This delicious rhubarb creme brulee is the perfect combination of sweet creamy custard and tart rhubarb compote.
Creme brulee might seem like a difficult dessert to make but it isn't. In fact, it is the perfect make-ahead dessert.
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Why You Will Love This Recipe
- Creme brulee makes a fantastic blank canvas for adding so many different flavors.
- Adding tart rhubarb to creme brulee contrasts beautifully with the sweet creamy custard.
- Creme brulee is easy to make and can be made in advance allowing you to turn your attention to the rest of the meal.
What is Rhubarb?
Rhubarb is a tart vegetable that looks like pink celery. I remember my mom always made a rhubarb custard pie every spring but for some reason, I never tried it.
One of my favorite parts of cooking is trying new recipes and experimenting with new ingredients and techniques. This spring I decided to tackle rhubarb. Rhubarb is typically in season from late March until early June.
Check out my April Produce Guide for more information about early spring fruits and vegetables.
Love rhubarb? Try this chocolate rhubarb cake.
Note: Rhubarb leaves are toxic and should not be consumed. They contain oxalic acid which can build up in your body and lead to kidney failure.
Rhubarb is classified as a vegetable, but it is often used as a fruit. The leaf stalks can be eaten raw, they have a crisp texture similar to celery. Rhubarb is commonly cooked with sugar and used in pies, crumbles, and other desserts. Rhubarb has a strong, tart taste.
Buying, Storing, and Preparing Rhubarb
Look for rhubarb stalks that are flat and firm. Avoid rhubarb stalks that are limp and curled.
Refrigerate unwashed rhubarb stalks in a plastic bag for up to 3 days.
There is no need to peel the stalks just pull off any obvious strings and trim off any rough areas. Next, cut the stalks into ½ to 1-inch pieces against the grain of the stalk to help break up the stringiness. Rhubarb has a high amount of acid. It is best to cook rhubarb in non-reactive cookware.
Because there are so few ingredients, now is the time to spring for the best quality ingredients you can afford.
Rhubarb: Rhubarb is generally quite tart and is usually cooked with lots of sugar. My rhubarb compote is made with relatively little sugar to allow the tart rhubarb to contrast with the sweet custard.
Heavy Whipping Cream: Some recipes use a combination of both heavy whipping cream and milk to make the custard lighter. In my opinion, creme brûlée is meant to be rich so this recipe uses only heavy whipping cream.
If you must substitute milk for some of the heavy whipping cream I would stick with a 1:1 ratio. Use one cup of heavy whipping cream and one cup of milk.
Egg Yolks: For creme brulee, you want to use just the egg yolks. Egg whites would set too firmly giving the creme brulee a rubbery texture.
If you have never separated eggs before, check out this post from Sugar Hero where she shares four methods for separating eggs.
Save the egg whites for another recipe. My favorite way to use egg whites is in this Angel Food Cake from Alton Brown.
Vanilla Extract: Use pure vanilla extract not imitation vanilla. It may be a little more expensive but the flavor is so much better.
Salt: I add at least a pinch of salt to all of my recipes. Salt complements and intensifies the other flavors. For all of my recipes, I use Morton Kosher Salt which is saltier than Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt. If you are using Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt you will want to double the amount of salt you add.
What is the Best Sugar for Creme Brulee?
Wow, there are so many sugar options sold in stores. From your basic brown and white sugar to more exotic sugars like coconut and monk fruit sugar.
For creme brûlée, the best sugar to use is regular granulated white sugar. Its small granules easily melt into the custard perfectly balancing the bitterness of the burnt sugar crust.
Speaking of the crust we will use granulated white sugar for the topping as well. Granulated sugar works best because the granules are small and caramelize quickly, which is important. We don't want the custard to melt while we are brûléeing the sugar.
Another benefit to using white sugar is it is easy to tell when the sugar has caramelized because it will turn from white to a golden brown.
Creme brulee does require a couple of pieces of specialized equipment.
Large Measuring Cup: I like to mix my custard into a large measuring cup to make pouring the custard into the ramekins easier. If you are planning to wait to bake your creme brulee, you can use this large glass measuring cup that comes with a lid for easy storage.
Ramekins: These wide shallow ramekins work best. Deeper ramekins take longer to bake, allowing the edges to be overcooked before the center has set.
The wider ramekins also allow for a higher ratio of crunchy sugar crust to creamy custard.
Cake Pan: Like most cheesecakes creme brûlée is baked in a bain-marie or water bath. Surrounding the creme brulees with water allows them to cook gently and will help keep them from cracking.
Kitchen Torch: Butane torches have a number of uses in the kitchen. They can char peppers, toast meringue, melt cheese, and brown bread crumbs. The kitchen torches from EurKitchen and Sondiko have consistently rated high on top kitchen torch lists.
Add rhubarb to a medium skillet with 2 tablespoons of sugar and 1 tablespoon of water. Cook on medium heat for about 15 minutes, until the rhubarb has broken down.
Divide the rhubarb between six ramekins.
Prepare the oven. Move an oven rack to the middle position and preheat the oven to 325ºF.
Whisk the egg yolks, sugar, and salt together. In a medium-sized bowl whisk together the egg yolks, sugar, and salt until smooth and the egg yolks start to lighten in color.
Add the heavy cream and vanilla. Whisk to combine.
For perfectly smooth custard use a spoon to skim off any foam.
Cook the custard. Creme brulee needs to cook slowly and gently. This is why we will use a bain-marie or water bath.
The size of pan you use will depend upon the size of ramekins you have. I have used cake pans, roasting pans, and jelly roll pans. No need to purchase a special pan just use whatever you already own.
Lay a towel across the bottom of the pan and arrange your ramekins on top. The towel will keep the ramekins from sliding around.
Pour the custard into the ramekins. If you want perfectly smooth creme brulee, use a spoon to skim off any bubbles from the top, or don't worry about it any imperfections will be covered by the burnt sugar crust.
Place the pan in the oven and then pour hot water into the pan being careful to not splash water into the ramekins. The water should come about halfway up the ramekins.
Bake for 25 to 35 minutes until the edges are set but the centers are still slightly jiggly. The baking time will vary widely depending upon the size and shape of your ramekins.
Cool the custard. Remove the baking dish from the oven and allow the custards to cool for approximately 15 minutes until you can safely pick up the ramekins and remove them from the water. Allow the custards to cool on the counter for an additional 15 minutes.
Cover each ramekin with plastic wrap and chill them in the refrigerator for at least four hours and up to four days.
Brulee the sugar topping. Remove the custards from the refrigerator and evenly sprinkle each custard with 1 teaspoon of granulated sugar.
Ignite your torch and hold the flame about 4 inches from the surface of the custard. Using a circular motion heat the sugar until it browns and forms a crust.
The longer you brulee the sugar, the darker, more caramelized, and bitter it will become. The bitterness contrasts nicely with the sweetness of the custard.
Cooked creme brulee can be covered with plastic wrap and stored in the refrigerator for up to five days.
Remember to wait to top with and brulee the sugar until just before serving. Otherwise, the sugar crust will become soggy.
I don't recommend freezing creme brulee. Most likely the custard will separate when it thaws.
- Use a water bath when baking the creme brulees. The water helps to insulate the custard to prevent the outside from cooking too quickly before the centers have had time to set.
- Chill for at least 4 hours in the refrigerator before serving. Creme brulee is meant to be served chilled with a warm topping.
- Serve immediately after caramelizing the sugar. If allowed to sit the sugar topping will become soggy instead of crunchy.
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Thanks for Reading!
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