crème brûlée blues

creme brulee (let's just drop the accents!) had been an occasional restaurant treat on the dr bob menu later in life, but the thought of 2 cups of heavy cream and 8 eggs in one dessert was a powerful incentive for a health-conscious aging bob to avoid actually making one himself. Still this did not prevent him from noticing a hazelnut creme brulee recipe in the newspaper, filing it in the cooking archives, and remembering exactly where it was stored for a sizable chunk of a decade. Once the secretary of the modern languages department next to math somehow crossed bob's path and mentioned creme brulee, so bob brought her a copy of the recipe. She never made it of course.

Way back in the mid nineties, bob and ani made a little road trip out to Napa Valley while visiting the Bay Area (on the excuse of academic business no doubt). The first winery on the road entering the valley is Domaine Chandon, the American wing of Moet-Chandon famous for its Dom Perion champagne, one bottle (1983) of which hung around for one decade after the bobandani merger (a wedding gift from a guest who should have been there as the best man) until finally on New Year's Eve 2001(2), the decision was made to use it, since the right occasion never seemed to arrive. But to chill it bob stuck it in the freezer over at the sister-in-law's and  forgot about it. It froze. No big pop was the first indication. A little came out to taste. bob stuck it in a pot of water to hasten the thaw, but the damage was done. Flat. What is that expression... pearls before swine? Oh well.

Back to Napa Valley. This winery had actually donated a whole lot of pretty good sparkling wine (you can't call it champagne if it wasn't made in that region of France) at cost for the toast at a scientific meeting the summer before. The missing wedding guest had struck the deal for a big international GR (that's general relativity) meeting at Stanford named after a friend of Einstein, but that's another story. So it was lunch time and the winery had a French restaurant. Not cheap but what else do a couple of DINKS have to do on their first visit to Napa Valley besides taking the wine tour (we did). So not only was this lunch really terrific, but bob went for the creme brulee filled crepe with fresh berries dessert that left a lifetime impression on both ani and bob, even though ms_ani is not much of a dessert person.

Then there is the little matter of a weakness for kitchen gadgets. Kitchen torches started showing up in the late nineties basically for the sole purpose of glazing an occasional creme brulee. Which bob was not going to make, so had no need for. This time it was ani who fell for it. A little dinner for a coworker and her husband and recent addition to their previously carefree existence. We're in Williams-Sonoma after lunch, the Saturday of the dinner. Ani goes for the torch, bob picks up a little overpriced all about creme brulee book. Browsing the book, it is clear that it is already too late to follow the timing suggested by the recipes, but so what.

Reaching home, the hazelnut creme brulee recipe is extracted, the torch instruction recipe is read together with the book base recipe and some cross-merging is done. First downsizing the 8 eggs to 4 as was suggested by the book, which also claims that whether you use half-and-half (10.5%), light cream (18%), whipping cream (30%), heavy cream (36%) or double cream (48%), it will not affect the taste. And following the "loosely cover the water bath containing the creme-brulee mini-dishes with water half way up there sides with aluminum foil" instruction that came with the torch recipe, proceeded. The result would need a quick cool down since time was running out. The timer sounds. The over door opens. The aluminum foil is turned back... only to reveal a water creme brulee mixture that was the same inside and outside the mini-dishes. Couldn't have been a worse unforeseen disaster. bob scooped enough of the creme brulee lumps into one mini-dish to salvage at least one for experimenting with the torch later. And went off to the French pastry shop for a substitute dessert.

Later we realize that W-S sold us the torch without warning us that it contained no fuel, so even if we had not been derailed by one fate, another would have caught us anyway. Turns out you have to buy a  little cannister of the butane fuel in a cigar store. Later in the week we held our noses long enough to make the buy at the local mall and return to fill the torch. And did the glaze thing. Not so hard. The result was edible, but somehow the expected strong hazelnut taste just wasn't there. Maybe another time.

We adjusted the recipe downwards in health impairing ingredients, based on the typical recipes found in the book, which suggests 8 eggs for 2 c heavy cream.


original hazelnut recipe: our modification:
2 c heavy cream 2 c half and half
1/3 c half-and-half
10 large egg yolks 4 large egg yolks
1/2 c blanched, toasted hazelnuts, coarsely chopped 1/4 c hazelnut fine crumbs
pinch of salt pinch of salt
1/2 c granulated sugar 3/8 c sugar
1 T vanilla extract 1 T vanilla extract
1/2 c hazelnut liqueur 1/4 c hazelnut liqueur
1/4 c light brown sugar for glazing 1/4 c light brown sugar for glazing


  1. Preheat oven to 350º.
  2. In a medium saucepan combine the cream and half-and-half or just use all half-and-half hoping to minimize the fat damage, and scald it. That means it just starts to expand but don't let it overflow.
  3. Add the hazelnuts (maybe this will calm it down), remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature. Once cool, reheat to a scald.
  4. Meanwhile combine the yolks, salt, sugar and vanilla inn a large bowl and whisk until the color lightens, sort of like doing zabaione.
  5. Slowly add the hot cream with the nuts while continuing to whisk until smooth.
  6. Add the liqueur and strain through a fine sieve.
  7. Fill your 4 custard dishes to about 1/4 in below the top edge or 6 (to 8?) ramekins (traditional creme brulee dishes) to a bit less below the top edge since they are only about 7/8 in deep (and 4 in in diameter).
  8. Place the dishes in a hot water bath (see below) and set in the lower third of the oven.
  9. Cook until lightly tanned on top and a skewer inserted into the center is hot to the touch, about 25 to 30 minutes.
  10. Remove to a rack to cool.
  11. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.
  12. To serve, evenly spread the brown sugar across the top of the custard for browning with the torch. Observe your torch instructions for doing the torching, and beware of the alcohol component which is inflammable so be VERY careful...
  13. Allow to cool a few minutes by rechilling before serving.


  1. Philly Inquirer, March 9, 1994. Four servings, full fat maxi-cholesterol version per serving: Cal 691!, 74% from fat, Fat 57 g, Prot 10 g, Carbo 37 g, Cholest 685 mg, Sodium 114 mg.
  2. The standard creme brulee recipe seems to be for 2 cups of your choice of cream product, but for 4 people, a half recipe is fine for 4 ramikins.
  3. A hot water bath means a baking dish of some kind with a paper towel in the bottom (prevents sliding), which you place the creme brulee dishes in and fill half way up their sides with warm water.
  4. The brown sugar is supposed to be spreading out on a baking sheet and putting it in the oven at 300º for 5 minutes. Then remove and cool. Finally put in a small zip-lock plastic bag and crush the sugar with a rolling pin. Store extra in an airtight container in the fridge. Sounds like a hassle. Granulated sugar is easy.
  5. DINK = double income no kids.
crembrul.htm: 16-aug-2006 [what, ME cook? © 1984 dr bob enterprises]