Classic creme brulee should be creamy and silky with a glass thin coating of caramelized sugar.
In my last post I told you about our wonderful wine group and about our recent get-together centered on the theme “after dinner”. Our first dessert and wine match-up was a tasty Asti from Italy successfully paired with Apricot Frangipane Tartelettes.
The second wine of the evening was very special. A 2009 Chateau Guiraud Sauternes. Sauternes is a world famous wine from Bordeaux. Sauternes are made from a mix of grapes that have been allowed to develop a fungus called Botrytis cinerea, aka, noble rot. Noble Rot causes some of the grapes to become raisined, which results in a concentrated and distinctively flavored wine.
The 2009 Chateau Guiraud Sauternes was listed #5 on Wine Spectator’s 2012 best 100 wines and was rated 96 points out of 100. Because the the wine was a little pricey, we didn’t taste it ahead of time. I read a lot of reviews of the wine and researched typical pairings for Sauternes. A famous pairing is Sauternes and Fois Gras, but since the theme of the evening was “after dinner” that would not be on the menu. Another classic pairing is Sauternes and creme brulee, the elegant french custard topped with a thin and crisp layer of caramelized sugar. That would be the second stage of the menu, a classic vanilla creme brulee with the Sauternes.
I had some extra Apricot Frangipane Tartelettes on-hand thinking they might also work with the Sauternes. Reviews of the wine mentioned flavors of almond cream, honey and melon that I thought would work with the tartelettes.
Creme brulee is one of those recipes that is so simple with such a short ingredient list that it seems like it would be fool proof. As is often true, sometimes the simplest recipes are hard to get just right. With so few ingredients, the success of the dish depends on good technique. I’ve had some bad creme brulee over the years. Generally, the two biggest problems are a curdled or spongy custard and/or an overly thick layer of caramel.
There are a few key techniques to achieve a silky custard; don’t incorporate too much air into the cream base when mixing, strain the custard to remove strings from the eggs and any foam that has formed on the custard. Foam is made up of bubbles and you don’t want bubbles in the baked custard. Bake the custard in a Bain Marie, or water bath, to keep it from cooking too hot. Finally, don’t over-bake the custard. It should be removed from the oven as soon as it sets. Otherwise, as it continues to cook it will puff up, causing unpleasant air bubbles in the final product (ask me how I know this will happen!).
The key to a good caramel layer is to use a thin and even layer of granulated sugar. It might be tempting to add more sugar, thinking the more caramel the better. But you want a glass-like layer of caramel that will crack with the first stab of the spoon. The best tool for caramelizing the sugar is a propane torch. How were the creme brulee and the Sauternes together? Well, there’s a reason it’s a classic pairing. The richness and body of the Sauternes matched nicely with the richness of the custard. The sweetness of the sugar topping was tamed by the bitter note of the caramel and it didn’t overwhelm the wine.
I also very much enjoyed the Apricot Frangipane Tartelette with the Sauternes. The fruit flavors in the wine worked nicely with the apricots and the honey glaze was a good match for the sugar level in the wine.
Next up in our”after dinner” tasting would be the Cabernet Ice Wine from Canada. This was probably the most fun and creative pairing for me. Details in the next post.