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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, October 30, 2002

A crème brûlée ménage à trois

 •  Chef shares his secrets for pastry with panache

By Wanda A. Adams
Advertiser Food Editor

Chef Ron Viloria, above, sculpts chocolate at Tiki's Grill & Bar at the Aston Waikiki Beach Hotel. He spreads melted chocolate on chilled granite, then removes it with a spatula and shapes it.

Cory Lum • The Honolulu Advertiser

Here's the procedure for making Viloria's trio of crèmes brûlée.

Start by making three batches of custard in different flavors. You can do this up to 24 hours ahead of time. Make garnishes the morning of your dinner party. Compose the dessert just before serving.

To create the crunchy, crusty top that is the hallmark of burnt cream, you can use one of the petite, hand-held butane kitchen torches (or a larger propane torch from a hardware store). Or you can broil the sugar in the oven. The torches do a better job but broiling is acceptable; just be watchful.

This crèmes brûlée is the one tested and found true in the November/ December 2001 issue of Cook's Illustrated magazine. Viloria's variations are below. You can use ramekins (deep, round mini-casserole dishes) or shallow, fluted burnt-cream dishes.

Crème brûlée

4 cups chilled very heavy cream
3/4 cup granulated sugar
Pinch salt
1 vanilla bean, halved lengthwise
12 large egg yolks
8-12 teaspoons sugar

Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 300 degrees.

Combine 2 cups cream, sugar and salt in saucepan; scrape vanilla bean seeds into pan, submerge pod and bring mixture to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally to ensure that sugar dissolves. Take pan off heat and let steep 15 minutes to infuse flavors.

Meanwhile, line a large baking dish or roasting pan with a folded kitchen towel and arrange eight ramekins or dishes on towel. Bring kettle or large saucepan of water to boil.

Stir remaining cream into sugar mixture to cool it down. Whisk egg yolks in a large bowl until broken up and combined. Whisk about 1 cup cream mixture into yolks until loosened and combined; add remaining cream mixture and whisk until evenly colored and thoroughly combined. Strain through fine-mesh strainer into clean bowl or measuring cup or pitcher. Pour or ladle mixture into ramekins, dividing evenly.

Carefully place baking dish with ramekins in the oven; pour boiling water into dish, being careful not splash into ramekins. Bake until centers of custards are barely set and no longer sloshy; 30 to 35 minutes in deep ramekins or 25 to 30 minutes if you're using shallow, fluted dishes. An instant-read thermometer should read 170 to 175 degrees when custard is done.

Kahlua variation: Stir together 1 tablespoon instant coffee powder and 3 tablespoons of kahlua liqueur. Make custard up to the point where you stir in the remaining cream. Add kahlua mixture along with remaining cream.

Ginger-lime variation: Make ginger-lime syrup by blending 1/2 cup sugar and 1/3 cup water in a saucepan with 2 tablespoons of julienned fresh ginger and the zest of 1 lime. Simmer 15 minutes. Cool and strain. Make custard up to the point where you stir in the remaining cream. Add ginger-lime syrup along with remaining cream.

Presentation: Place a doily on a large dinner plate. Place one ramekin of each flavor of crème brûlée on the dish. Garnish the kahlua custard with a chocolate fan (see directions below). Garnish the ginger-lime with candied lime zest (see directions below). Garnish the vanilla with a strawberry fan or just leave this one plain.

Candied lime zest: Make a simple syrup (half sugar, half water; simmered until sugar melts). With a very sharp knife, peel the skin from a lime in strips; cut or scrape away the bitter white inner part. Cut the zest into long, narrow strips. Simmer gently over low heat in simple syrup until the zest is soft-textured and sweet; 30 minutes or longer. (The longer you immerse the peel in the warm liquid, the softer it will be). Refrigerate and use as needed.

Chocolate fan: For this, you need a tool used by many pastry chefs — a square of glazed, sealed marble or granite; the floor tiles available in any hardware store will work. Freeze the stone. Melt good-quality semi-sweet or unsweetened chocolate gently over a simmering water bath. Viloria prefers a chocolate with 65 percent cocoa butter, rich and smooth-textured. Place the frozen tile on a flat work surface. Pour the melted chocolate into a small pitcher or cup measure with spout. Have ready a long, narrow, flexible spatula, such as the kind used in frosting cakes.

Pour a thick rope of chocolate about a foot long onto the frozen tile. With two quick motions of the spatula, spread the chocolate into a flattened rectangle about 2 inches wide and 1/8 inch thick. Lift the end of the chocolate strip with spatula and slide spatula underneath to free the chocolate from the tile. Quickly pick it up and shape into a fan by pleating one long end. These fans can be refrigerated for a short period before use. This technique can be used to make strips of chocolate (white, milk or dark) for wrapping a cake or forming a bow.

Sorbet cookie sandwich

This is Viloria's technique for making a dramatic but quite easy dessert — a trio of flavored sorbets sandwiched between crisp sweet cookies called tuiles, and topped with fruit and a crunchy meringue.

You can buy the sorbets; for the best presentation, you'll need a an ice cream mini-scoop, or use a melon baller. The meringues can be made the night ahead, as can the tuiles. All you need do before serving is compose the presentation (see below).

Meringues are just egg white, sugar and flavoring beaten stiff and baked in a low oven until dry and crisp. Try to avoid baking them in very humid weather; make sure they're fully cooled before storing them in an airtight container. Meringues make a wonderful low-fat dessert with just the addition of some fresh fruit or fruit puree. This recipe is from the 1964 edition of "The Joy of Cooking."


4 egg whites
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup sifted powdered sugar or 1 cup minus 1 tablespoon sifted granulated sugar

Preheat oven to 225 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper (or cut squares from brown paper bags).

In an electric mixer, beat egg whites until foamy; add vanilla. Add sugar while beating, 1 teaspoon at a time. Beat until the egg white forms stiff peaks on the beater.

Drop heaping spoons of meringue onto paper and spread with the back of a spoon to form a round. Or pipe into circles or other shapes, using a pastry bag.

Bake for 1 hour; turn off oven, open door and allow to cool completely.

Tuile (too-weel) is just a fancy name for what we used to call lace cookies: sugary, crunchy cookies made from a very loose dough that melts as it bakes, spreading out to thin rounds. (The ones that are sometimes rolled while they're still warm and pliable.)

For these, you really ought to buy a piece of equipment that you will come to love if you invest in it: a Silpat mat, silicone sheets that are used to keep baked goods from sticking. If you don't use Silpat, line the baking sheet with parchment.

To make mango puree, peel and seed a ripe mango and puree in food processor.

Mango Lace Tuile

1 2/3 cups sugar
1/2 cup flour
1/4 cup orange juice
3 tablespoons mango puree
1/2 cup melted butter

Mix. Spoon by the rounded teaspoonful onto Silpat mat on a baking sheet or parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 5-6 minutes. Allow to cool briefly. With a thin, flexible spatula, carefully lift the cookies out of the pan and store between layers of parchment in an airtight container.

Compose the dessert: Gather tuiles, sorbet or ice cream, 3 even-sized strawberries per serving, meringues and strawberry puree or chocolate sauce, if desired.

On a dessert plate, place a tuile. Scoop three small rounds of different sorbets or ice creams onto the cookie. Top with another tuile. Top with three whole strawberries. Top with a meringue round. Drizzle chocolate sauce or strawberry puree, if desired.