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 when I was living in Paris, and it has always remained a favorite with me, although as with – unfortunately – 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 far too much lavender in my spice drawer, and – lavender being a very dominant spice that should at most be used in small quantities – not exactly an overflow of ideas on what to do with it.
The outcome was just smashing. I served this dish when we had friends over for dinner to celebrate an occasion, and it was just the perfect finish to a dinner of Spanish cured meats for starter, pappardelle with porcini for pasta course, and beef filet with green asparagus for main course.
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 (Feinster Zucker in German)
- 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 – like me – you can never resist the temptation to play with fire: At the table, pour half a shot of Grand Marnier over each dish of Crème Brûlée and flambé it immediately.