Grapefruit Scented Creme Brulee

As a diabetic, distance runner, weight lifter, health fanatic, yada yada, I don’t really do desserts.  But I can make very good desserts.  Very good.

In a restaurant, when a chef (or pastry chef) develops a dessert menu, they usually look for the following:

a custard
a fruit
something playful
something chocolate

The playful is optional, and anything else beyond this is also optional.  Sorbets, ice creams, tuilles, crispy things, tart shells, little cakes and crumbles.. they are all components of a dish specifically aimed at achieving a goal, ie the custard dish, and so on.  On each dish chefs like to have:

something smooth
something crunchy
a sauce
Or, simply put, multiple colors and textures

These are, of course, ‘complete dishes’.  This is what works best in your mouth.  That crunch is so necessary, the smoothness of something, anything, is wonderful, and the sauce brings it all together.  Berries add color, contrast, natural flavor, that famous sugar ‘snow’ adds eye appeal, a little crumble under the ice cream dazzles customers with a different flavor and crunch.  These are all little tricks that make a dish complete.

I love making custards.  Creme brulee is my favorite to make, probably because it’s easy and really amazes people.  This is a basic recipe with my personal additional (grapefruit essence).  The grapefruit adds a mild, wonderful contrast to the rich custard, without over powering or ‘changing’ the flavor dramatically.  Feel free to sub with espresso beans, orange or lemon zest, malted milk, powder, or any other flavor you like.  This is my personal favorite.

Grapefruit scented Creme Brulee

Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 1 hr
Inactive cook time: 3 hours
Makes: 8


1 quart heavy cream
6 eggs yolks
2 whole eggs
1 cup sugar
1 vanilla bean, split, scraped, all seeds reserved
zest of 1 grapefruit
raw sugar (for final dusting)


Heat an oven to 350.

First step is to temper the custard.  Tempering is a method of bringing two items of different temperatures to a similar (warmer) temperature gently.  This is an absolutely necessary step and if done incorrectly, will yield hot cream and scrambled eggs.

Place the cream, 1/2 cup of the sugar, the vanilla bean (and seeds), and grapefruit zest in a heavy bottom sauce pot and bring to a simmer.  Place the eggs, yolks, 1/2 cup of sugar in a mixing bowl, and whisk vigorously until well combined.  1 ladle at a time, add the hot cream to the eggs, whisking continuously.   Continue the process until the cream and eggs are thoroughly combined.  Strain through a fine mesh strainer to remove any bits of cooked egg, vanilla bean and grapefruit zest.

Second step is to cook the custard.  Have a kettle of hot water ready.  Pour the custard into creme brulee molds (or whatever you want to use, my personal favorite is an espresso or small latte cup) 3/4 high.  Place the molds in a roasting pan, place the roasting pan in the oven, and carefully pour the hot water half way up the molds and bake for about 45 min to an hour.  We do this step with the pan in the oven so you aren’t transferring a heavy roasting pan full of hot water and delicate custard from a counter top to the oven.  You will know the custard is set by lightly and carefully tapping the side of the custard mold.  If it giggles a little bit, it’s ready.  If it seems loose and does more than just a little giggle, it needs more time.

Third step is setting the custard.  When the custard is cooked (tiny giggle when tapped), carefully remove the molds from the water bath and place in the fridge for about 2 hours, or until completely cool.  They should be firmly set (no giggle).

Last step is making the caramel.  When ready to serve, lightly coat (almost a dusting) the top of the custard with raw sugar and using either a torch, or oven broiler, cook the sugar until golden brown.  If using an oven broiler, make sure the molds are as close to the heat as possible.  You want to cook the sugar fast, without re-cooking the custard.  Let cool slightly.

Garnish with berries, a small thin cookie of some sort, whipped cream and a mint leaf.


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