Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Better Together

Brad and I had dinner last week at one of our favorite restaurants in Denver, TAG Raw Bar.  If you go, you have to do the chef's tasting menu.  The chef will ask if you have any allergies or other concerns, and if there's anything you don't like.  From there, he prepares course after course of tasty surprises.

After we finished the dessert course, he brought over a few bonus treats:  a creme brulee cupcake and a snickerdoodle cookie.  Both were delicious, but the cupcake was amazing.  A light white cake with a filling of creme brulee custard, crunchy browned sugar on top, and a single raspberry.  I knew I had to make some.

Creme Brulee Cupcakes
Do you love creme brulee?  How about cupcakes?  Right, who doesn't?  So what about a creme brulee cupcake?  Two great desserts that are even better together.

The Internet abounds with creme brulee cupcake recipes; apparently, they're quite the thing.  Most use a creme brulee-flavored cake, topped with a brown sugar buttercream frosting.  But that's not what we had at Tag Raw Bar, so not the version rolling around in my brain.  Then I found this version on Bakers Royale.  It was exactly what I was looking for, except for once in my life I said "yes, but not with chocolate."

Um, yeah.  These were pretty good.

Custard Filling
1 vanilla bean, split in half lengthwise
2 cups heavy cream, chilled
1/2 cup sugar
pinch of kosher salt
5 large egg yolks*, room temperature
Turbinado or raw sugar
Boiling water for the water bath

* Reserve the egg whites, as you'll need them for the cupcakes

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine 1 cup of the cream, sugar, and salt; scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean into the mixture.  Stirring occasionally, bring mixture to boil.  Remove from heat, add vanilla bean pod and let steep for 15 minutes.  Remove vanilla bean pod and stir in remaining cream.

Whisk egg yolks in a medium bowl; slowly whisk the cream.  Strain mixture and remove solids.

Pour the custard mixture into ramekins.  I used four 8 oz ramekins instead of using creme brulee dishes, so there was less surface area.  Place ramekins in a roasting pan or large cake pan, and fill pan with boiling water to 2/3 of the height of the ramekins.

Bake until the custards are set; begin checking them after 30 minutes and continue baking and checking at 5 minute intervals until they are done.  Mine took 50 minutes, which was probably due to a combination of the high altitude in Denver, the larger ramekins, and I had to substitute about 1/4 cup of the cream with half and half because we ran out.

When done baking, cool the ramekins on a wire rack until they reach room temperature, approximately 2 hours.

Cover each with plastic wrap and chill until you're ready to assembly the cupcakes.  Be sure the plastic wrap is directly on the surface of the custard, to prevent a skin from forming.

White Cupcakes
This recipe is from Martha Stewart's Cupcakes cookbook.

3 1/4 cups unbleached cake flour
1 1/2 Tablespoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup plus two tablespoons milk
1/2 cup plus 6 Tablespoons unsalted butter (1 3/4 sticks), room temperature
1 3/4 cups sugar
5 large egg whites, room temperature (you saved these like I told you to, right?)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line muffin tins with paper baking cups (24).

Sift together flour, baking powder and salt.  Stir vanilla into milk.

With an electric mixer on medium-high, cream the butter until smooth.  Gradually add sugar and beat until pale and fluffy.  Reduce speed to low and add flour and milk mixture, alternating and ending with the flour.  Beat until just combined after each, and scrape bowl down as necessary.

In another bowl, whisk egg whites until stiff (not dry) peaks form.  Gently fold the egg whites into the batter in three additions.

Divide batter among prepared muffin tins.  Bake until done (cake tester inserted in center comes out clean), 18 to 20 minutes.  Place tins on wire rack to cool for about 10 minutes, then take the cakes out of the tins and cool completely on wire rack.

To assemble cupcakes:
Using a sharp paring knife, cut a cone out of the center of each cupcake.

Fill each hole with custard, using the back of a spoon to spread the custard a little beyond the hole on the top of the cupcake.  If not serving immediately, place prepared cupcakes on a large cookie sheet, cover with plastic wrap (again making sure the wrap is placed directly on the custard) and place in the refrigerator.

To serve, sprinkle some turbinado or raw sugar on top.  Hold a small kitchen torch 5 or 6 inches from the surface of the cupcake and wave it back and forth until the sugar has browned.  Sprinkle the sugar and torch the cupcakes one at a time for best results.

We had about a dozen cupcakes left over, so I made some of that brown sugar buttercream frosting and topped them with it so they'd keep fresh longer.  These cupcakes are also very good, although they're really not that reminiscent of creme brulee.

Brown Sugar Buttercream Frosting

1/2 cup light brown sugar
2 egg whites
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup powdered sugar

In a double boiler over simmering water, whisking constantly, cook brown sugar, egg whites and salt until the sugar has melted and the mixture reaches 160 degrees.  Transfer to the bowl of a stand mixer and whisk on high speed until stiff (but not dry) peaks form.  Continue beating until the mixture cools (about 4-5 minutes).

Add the butter 2 tablespoons at a time, beating well after each addition.  Add the powdered sugar 2 tablespoons at a time, scraping down the bowl as necessary to fully incorporate.  Beat for another 3-4 minutes, until it is of desired consistency and thickness.

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