Lavender Crème Brûlée

Lavender Creme Brûlée from ZoeBakes, photo by Zoë François

Crème Brûlée was the first French dessert I’d ever had in a restaurant. When I was in junior high school, I’d take the train into NYC from CT to visit my aunt. She was fashionable, impossibly sophisticated and took me to lavish meals at restaurants that were way over my head, at the age of 13. When I dipped into the creme brûlée I was instantly aware that this was an adult experience. I felt like I was playing grown up and was certainly aware that I was participating in something special.

The texture of crème brûlée like velvet, because it is made with egg yolks, which make it rich and creamy. Unlike it’s custard cousins, flan and creme caramel, the crème brûlée doesn’t get inverted, so it doesn’t need the strength of the egg whites to hold it’s shape. It is made in a shallow ramekin, so it can be partnered with just the right ratio of burnt sugar. The gossamer thin layer of caramel cracks like glass, but the contrast to the custard below is the perfect yin and yang of the pastry world. In truth creme brûlée is so simple to make, despite its reputation of the opposite. There are a couple of tricks to guarantee success and I show you them in my instagram video.

I bought a lavender plant for my kitchen and can think of no better place to use the perfumed plant, than in a custard. You want to use enough to scent the creme brûlée, but not so much that it tastes like the perfume counter at Bloomies (another stop on my trips into NYC). You can flavor your creme brûlée with lavender, tea, spices, coffee, or just about anything else you can steep in the cream. See my instagram video to see how I did this.

Lavender Creme Brûlée from ZoeBakes, photo by Zoë François
Lavender Creme Brûlée from ZoeBakes, photo by Zoë François
Lavender Creme Brulee topped with blueberries

Lavender Crème Brûlée

The texture of crème brûlée is like velvet, because it is made with egg yolks, which make it rich and creamy. Unlike it's custard cousins, flan and creme caramel, the crème brûlée doesn't get inverted, so it doesn't need the strength of the egg whites to hold its shape. It is made in a shallow ramekin, so it can be partnered with just the right ratio of burnt sugar. The gossamer thin layer of caramel cracks like glass, but the contrast to the custard below is the perfect yin and yang of the pastry world. In truth creme brûlée is so simple to make, despite its reputation of the opposite.
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Ingredients

  • 1 qt heavy whipping cream
  • 1 vanilla bean, scraped or 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • pinch salt
  • 10 large egg yolks
  • 1 tbsp dried lavender flowers or 12 fresh stems of flowers
  • Berries and lavender for garnish

Instructions

  • Heat the cream, vanilla bean, 2 tablespoons of the sugar, salt, and lavender over medium heat, until it comes to a simmer. Remove from heat, cover and allow to steep for at least 30 minutes, but this can be done the day ahead (stored in the refrigerator) for a more intense flavor. Warm the cream again if you've chilled it.
  • Preheat oven to 300°F.
  • Mix the egg yolks and remaining sugar in a medium bowl. Liaison the warm cream mixture into the egg yolks. Strain the custard mixture into a measuring cup. Fill six 4-inch Crème Brûlée Dish. Bake the creme brûlées on a baking sheet filled with water, to create a water bath. Bake until the brûlées are just set, like set jello, about 30 to 45 minutes, depending on the temperature of the custard going into the oven. Allow to cool to room temperature and then refrigerate for at least 2 hours before serving, but can be made a day or two ahead.
  • To brûlée the top, dust with sugar and caramelize the sugar with a Blow Torch or under a gas broiler (electric broilers don't work well for this). See my instagram video to watch me make, bake and brûlée the tops.
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!

Homemade Yogurt (Plain and Fruit)

How to make homemade yogurt, plain or with fruit | photo by Zoë François

I find myself digging into the past recently and finding recipes. My grandmother’s rugelach, cheese blintzes from the Kiev restaurant (a childhood favorite) and fresh homemade yogurt my mom used to make. We lived on a commune in VT, where we grew our own vegetables and raised a cow for dairy. Everything was local and organic, because if we didn’t produce it, we couldn’t afford it. My mom was the one to milk the cow, which she then made into homemade yogurt, butter and cheese. The flavor of that homemade yogurt, made from fresh milk, was divine. 48 years later, in Minneapolis we are allowed to keep chickens, but the city hasn’t approved urban dairy cows, so I just buy milk for making yogurt. Not as romantic, but still tasty.

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Rhubarb and Brown Butter Tart

Rhubarb and Brown Butter Tart | photo by Zoë François

After an epic winter, rhubarb is what gives us hope and the will to live. It is the first delicious sign that we have survived another test of winter. I would love it for that reason alone, but I also love the tart flavor.

I am aware that there are people who are not big fans of rhubarb. If you find yourself in this camp, I dare to suggest that you will love this rhubarb and brown butter tart from Bake from Scratch Volume 2. The tartness of the rhubarb is perfect balanced by the rich, sweet, slightly nutty browned butter filling and it is all held together by a perfectly tender crust. I made the tart and as soon as I was done photographing it, my family swooped in and devoured it within minutes. This is such high praise. My family members are no strangers to dessert and it takes some effort to impress them. This one did just that.

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Tres Leches

Tres Leches Cake | Photo by Zoë François

Tres Leches Cake is a light sponge cake soaked with three kinds of milk: sweetened condensed, evaporated and heavy cream (milk-ish enough to count), hence the name. Today is Cinco de Mayo and this cake seemed just the thing to celebrate with.

It’s a rather simple cake, both in its presentation and in the making of it. Just bake a sheet cake, soak it and cover in whipped cream. I added a layer of cinnamon for the intensity of flavor and because I like how it looks. The recipe is from the newest cookbook by the America’s Test Kitchen folks, The Perfect Cake.

As is suggested in their name, they test the living daylights out of every recipe they print, so I always trust they will work. The book is filled with the hows and whys of baking cakes, so you understand what you are up to while baking. You know how I love a good tutorial on baking, so this is right up my alley. It’s a great book and covers all the basics of cake baking.

The only place I went off script was in the whipped cream topping. I had a little bit of homemade creme fraiche left over from my Pot de Creme, so I added it to the whipping cream and made a slightly more decadent topping. I also wanted a slightly thicker layer of the cream, so the creme fraiche stretched it for me. Then I dusted with cinnamon, which is not required, but it’s delicious.

There is a version of tres leches cake—Cinco Leches—in my book, Zoë Bakes Cakes!

Tres Leches Cake and The Perfect Cake cookbook | Photo by Zoë François
Tres Leches Cake | Photo by Zoë François
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Butterscotch Pot de Crème

Butterscotch Pot de Crème | Photo by Zoë François

I developed this butterscotch pot de crème recipe for Tilia‘s dessert menu. Steven Brown, the chef/owner wanted a turbo charged version of the butterscotch pudding from his childhood. We went with a Pot de crème, which is essentially as decadent as creme brulee, without the crack of caramel resting on top. The texture is like silk and the taste is lightly sweet, with just a slight bitter edge from the burnt sugar in the butterscotch. Cooking the butter and brown sugar together until it is smokin’ hot (and I do mean smoking) is the key to the flavor. If you don’t bring them to the brink of burning the pudding will be way too sweet for my taste. The crème fraîche (young sour cream) is unsweetened and the perfect balance for the pudding. If you don’t happen to live near Linden Hills (a small village of a neighborhood in Minneapolis), where you can order this at Tilia, you can now make it at home.

You can watch me make this Buttercotch Pot de Crème on my instagram stories. You’ll find a pumpkin variation in my recipe notes below.
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