Recipe: chocolate espresso crème brûlée
I got up before sunrise and tip-toed around the house this morning. We dipped below freezing overnight. Sticking my nose to the open window, I took several shallow sniffs then one deep inhale. No smoke. Scanning to the east I saw clear skies. The absolute best news? Calm winds. This in contrast to yesterday morning’s hostile 60 mph gusts that slapped our aspens around like rag dolls, ripping leaves off the branches. We found some wood siding from our house had been torn off by the winds as well. At noon, Manisha emailed to ask if we were all right. There was a fire near Boulder Canyon.
It’s September. In parts of the American West, this is synonymous with fire season: the driest (we had 4% humidity yesterday) and sometimes hottest time of year. Toss strong winds and bone dry vegetation in, and you are primed for a fire. We are no strangers to fire season having lived at the boundary of the Angeles National Forest in Southern California. The price one pays to live in Awesome. I hopped on Twitter and the stream of information was flowing fast. Boulder is a good place to be on Twitter. Those crazy winds whipped the wildfire into a nightmare starting in Four-Mile Canyon. It quickly spread in almost all directions and we followed news of evacuations and road closures. Good citizens updated maps in real-time or tweeted updates from the police scanner. When the reverse 911 system failed, authorities asked people on Twitter spread the word that they were going door to door to evacuate.
Smaller fires popped up around the area, but were quickly put out. It was the big one, now called the Emerson Gulch Fire, that was consuming homes and whole neighborhoods. If you look at the satellite imagery of the area, the houses are not next door to each other – they are scattered about, in the woods and canyons/mountains. It’s rough and rugged terrain (people are not on municipal services there – they have giant propane tanks for heating… which explode in wildfires). If someone dropped you into that scenario where several fronts are threatened, how do you go about deciding what to save, what to defend? It’s heartbreaking. That firestorm was so bad, the only thing authorities could focus on was evacuation. Photographs, video, descriptions and links to more information poured in on the hashtag #boulderfire. We watched as the evacuation zone expanded, inching closer to our home.
smoke from the fire was the only cloud in all of colorado (taken at dusk looking east)
When the zone was within 6 miles of our house and authorities closed Boulder Canyon, we began to gather our things. Things are just things. As I packed up letters from and photos of my sister, I realized that the only “things” I could not do without are Jeremy and Kaweah. The rest – even those cherished items that I had of Kris – I could let go of. But while we had the time, we packed what we might need if we had to evacuate and if ultimately the house was lost. [For those of you with an invested digital existence, it's a handy thing to have an external drive (updated daily) to unplug and grab.] Without a doubt, my mind turned to Ivory Hut who just last week lost all of her worldly possessions to a fire. Thankfully, the winds had calmed considerably since the morning and tankers were finally able to fly in the waning light before nightfall grounded them.
the plume of smoke rising into the evening sky
By last night, the evacuation zone had extended again – to within 2 miles of our home. Evac zone and fire are not the same things, mind you, but we were ready. Here is an incredible time-lapse shot from Flagstaff Mountain last night. Right now Boulder lies choking under a blanket of smoke from the fire. I’m trying to reconcile those images with the clear, sunny day we are experiencing just west of the fire. Our hope is for containment. Thank you for all of your concerned and caring tweets, FB messages and comments, and emails. We are sending good juju to the victims of the fire and the incredible rescue, firefighting, and relief personnel.
Life goes on. My dear friend, Andrew, is leaving today to travel the world for a year, or two, or six. Boulder will miss you, Andrew. We will miss you. Thanks for spending an evening with us on Sunday. Thanks for being such a Force of Good in the community. Safe and remarkable travels, friend. Come back to us any time.
andrew on the terrace at the flagstaff house
perusing the wine list (the guys got cocktails instead)
crab- and salmon-stuffed squash blossoms with caviar (zomgdelicious!)
Well now, there is a recipe after all. This one dates back to my pre-blog days when I had a static website. I have a little sticky note (the virtual kind, not a paper sticky) on my desktop telling me to transfer some of those old recipes over. I think it might be one of Jeremy’s favorites.
chocolate, of course
espresso powder and cream
Chocolate espresso crème brûlée. The chocolate and espresso are enough to win most folks over, but crème brûlée will surely round up the rest of the holdouts. Crème brûlée is one of the more annoying things to have to type out, so I’m glad the fabulosity of the dessert itself far outweighs any inconvenience experienced in writing about it.
add chopped chocolate to the hot cream
whisking egg yolks, sugar, and vanilla
Crème brûlée is quite simple to make, although some of the aspects can be a little daunting if you aren’t used to water baths or wielding propane torches. Totally worth the trouble, especially when you tap through the golden layer of caramelized sugar and dive into the creamy custard beneath. People swoon when you utter the words “crème brûlée” for a reason.
combine chocolate cream and egg mixtures
after straining, pour into ramekins
I discuss my water bath technique in the recipe, but I find it helps to boil my water in a kettle and then pour it into the roasting pan when the pan is on the oven rack rather than to fill the pan and try placing it in the oven. I’ve had water slosh out onto me, the oven, and into the ramekins. Not fun at all. I don’t recommend it. Blerg! However, when you pour the water into the pan, aim the flow away from the ramekins because it can well up against the ramekin and flow over and into your custard… which kinda sucks.
carefully pouring water into the roasting pan
after baked and cooled, sprinkle with sugar
When you bake crème brûlée, the center should still be jiggly as you take it out of the oven. If you bake until the custard is firm, it will be too dry and won’t have that lovely creamy texture. So typically I insert a knife into the center and make sure nothing is sticking, but I try to preserve that center jiggle. Let the custards cool in the water bath. This takes some time, so don’t be rushing anything. Once cooled, you can refrigerate them for up to 2 days or serve them immediately. I like mine chilled for a couple of hours. Sprinkle some sugar on top and torch it or broil it. Because the custard is dark in color, it’s hard to tell when the sugar has turned that signature caramel color. If you can’t tell, just make sure the sugar melts and bubbles for a bit.
requires adult supervision
a squirt of whipped cream and a chocolate-covered espresso bean to serve
Dinner guests’ faces light up when you utter the words “crème brûlée”, but their looks of anticipation after watching the sugar melt under a bright blue propane-powered flame and the way their eyes close as they take their first spoonful is priceless. Crème brûlée can be made ahead of time (except for torching the sugar, you have to do that before you serve) which makes it a great dessert for entertaining.
the ever-satisfying crack of the caramelized sugar
Chocolate Espresso Crème Brûlée
from Elegantly Easy Crème Brûlée and Other Custard Desserts by Debbie Puente
2 cups heavy cream
1 tbsp instant espresso powder
5 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped
6 egg yolks
3 tbsps sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup sugar (for topping)
chocolate-covered espresso beans for garnish
Oven 300°F. In a medium saucepan, bring the cream and espresso powder to a simmer. Whisk to help dissolve the espresso granules. Remove from heat and add the chocolate while the cream is still hot. Mix until smooth and set aside. In a large bowl, whisk the egg yolks, sugar, and vanilla together. Slowly add the chocolate mixture to the egg mixture, whisking to combine. Strain through a sieve. Ladle the custard into six cups (custard cups, tea cups, ramekins, you name it) and place in a water bath. What I do is boil water in a kettle and when the oven is ready, I set my roasting pan with custard-filled ramekins on the oven rack and carefully pour the hot water into the pan. Take care not to let the water splash up and into the custard (I’ve done that) or spill it all over the oven (I’ve done that too) or splash it out of the pan when you push the rack back into the oven (done that) or burn your hand on any part of the oven when pouring the hot water (again, me). Bake until the custard is set, but still jiggly in the middle. This takes about 40 to 50 minutes (50 minutes for me). Remove the pan from the oven and let the custards cool IN THE WATER BATH. Remove from water bath and refrigerate for at least two hours (you could serve warm, I suppose). Before serving, sprinkle a couple of teaspoons of sugar over each custard and either torch it with a propane torch (those little mini torches don’t work for us at our elevation) or place it under the broiler until the sugar bubbles and caramelizes. I use a medium propane torch from the hardware store. It cost less than those mini torches and I get more oomph. [Note to self: torch on low output at 8500 ft. or it sputters itself out.] Garnish with whipped cream and a chocolate-covered espresso bean. Serves 6.