) sugar.
Ingredients (for 4 servings):
For the lavender sugar:
- 150 grams of very finely granulated sugar
- 2 to 3 tablespoons of lavender
For the cream:
- 250 ml of cream
- 250 ml of full-fat milk
- 1 vanilla pod
- 1 1/2 teaspoons of lavender
- 5 egg yolks
Preparing the lavender sugar:
- Mix the sugar with the herb and fill into an air-tight container. Allow the flavor to infuse for at least 3 days, ideally one week.
Preparing the cream:
- Pass the lavender sugar through a sieve whose mesh width allows separating the sugar from the lavender flowers. Set the lavender sugar aside for later use.
- Mix the cream and the milk in a saucepan. Cut the vanilla pod in halves, scrape out the seeds with the back of a knife and add the seeds and the emptied vanilla pod to the milk and cream mix.
- Bring the milk and cream mix to boil. Take off the stove, let cool down a bit, then remove the vanilla pod and pass the mixture through a fine sieve. Remove any foam on top of the liquid. Do not stir anymore, or only gently in order not to create new foam.
- Beat the egg yolks with an electric mixer until creamy. Add 75 grams of the lavender sugar and continue beating until very creamy and almost white.
- Gently fold in the milk and cream mix (note: the mix should be not more than lukewarm), starting with a few spoonfuls, and then bit by bit mix in the rest. Make sure you stir the mixture very gently, and remove any foam that should form on the top.
- Fill the mixture into 4 flat oven-proof serving dishes (Crème Brûlée dishes).
- Pre-heat the oven to 100 degrees Celsius (fan oven). Prepare a water-bath by pouring boiling water into an oven tray placed directly under the grate on which you place the dishes with the Crème Brûlée. Allow the cream to thicken slowly by giving it at least 1 hour of oven time. Check regularly that your cream is not getting too solid, otherwise reduce the oven temperature a bit. If the cream is still very liquid at the end of one hour of oven time, give it a longer oven time. Should it still be very liquid after 1 1/2 hours of oven time, increase the oven temperature a little bit, but refrain from increasing it too much as the Crème Brûlée will loose its creaminess if it is baked too hot.
- When the cream has thickened (note that it should not become solid through and through), take it out of the oven and allow it to cool off a bit, then place in the fridge for approximately 2 hours.
- Before serving, sprinkle the Crème Brûlée with the remaining lavender sugar and caramelize under a blow-torch. And finally, if you cannot resist the temptation to play with fire, but totally optional: At the table, pour half a shot of Grand Marnier over each dish of Crème Brûlée and flambé it immediately.