The crème brulee is a quintessential French dessert made of delicate, creamy flan with a golden brown crust of caramelized sugar on the top. But in this recipe, Chef Mario d’Orio of Le Mahatma Restaurant takes it a step further by adding ginger and basil leaves for a more exciting and sophisticated take on the dessert. At times fragrant and therapeutic, the ginger and basil provide a contrast to the creamy sweetness of the traditional custard.
Vanilla bean is the primary flavoring of the classic crème brulee and the chefs recipes still includes it. The addition of the ginger, grated or minced finely, is done at the same time as the vanilla bean so that the flavors are cooked into the custard. The basil leaves, which does its best when fresh and with the least amount of cooking, are added during the last stages of the preparation. It is chopped finely, which releases its sweet, herby fragrance. The crème brulee is one of the easiest desserts to prepare if you look at the directions but care must be exercised when cooking the milk and cream into a custard lest it curdles or overcooks. You will have to know when it’s time to take the dessert out of the fire. The egg yolks are added and whisked to make the custard. This recipe can be a stepping stone for further experimentations with flavoring the crème brulee beyond basil and ginger. Should you wish, you can add coffee, chocolate, green tea, liqueur, lemon, pistachio, and orange zest later on to the basic custard.
While crème brulee means “burnt cream,” it is the brown sugar layer which is actually “burnt.” Using a blowtorch, the sugar is caramelized until it forms a crust on top to seal in the rich, creamy and silky custard base. With the basil and ginger, this luxurious dessert becomes invigorating and refreshing to the senses. Serve with a glass of Sauterne.
1 cup milk
1 ¾ tablespoons ginger
1 vanilla pod
¼ lb. sugar
10 egg yolks
1 pint heavy cream
10 basil leaves
1. Peel and cut ginger into thin and small pieces. In a medium saucepan, cook the milk over medium heat. Add the ginger and sugar then stir. Scrape vanilla bean and place the pulp and bean in saucepan. Stir then bring to a boil. Set aside to cool.
2. In a bowl, separate the eggs. Set aside the egg whites for other uses. Whisk egg yolks until rich and smooth. Strain the cream and add to the egg yolks a little at a time, stirring continually until blended. Finely chop the basil and stir into the mixture.
3. Pour in shallow bowls or casserole dish and place in a preheated 100 degree oven for 40 to 50 minutes or just until the cream is set and trembling in the center.
4. Allow the dish to cool then refrigerate for two hours and up to three days. Before serving, sprinkle sugar and caramelize using a blowtorch. Garnish with thin spirals of ginger.