Welcome to my first installment of Pro Pastry. This series focuses on recipes from chefs I’ve worked with, adapted with the gluten and dairy removed so that my body can indulge in them. I’ll also be simultaneously posting long-form interviews or book reviews of the chefs over at WordsFoodArt.com. Take a look at the why’s behind this series, and click on the links within to sneak into the fun little life I have as a chef writer. xoxo
My Creme Brûlée Recipe Needed an Update
It’s been one of the most popular posts on this site for years now and, though I haven’t made it recently, creme brûlée so easy and fun to make that I used to devour it often.
But the original recipe went up in 2011. Time fricken flies, man. In that time I shifted from blogging and playwriting to “chef writing” and, 150 some-odd chefs later, I’ve lived so many beautiful moments and seen countless plates of breathtaking food. Recently, I was chatting with a bartender while Brent shot away in a neighboring dining room, when a “creme brûlée” hit my ears, and inspired this first Pro Pastry recipe.
I don’t remember exactly at which event I first met Chef Joe Murphy; most likely one of the big New York Wine and Food Festival or Taste Of… events I used to cover for Serious Eats. I was aware of his new post as Executive Pastry Chef of Jean-Georges primarily because I know his predecessor there, though I’d never worked in that space. I’d wanted to work with Joe on my We Chat With… column on Serious Eats, but it ended before we got the chance! After pulling him in for my Hey Chef! column, he generously offered up some of his time so that we could do a full interview anyway, just for my little WordsFoodArt site.
So here I was in Jean-Georges, interviewing Joe with sunlight streaming in amidst the trees of Central Park, right across the street, when that “creme brûlée” hit my ears. As Brent shot his stunning plates and profile images, we joked about how fine-dining becomes so much more comfortable with age, then sat at a cozy corner table for our interview.
I was blown away by the very old-school, classy way Joe carries himself, works, and speaks. In a time when anyone with a URL can make a recipe and toss it up on a website, or pen a digital cookbook or go on TV and make food (not that I’ve done those last two, nor want to), I have eons of respect for professionals in this field; it’s why I stopped blogging until now. Joe has studied, and practiced, and taught, and studied, and worked for many years, honing in on his skills and style constantly, producing truly breathtaking results.
The full interview is up on WordsFoodArt. Please check it out.
Now, confession: I’ve never had a “regular” creme brûlée. Before my Lyme diagnosis / subsequent dairy problems, I wasn’t a fan of anything too dairy-full; creme brûlée, flan, cheesecake, the Portuguese custard cakes my family would get my for my birthday when I summered on my dad’s island. Gross. Years later in college–when my palate matured and I craved what I could not have–I became obsessed with alternatives.
So I have no idea the exact texture a creme brûlée should have. My last recipe had a subtle stiffness to it that seemed right, but I had to add whole eggs on top of egg yolks to get it there. Joe’s recipe had only yolks, which I assumed would give me a smoother, softer texture, especially as there was no slow-custarding with tempering and all that I’d done before.
Joe actually sent me his full Cherry Dessert Tasting Menu recipes from 2013. I can’t tell you how exciting it is for me when I get a recipe from a pastry chef, every single time. The gamut included a sour cherry brûlée, cherry jubilee, Champagne sabayon, poached cherries, Kirsch bubbles, chocolate mouse, devil’s food cake (which I’m definitely un-glutening down the road), graham cracker crumble, goat cheese sherbet (this is happening at some point, too), cherry sorbet, and cherry fluid gel. Holy shit, right?
This is why I never question the price points on restaurants of this caliber, people. There’s a lot of work and a lot of high-quality ingredients on that list. I don’t have a shot of how this all looked together, but here’s this summer’s equivalent:
All I did to adapt the recipe was look at the fat content in regular cream (from his recipe) and the fat content of the coconut milk or coconut cream I was going to replace it with. And there wasn’t that much of a difference between the two. I often sub-in a bit of coconut cream into a recipe where I’m trying to get the fat ratio up a notch, but the two cans in front of me (an organic, full-fat coconut milk from Native Forrest and a can of Thai coconut cream I found at my local Latino grocery) were almost the same; 40 total grams of fat, each, and slightly less saturated fat in the cream. Neither were going to get me to the 80+ grams of fat in heavy cream.
To this end, my version of Joe’s creme brûlée was not going to be still without the addition of something; egg whites, maybe, or a bit of starch or xanthan gum. Did I want to sub in something to get the texture “right”, when a super-creamy custard with a crackly sugar crust was equally delicious and happier for my body? Not really.
So, head to my old recipe for a more staunch brûlée. But this creme brûlée recipe is delicate, full of vanilla and cinnamon, and rather easy to make. Another favorite in my creamy arsenal.
Dairy-Free Creme Brûlée from Chef Joe Murphy
This smooth and creamy creme brûlée recipe would be fortified by replacing 1 egg yolk with 1 whole egg, or adding 1/2 tsp xanthan gum / 1 Tbsp tapioca or arrowroot starch whisked in with the second addition of coconut milk. I added some pitted cherries tossed with 1 tsp of tapioca starch to the bottom of each ramakin, along with some chopped dark chocolate to somewhat mimic Joe’s original, but it’s a winner on it’s own or tossed with whatever fun ingredients you have on hand.
- 4 4-oz ramekins
- large baking pan to comfortable fit them
- 2 cups full-fat coconut milk. Try to find one with a good 40g fat per cup
- 2.5 oz white sugar, plus more for torching
- 6 large egg yolks, lightly beaten
- 1 1/2 whole vanilla beans or 1 Tbsp vanilla extract
- 1/2 cinnamon stick or 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
Mix sugar and 1/2 of the coconut milk in a heavy-bottomed pot on a stove, and put on low heat. Add vanilla and cinnamon, and stir the lot to melt the sugar and bring the mixture up to just a simmer. Turn off heat, and let infuse while the milk cools. Add remaining coconut milk and egg yolks and stream them in while whisking. Strain vanilla and cinnamon sticks, if using.
If you’re using any fruit, nuts or chocolate, toss them in some form of starch to thicken any potential liquids, then place them equally in the bottom of the four ramekins. Fill equally with creme brulee batter. Place ramekins in baking dish and fill 2/3 of the way up with hot water (I boil a kettle, place the dish in the oven and then fill with hot water). Bake for 1 hour, or until set but ever so slightly jiggling in the center.
Cool in refrigerator for 2-3 hours or overnight (wrapped in plastic when cool enough to touch).
When ready to torch and serve, bring to room temp for about 30 minutes. Sprinkle about 1/2-1 tsp of sugar on top of each ramekin, turn to evenly coat, and torch away!
Let rest / harden five minutes before serving.
*I bought an inexpensive torch years ago, and have never regretted it. It’s a small but mighty tool that you’ll find loads of uses for. And it’s just fun.