3 cups heavy cream
1 vanilla bean, split in half lengthwise, or 2 tsp vanilla extract
8 egg yolks
3/4 cup granulated sugar (for the custard)
2/3 cup granulated sugar (for the glazing)
Preheat the oven to 325 F
Bring the cream to a simmer in a heavy-bottomed nonaluminum pot with the vanilla bean halves (if you're using extract, don't add it yet). Let the cream sit, covered, for 15 minutes to infuse the flavor of the vanilla. Spoon the vanilla halves out of the hot cream. Scrape out the tiny seeds with a paring knife. Put the seeds and the pod back into the cream.
Lightly whisk the egg yolks with the 3/4 cup sugar in a mixing bowl. If you're using vanilla extract instead of the bean, whisk it into the egg yolk mixture.
Strain the hot cream, a bit at a time, into the egg mixture. Don't use too fine a strainer or you'll strain out all the specks of vanilla, which look great in the creme brulee. Discard the pod. Stir the egg mixture with the whisk for a few seconds after each addition of cream so the hot cream doesn't curdle the yolks. Don't whisk the egg mixture or you'll make it frothy and it won't be smooth on top when you bake it. Just stir gently, making sure you're incorporating the egg yolks into the cream.
Ladle the cream mixture into one medium-size gratin dish, or six 5- or 6-ounce individual gratin dishes or ramekins. Arrange the dish or dishes in a baking dish with high sides and place it on the oven rack. Use a teakettle or ladle to pour in enough hot tap water to com halfway up the sides of the molds. Cover the bain-marie with a sheet of aluminum foil to prevent the custards from forming a crust on top.
Start checking the custards after about 45 minutes by peeling back the foil and wiggling them very slightly back and forth. If they're not done, the surface will ripple. As they continue to cook, the ripples will appear only in the smaller area near the center of the custard. When there's no rippling at all, take the bain-marie out of the oven, and then take the custards out of the bain-marie. Let them cool for at least 30 minutes. Refrigerate them for at least 1 hour, but preferably overnight. At this stage you can leave them, covered with plastic wrap, in the fridge for several days.
When you're ready to glaze the custards, which should be cold, glaze them within a couple hours of serving. Use a spoon to sprinkle them with a thin layer of granulated sugar just thick enough so you can't see the top of the custard.
It's easiest to glaze the creme brulee by waving the flame of a small propane torch over their surface, until the sugar melts into a shiny caramel glaze. Allow them to cool 5 minutes before serving.
Notes: Creme brulee is one of my most favorite desserts but I have never previously attempted to make it at home. Then some brave person decided to give me a plumbers' torch as a gift. After all, it's something every girl should have in their kitchen, as I learned from watching Julia Child. With that obstacle removed, it was only a matter of time. I opted to try this recipe as I found the instructions for the bain-marie (on the previous page, not included here) and the cooking of the custard more detailed than some. Now that I've done it, I might try some variations from elsewhere. I need to concentrate on getting a smoother texture for my custard, but the overall flavor and the glaze came out quite well. And, oh yeah, the torch was fun.
At a recent farmers' market, I ran across -- and bought -- Japanese eggplant, which I had never cooked with before. In fact, I haven't consumed any variety of eggplant in a very long time after an unfortunate eggplant parmesan encounter when I was quite young. This recipe may have broken that block...
For the Sauce:
1/3 cup chicken stock
1 TBSP hoisin sauce
2 tsp soy sauce
2 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp plum sauce
4 Asian eggplants (about 1 pound), stems removed
vegetable oil for deep-frying
2 tsp minced garlic
1 tsp minced ginger
1/2 jalapeno chili, sliced into rings
pinch of ground Sichuan peppercorns
chopped cilantro or sliced green onions
Prepare the sauce: Stir the chicken stock, hoisin sauce, soy sauce, lemon juice and plum sauce together in a small bowl until blended.
Cut the eggplant lengthwise into quarters, then cut crosswise into 3-inch pieces.
Pour enough oil into a 2-quart saucepan to come to a depth of 3 inches. Heat over medium heat to 350 F. Deep-fry the eggplant in batches until tender, 1 1/2 to 2 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain well on paper towels. Reserve the oil.
Heat a wok over high heat until hot. Add 1 TBSP of the reserved oil and swirl to coat the sides. Add the garlic, ginger, chili, and Sichuan peppercorns and stir-fry until fragrant, about 20 seconds. Add the sauce and bring to a simmer.
Add the eggplant and stir to coat. Scoop onto a warm serving platter. Serve garnished with basil leaves and cilantro or green onions.
Notes: As per the recommendation in the book, this was served with strips of pork marinated in char siu sauce and also stir-fried. This nicely complimented the spicy flavor of the eggplant dish, and that was even with the fact that I ended up leaving out the sliced jalapeno.