If you are eager for a taste of a quintessentially French dessert, look no further than the classic dish: Creme Brulee. This dessert is known to be rich and decadent. But for those not familiar with this creamy dessert, what does it taste like?
Creme Brulee’s taste combines the complex flavors of a light and airy vanilla custard with the nuttiness of a caramelized sugar top-layer. The custard tastes of rich cream balanced with the aromatic and floral notes of the vanilla bean while the caramelized sugar adds texture.
Creme Brulee has a reputation in high-end restaurants. Its extravagance in flavor, as well as presentation, is a big hit to finish off a meal. Keep reading and we’ll dig into this multi-dimensional dessert in more detail.
How does Creme Brulee Compare to other Desserts?
Creme Brulee is defined by its light and airy custard. This means that while it is still nice and rich, the air that has formed in the custard from cooking allows for a more delicate profile. Compared to say the extreme richness of a German chocolate cake, Creme Brulee is much more restrained.
While the dessert does not contain any fruit. It does, however, have the floral qualities of the vanilla, which cut through the cream flavor much like fruit would. Compared to say a lemon sorbet, however, the Creme Brulee would be much richer and decadent.
What is so Unique about the Texture and Temperature?
One of the more unique qualities of Creme Brulee is the contrasting textures and temperatures. While the custard is fully-cooked, it must be chilled first before serving.
When it is time to finish a creme brulee, a butane torch is often the tool of choice. The flame is meant to caramelize a sprinkling of white sugar on the top of the cold custard but not to cook the custard itself.
If done in a timely manner, the Creme Brulee will have a nice toasty warm top with a cool custard layer towards the bottom.
This caramel layer also adds a welcomed textural distinction from the custard. The hard crunch of the sugar and delicate creaminess of the custard, when taken as a perfect bite, is a unique balancing act of cold, creamy, hot, and crunchy that tantalizes the taste buds.
How is this Dish Traditionally Served?
If you were ordering this classic at a restaurant, it would usually be brought to you in a very theatrical fashion.
For the most traditional of Creme Brulees, you need to finish the dish off tableside. This means having a torch at the ready to caramelize the sugar right in front of your eyes.
This part is crucial as it allows for that contrast of temperatures to be experienced. The theatrics come through when you finally crack the warm caramelized sugar with the bottom of your spoon and reveal the cold, creamy custard in the center.
Usually, Creme Brulee is served in small round ceramic dishes called ramekins. These dishes serve double duty as both a cooking and a serving vessel.
It is also important to serve the dessert with a nice heavy metal spoon. This ensures a proper crack of the sugar when it comes time to dig in.
How Does the Top Layer Taste?
Caramelization is actually a chemical process. When the sugar molecules are introduced to a high enough heat, it starts to oxidize them. This oxidation adds the unique brown hue to the top, as well as the nutty flavor that balances with the vanilla in the custard.
When done correctly, the slight char from the blowtorch adds another unique element. The burnt sugar provides a much needed slightly bitter component to contrast the decadent sweetness of the custard and caramel.
Custard is traditionally some type of heavy dairy product, like cream, that has been thickened with egg yolks.
This is done by slowly heating the mixture to allow for the eggs to cook within the cream without curdling the eggs. If done correctly, the custard will cook the egg completely and be able to be used in many different ways.
What does Creme Brulee mean?
Creme Brulee translates to burnt cream in French. It’s no surprise, either. When you examine the crunchy top layer of sugar, you’ll see the edges of the egg-shell white custard poking out. To the casual glance, it looks a bit like a dish that was forgotten in the oven. But don’t be fooled, it’s a delight.
Creme Brulee’s taste is well regarded around the world. While the dish is most known for its French variation, there are several different countries that provide their own take. Catalan Crema, for example, hails from Spain and uses citrus peel as its main flavoring instead of vanilla.
Now, since Creme Brulee is fundamentally a fancy custard, it’s helpful to also spend a moment talking about what custard is.
What is a Custard?
Any dish that uses the thickening qualities of egg yolk to stiffen the dairy is a custard. You are probably familiar with the many types of custard as it is used fairly regularly in many types of cuisine.
The creamy filling in your Boston cream donut: Custard Anglaise. What makes those premium ice creams so rich; well they use custard base instead of milk to add to the decadence. Even egg-based dishes like a Frittata are technically custards.
The beauty of custard is all in the chemical transformation that is taking place when the egg yolks are heated in the cream. The thickening power of the yolks begins when the heat starts re-arranging the proteins in the mixture into a velvety-smooth creamy combination.
If done correctly, usually using an indirect heat method like a double boiler/bain-marie, the result is a velvety mixture that is slightly sweet and very rich. This allows for the eggs to be slowly tempered to the heat and prevents them from curdling.
What Does Custard Taste Like?
Custard can be given a variety of flavors depending on the ingredients. A common flavor that is used in desserts like Creme Brulee and frozen custard is vanilla.
The custard in creme brulee is usually flavored with vanilla, and to stand up against the lush and rich custard, the dish needs to use high-quality vanilla for the best results.
This type of superior vanilla comes fresh from the fruit of vanilla orchids. While these pods are complex flavor bombs, the main component that makes up vanilla’s distinct flavor is a compound called Vanillin.
While natural vanilla beans and extract are regarded for their quality, modern food scientists have come up with a way to synthesize Vanillin commercially. Usually produced from a petroleum byproduct, this imitation vanilla is cheaper but does not offer the same complex notes like natural vanilla.
When this compound comes from real beans, it gives the custard a nutty, slightly floral, sophisticated profile. The dairy and egg add a rich, creamy component that carries the flavor of the vanilla without overpowering its delicate flavor.