Dessert, for me, is all about decadence. While a main meal tends to provide sustenance in addition to satisfaction, pudding provides an opportunity for sheer indulgence. You’re hardly going to get your five-a-day from chocolate, cream, sugar or any combination thereof, but that’s not really the point. What it fails to do for your health, dessert doubles for your happiness.
And what could be more decadent than a dessert that requires its very own bit of kitchen equipment?
Ok, so I know you can make crème brûlée by putting your ramekins under a very hot grill, but my oven’s fairly ancient and I’ve read enough horror stories about melting puddles of overcooked custard to realise that it’s probably not quite up to scratch for this task. I also love buying new kitchen equipment, and it may sound stupidly childish but there’s something really rather exciting about owning my own blowtorch.
I feel like a proper cook. The way it turns a pile of unrewarding white grains into a mass of golden brown bubbles is almost magical, and the moment I cracked through glassy sugar shards to the smooth custard below, I couldn’t have been happier with my investment.
The recipe I’ve decided to post isn’t just any old crème brûlée. This, dear reader (cue seductive M&S voice) is an Eat Like a Girl crème brûlée, taken from this fabulous food blogger’s new book, Comfort & Spice. If you haven’t heard of Eat Like a Girl – aka Niamh Shields – check out her blog now. One of the UK’s most famous food bloggers, she’s known for her generous, honest, original recipes and reviews, and has just published this warm and wonderful book for fans around the world to add to their kitchen bookshelves.
Whenever a new recipe book arrives, I naturally gravitate towards the desserts at the back, and this one immediately caught my eye. ‘It’s very like making the custard for an ice cream, so once you’ve conquered one, be sure to try the other’ says Niamh into the introduction to Pistachio Crème Brûlée. Anyone who reads this blog on a regular basis will know that I’ve been obsessively mastering the art of making custard since receiving an ice cream maker for my birthday back in July, so this seemed like the perfect place to dive into Niamh’s cooking.
The resulting dessert is wonderfully decadent, and a complete surprise (in a good way). The simple custard is rippled with a swirl of slightly salty nut butter, adding a delicious extra dimension of texture and flavour. The slight crunch of the pistachios offsets the thick, cool custard, and their salty tang prevents the cream from being too cloying. I’d definitely recommend using a blowtorch to create the glassy sugar crust – the way it cracks when you plunge your spoon through to the creamy custard below is just so satisfying.
And definitely use a real vanilla pod. Niamh’s recipe suggests a teaspoon of vanilla extract instead, but I suspect this substitution might just be to keep readers happy by staying in keeping with the book’s more frugal ethic. Nothing beats the flavour of real vanilla, and I love the visible little specs of black you get running through the cream. You can see some of these lovely seeds in the picture below, along with a little layer of pistachio. It might look a bit like pesto, but I promise it tastes incredible . . .
I served my crème brûlée with shortbread biscuits taken from the Ottolenghi cookbook. A feather light, super short dough of butter, sugar and rice flour is infused with cardamom then rolled in chopped pistachios. I’ve not included the recipe below, but they work really well with the creamy custard so do check them out if you plan to make this pud. The recipe below serves six people, but you can easily scale it up or down depending on how many people you’re cooking for.
Pistachio Crème Brûlée (adapted from Comfort & Spice by Niamh Shields)
For the brûlées
750 ml double cream
110g golden caster sugar
1 vanilla pod, opened and seeds removed
6 large free range egg yolks
For the nut butter
100g shelled, unsalted pistachios
1 1/2 tsp coarse sea salt
Ground nut oil
For the caramel
12 tsp granulated sugar
Preheat the oven to 150 degrees C. Put six ramekins in a deep roasting dish and pop the kettle on.
Heat the cream and sugar over a medium heat until just before boiling, then drop in the vanilla pod and seeds. Remove from the heat and leave to infuse and cool for 10 minutes.
In the meantime, blend the pistachios, salt and oil until you have a smooth, firm butter. It’s nice to leave a few coarser nuts for texture.
In a bowl, beat the eggs yolks until frothy. Remove the vanilla pod from the pan of cream, then whisk the cream into the egg yolks slowly, ensuring you don’t cook them. Strain the mixture into a large, clean bowl.
Distribute the mixture between your six ramekins. Stir a tablespoon of nut butter into each ramekin and swirl to make a ripple effect. Pour hot water from the kettle into the tin so it comes half way up the side of each ramekin, then pop the tin in the oven and bake until the custard is set, with a slight wobble – between 30 and 40 minutes.
Allow to cool in the fridge for at least a couple of hours, ideally overnight. When ready to serve, sprinkle about 2 teaspoons of sugar over the top of each brûlée, making sure it reaches right up to the edges. Use a cook’s blowtorch to caramelize the sugar, allowing the heat to create a bubbling golden layer. Return to the fridge to set for a few minutes, then serve with crumbly pistachio shortbread, a spoon and a big smile. Enjoy.