Friday, April 22, 2011

Cherry-Almond Crème Brûlée

After the rousing success of last month's inaugural Mardi Gras-themed supper club, it was recently my turn to host our rotating dinner just in time to coincide with DC's annual Cherry Blossom Festival, and we welcomed April with a cherry and Japanese-themed dinner inspired by DC's ubiquitous spring flower.

In addition to providing the main course of prosciutto-wrapped pork loin with cherry glaze, I obviously couldn't help but jump in with some cherry blossom-inspired desserts as well.  I decided on cherry-almond crème brûlée and--inspired by the cherry blossom festival menu at my fave DC restaurant Adour--cherry macarons.  Big mistake.

Because macarons are the cookie with possibly the most finicky reputation on the planet, I don't know what made me think I could crank some out like it was no big thing. "Oh, cherry macarons? The cookie to which you could devote an entire career of culinary study? No prob!" Suffice it to say that my macarons played along until the moment of no return, when they decided, at the last minute, to come out flat and crinkly.  While any number of things could have gone wrong (under beating the eggs, over beating the batter) I'm convinced that it's the cruel sting of baking karma.  As you may remember, Parisian Spring and I recently attempted our first batch of macarons and they came out PERFECTLY.  Like, omg-these-look-just-like-a-picture perfect.  So, because the baking gods blessed me the first time around, I know they're somewhere laughing with schadenfreude at my total macaron fail.

Macaron batter pretending to cooperate   

But on to the crème brûlée.

Fortunately, the crème brûlée came out excellently despite a little recipe mishmash and I was really pleased with the natural cherry flavor that comes from the addition of the cherry juice.  I think you could choose to leave the whole cherries in or out for this dish, depending on your preference.  Alternately I thought about puréeing the cherries first, so let me know if you try out that technique and how you like it.  Obviously the best part of crème brûlée is frightening your friends by wielding a kitchen torch after a few glasses of wine but, if you don't have one, you can always just pop your ramekins under the broiler of a few seconds to achieve the perfect sugar crust.

In honor of the Japanese gift of cherry blossoms, there was much hibachi to be had

I think Sandra Lee would be proud of my tablescape
Cherry-Almond Crème Brûlée
1 can sweet dark cherries, drained with syrup reserved
2 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons almond extract
5 large egg yolks
4 tablespoons sugar, for brulée topping

1.  Preheat oven to 325°F. Place six ramekins in a large roasting pan and arrange 5 cherries in the bottom of each.

2.  In a saucepan over medium heat, combine cream, 3/4 cup reserved cherry syrup, 1/2 cup sugar and almond extract. Stir until sugar dissolves, then bring to a simmer. Simmer gently for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat.

3.  In a mixing bowl, whisk egg yolks until well blended. Gradually add hot cream mixture and whisk to combine.

4.  Divide custard among ramekins. Pour hot water into the roasting pan until it’s halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Carefully transfer pan to oven.

5.  Bake 35 minutes or until almost set (the center of each custard should wiggle when gently shaken). Using a large slotted spoon or tongs, carefully lift custards out of the water. Cool 30 minutes, then refrigerate for at least 3 hours and up to 2 days.

6.  When ready to serve, sprinkle 2 teaspoons of  sugar over each custard, turning and tapping the ramekin to evenly coat. Using a small kitchen torch, carefully move the flame across each until the sugar melts and browns, about 2 minutes. Refrigerate for at least 10 minutes and up to 2 hours, then serve.

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