Inspired by a recipe from Williams Sonoma Home Baked Comfort, this recipes adds a few twists to the French classic: blood orange zest flavors vanilla custard which sits atop bittersweet chocolate ganache, all crowned with caramelized blood orange rounds.
For years, Valentine’s Day for me was about dessert. I mean that in the strictly professional sense of the word. Like most, the restaurant where I worked as a pastry chef would create a special dinner menu, and I would jump at the chance to feature something lusciously out of the ordinary. The owner, who also held the title of executive chef though he spent most of his time running other aspects of the restaurant, wasn’t a chocolate person and frequently blocked my chocophiliac tendencies from the menu. Valentine’s day was my one chance of the year to splash out.
I would pour love into my Valentine’s day desserts. One year it was an airy chocolate roulade cake filled with white chocolate mousse and served over a blood orange compote. Another it was a deep, dark chocolate chile pot de crème topped with pepita brittle.
But to my dismay, the desserts never sold. We would run the special for several days afterward trying to use it up, but most of it ended up either in the staff or the compost.
I was perplexed. The usual chocolate desserts always sold heads and tails above the others – double chocolate buñuelos with crème anglaise, or chocolate rum tres leches cakes – so I knew the V-day diners weren’t chocolate haters. I had no explanation. I just figured people didn’t like what I was offering, and for this reason I was too ashamed to discuss my frustration with any of my coworkers.
The last Valentine’s day I worked was a different matter. Knowing that the desserts never sold, I planned something especially special. I cooked up a batch of sweet lemon crepes which would be pan-fried to order and garnished with a dollop of Pisco sabayon and blood orange supremes. I made about 10 orders of the labor-intensive components, of which I figured we’d sell only a few as per usual.
The head chef, Santos, came in as I was leaving. “I hope you made a lot of dessert ’cause we gonna sell A LOT tonight.”
I froze. “Why?”
Santos explained that the reason the specials never sold was that the servers neglected to tell the customers what the specials were. “Tonight,” he declared, “we printing the menus!”
In shock at learning the true reason for the abysmal special dessert sales, further proof of the poorly-managed restaurant, I showed Santos how to plate the crèpes and gave the plate to the servers to taste, decreasing our count from 10 to 9 orders. They sold out within the first hour of service, for which I of course got a talking to from my boss. The spirit of Valentine’s day was certainly not in that air.
Thankfully, my days of maddening restaurant work are far behind me, and I can make tiny portions of dessert and know that they will be eaten. By me and my chocophiliac sweetie. So I put together these crème brûlées inspired by this recipe from William’s Sonoma, originally published in Home Baked Comfort, which was beautifully photographed by my buddy Eric Wolfinger. I add a layer of chocolate to the bottom, blood orange zest to the custard, and I torch the orange rounds with sugar to create a crunchy crust.
I hadn’t made crème brûlée in a while – since my pastry chef days, actually – and it was a pleasure to pull out my kitchen torch and feel a bit bad-ass again.
Speaking of dangerous kitchen equipment, I want to take a moment to rave about my new chef’s knife. It’s the one recommended by America’s Test Kitchen, by the makers of Swiss Army Knives, Victorinox, and it vanquishes the competition every time in their thorough tests and costs half as much. It sliced through the dense chocolate wafers like butter, and it’s lightweight and comfortable to hold. I’m in love! this Valentine’s day, why not give your valentine the gift that says, “I trust you with sharp objects?”
Crack through the bronzed sugar crust and your spoon dips into softly-set custard that tastes like the most decadent creamsicle you’ve ever had, and below that is a layer of bittersweet chocolate ganache. The juices from caramelized blood orange segments mixes with it all for an eye-opening (and eye-catching) take on the French classic. Bon appetit.
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One year ago:
Two years ago:
Chocolate Bergamot Scones
Homemade Irish Cream Liqueur
Three years ago:
Buckwheat Hazelnut Brown Butter Cake, Cider-Glazed Apples
Four years ago:
Pear, Blue Cheese and Hazelnut Tart
Five years ago:
Oven-Roasted Potatoes and Parsnips
Blood Orange Chocolate-Bottom Crème Brûlée
This recipe makes a petite batch of crème brûlée, serving 2-3. If you don’t have individual 4-6 ounce baking dishes, small canning jars can be used to good effect. A kitchen torch makes these a breeze, but you can try sticking these a few inches under the broiler, watching them like a hawk to prevent scorching. Or you can skip the sugar lids altogether for a divine layered pot de crème situation. The custards can be cooked and stored, covered tightly, in the fridge for up to 3 days. Torch them to order, bien sûr.
Makes 2-3 servings
For the chocolate layer:
1 ounce (30 grams) chopped bittersweet (65-70% cacao mass) chocolate
1/4 cup (2 ounces / 60 mL) heavy cream
For the crème brûlée custard:
1 cup (8 ounces / 236 mL) heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon packed blood orange zest (from 1/2 a medium blood orange)
1/2 vanilla bean, scraped
3 large egg yolks
3 tablespoons (1 ounce / 30 grams) organic blonde cane sugar
a few tablespoons organic blonde cane sugar, as needed
1-2 smallish blood oranges
Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 300ºF. Have ready 2 (6-ounce) or 3 (4-ounce) heatproof ramekins, canning jars, bowls, or cappuccino cups, a small roasting pan, and a piece of aluminum foil. Bring a kettle of water to a boil.
Make the chocolate layer:
Place the chocolate in a small bowl. In a small saucepan, bring the cream just to a boil over a medium flame, swirling the pan occasionally. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate, let it sit for 1 minute, then whisk gently until smooth.
Pour the chocolate goodness into the waiting ramekins and place them in the freezer to firm up.
Make the custard:
In the same saucepan, combine the cream, orange zest, and vanilla pod and scrapings. Over a medium flame, heat the mixture, swirling frequently, until small bubbles appear around the sides of the pot and the mixture is hot and steamy. Remove from the heat, cover, and steep 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, place the egg yolks in a medium bowl and whisk in the sugar and salt to combine. When the cream has steeped, gradually whisk in the hot cream, whisking constantly. Strain the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve and into a pitcher, pressing on the good stuff to extract the flavor. (You can rinse and dry the vanilla pod and use it to make vanilla extract or sugar.)
Place the chilled, chocolate-bottomed ramekins in the roasting pan, and divide the custard mixture among the ramekins. Cover with the foil, poke a few holes in it, and peel back a corner. Place the whole thing on the oven rack and carefully pour in enough boiling water to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Close the oven door and bake the ramekins until the custards wobble like Jell-o when you give them a jiggle, 25-35 minutes. Be careful not to overbake or the custard will turn grainy; if bubbles appear around the sides of the custards, remove them immediately.
Remove from the oven and let cool until you can remove them from the water, then cool completely. Cover and chill the custards until firm, 2-4 hours or up to 3 days.
Finish the custards:
Sprinkle a chilled custard with enough sugar to coat it in a thin, even layer, about 1 teaspoon. Tilt the ramekin and tap it around to even out the sugar layer if need be. Use a crème brûlée torch held a few inches away from the sugar and pointing straight down to gently caramelize the sugar. If it starts to blacken, pull the torch further away, and use a circular motion to evenly torch the whole top. Now repeat with a second teaspoon of sugar; this will make a thick lid that is pleasing to crack. Repeat with the remaining crème brûlée(s). Chill for 10-20 minutes to harden the lid and cool the custard back down.
Meanwhile, cut the ends off of the blood oranges and place one cut-side-down in a cutting board. Use a sharp knife (I like a serrated knife) to pare away the peel and white pith, following the curve of the orange. When the pith is removed, turn the orange on its side and slice into 1/4-inch thick rounds.
Place 2-3 rounds atop each crème brûlée, sprinkle them with another teaspoon of sugar, and torch the sugar with the crème brûlée torch. Serve immediately.