Friday, April 23, 2010

Crème Brûlée Tart

This little number haunted my dreams and kept me awake last night, teasing me with it's buttery base, velvet vanilla filling and cracked caramel. I found the recipe right before bed time it just wouldn't leave me. Needless to say, this tart found it's way into the kitchen today. It has all the attributes of a good custard tart - which are ridiculously hard to come by - and a crème brûlée. The recipe was originally created by Michael McCarty of Michael's Santa Monica as an interpretation of the french classic crème brûlée and proved to be one of his most popular desserts. The crisp toffee top that makes a hollow 'crack' when tapped with the back of the spoon, releasing the creamy custard, is the gilding on this lily.

If you do not have a food processor - don't be put off by the homemade pastry. Cut the butter up into tiny dice and rub it in with your fingertips to keep it as cold as possible. A blow torch is handy to have for the brûlée, but if you don't have one of these, chill the tart thoroughly before putting under a very hot grill for a few seconds. The dough can me made up to a week beforehand and kept in the fridge, and the whole tart made 1 day ahead without caramelising the sugar.

Crème Brûlée Tart

1 1/4 cups plain flour
2 tabs sugar
1/4 tsp salt
120g cold butter, cut into 8mm cubes
3 to 5 tabs ice water

1/2 vanilla bean (or one bean that has been used already)
1 1/4 cups cream
2/3 cup milk
4 egg yolks
1 egg
6 tabs sugar
pinch of salt

2 tabs sugar

To make the pastry:  Combine the flour, sugar, salt and butter in a bowl and rub in the butter until it resembles coarse breadcrumbs with some larger chunks. Add 3 tabs of the water and stir in. Grab a handful of the mix and squeeze to see if it will hold together. If not, add 1 tab of water at a time until it holds. Roll out gently, and fold over on itself a couple of times to stretch out the butter. Be careful not to overwork or the pasty will be tough. Shape into a ball, wrap in Gladwrap and press into a 5" disk. Chill for 30mins or until firm. Preheat oven to 180C/350F. Roll out the dough into a 13" circle between 2 layers of Gladwrap or baking paper. Peel off one layer of wrap and fit into a 9" removable base tart pan. Peel off second layer of wrap, fold overhanging pastry back inwards to reinforce the sides, and chill again for 30mins. Lightly prick bottom of shell with a fork, line the pastry with foil or baking paper and fill with pie weights or a thin layer of rice. Cook for 25-30 minutes or until edges are light golden. Remove foil and weights and cook a further 10-15 minutes until golden. Reduce oven to 150C/300F. (Keep an eye on it - it transitions from golden to dark very quickly - as mine did.)

To make the custard: While the pastry is cooking, scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean and add to a heavy based saucepan along with the bean, milk and cream. Heat gently until hot, turn off the heat and steep for 30 minutes. Whisk the yolks, egg, sugar and salt together and add to the cream mixture. Strain and pour into a jug. Put the tart shell, still in its tin, onto a baking tray, and place in the oven. Pour in the custard mix and cook for 30-35 minutes until just set, but still wobbly in the middle. Cool for 30mins and then remove the base and let stand until it reaches room temperature.

Finishing: Immediately before serving, sprinkle sugar over the tart evenly and using a blowtorch, pass the flame backwards and forwards over the sugar is caramelised and lightly colored. Serve on it's own or with some fresh berries and chantilly cream.

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