The first time I had Crème Brûlée was at Arnaud's, named after Arnaud Cazenave (1876-1948). Located on the Rue Bienville in the heart of the French Quarter in New Orleans, Arnaud's looks like it was plucked out of France and deposited in the Quarter. Nothing over-the-top fancy, yet truly elegant. I can remember my high heels clicking on the Italian mosaic tile floors as we were guided to our table. The beautiful chandeliers glistened above our heads and the southern fans flapped their wings to keep the air moving even in mid-May. The gentlemen in the restaurant all looked as the ladies walked by, tipping their heads in a welcoming nod. I knew it was going to be a magical evening as we celebrated my husband's birthday.
I can't remember what I ate for dinner. But until the day I die, I will never forget Crème Brûlée my waiter chose for my dessert (because I couldn't decide).
This is my version of Crème Brûlée. I tried, as usual, to simplify the recipe and add a new twist. This time it's the raspberry-brown sugar crust. Now, to me, the best Crème Brûlée is served with the crust warm and the custard still cold in the middle like Arnaud's served theirs. Most places give it to you after they've made it and chilled it for several hours, so the whole thing is cold. That's fine, but in my book the hot and cold juxtaposition is what makes it divine.
If you make the Crème Brûlée, do me a favor. Before you "break into it," raise your spoon in a toast to everyone over the years who has made New Orleans such a joy to visit. Count your blessings, and . . . Enjoy!
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
You'll need a 9 X 13-inch baking dish and 8 individual ramekins, custard dishes or pot de crème pots. Just make sure what you choose is ovenproof.
Put your cream in a saucepan on Medium High and bring it to a simmer. You're looking for the little bubbles to form on the outside of the pan just before the cream starts to boil. This will take a few minutes. While you are waiting, you can work on your egg mixture.
Put your egg yolks and white sugar in a large bowl. With an electric mixer, blend these on Medium for 2 to 3 minutes until well mixed and smooth. Add your vanilla and the salt. Mix until combined.
The cream should be ready. Turn it off. Do not let it boil or boil over. The next step is to mix the hot cream into the eggs but you can't just pour it all in at once. If you do, the eggs will scramble because you will have added too much heat too fast. You have to take this very easy. Add just a couple of tablespoons of the hot cream to the egg mixture. With the mixer running on low, add a little more. After you've done this three times, you can start to add your cream in a steady slow stream. Keep the mixer running until you have all of the cream mixed in. In order to make this easy and neat, you might consider putting the warm cream in a large measuring cup or pitcher so you have a pouring spout and can control the flow a little easier as you are adding it to the egg mixture.
When it's all mixed in the bowl, I put the whole mixture back into the pitcher. I need pouring control in another minute.
Now take your 9 X 13 pan and put all of your ramekins in it. Fill the pan with enough water to come halfway up the sides of the containers. NO MORE than that. Put a few raspberries in the bottom of each container. Then carefully pour the cream mixture over the raspberries, up to about one-third of an inch from the top of the container-maybe even one-half of an inch, depending on how steady your hands are. That's because you now have to transfer this to the oven.
Open the oven door. Pull the rack out halfway but make sure it's secure. Then carefully transfer to the oven the 9 X 13 pan with its containers of cream mixture that are sitting in the water bath. Gently push the oven rack into position in the oven. The goal here is not to spill the water or the cream mixture. (If you get some of the cream mixture dripping in the water while you were filling the ramekins, don't fret. That's fine. If a bit of cream slops over from the containers into the water, that's fine too. Just try not to get water into the custard-filled containers. That would be bad.)
Bake the custards for one hour. They will be light brown on top and "set." This means they will be firm across the top but ever so slightly jiggly in the middle. That's good. Carefully remove the whole pan from the oven. Keep your oven mitts or protection on and remove the hot containers of baked custard. (I use a tongs but this is tricky!) Put them on a cookie sheet or tray and put them in your refrigerator to cool. You need to leave them in there at least 3 hours to firm up. You can even leave them overnight. If you leave them overnight, cover them with plastic wrap after they have cooled.
When you want to serve. Preheat your broiler. Open your jar of raspberry jelly. Take out a small, scant half teaspoonful and gently smear it across the top of the baked custard. I'm not specifying exactly how much jelly you want here. This is pretty sweet so just a smear is enough, but I'll leave it up to you. Then sprinkle 2 teaspoons of brown sugar on top of each, trying to cover the jelly. If it doesn't cover completely, that's okay.
Put all of the containers on a cookie sheet and place it under the broiler at least 6 to 8 inches below the heat source. Broil for up to 2 minutes; you're watching for the brown sugar to completely melt. If there is jelly sticking through, it will glisten. When the sugar is melted, it will make a crust and you're ready to go.
Let them cool for just a minute and serve.