If you have kids (and even if you don’t), you know how crazy life can be sometimes. It’s often 8:30 before the wee ones are down for the night, then comes cleaning, responding to emails, and gearing up for the next day. With so many tasks on the docket and usually very little time, it’s not surprising that quality marital moments are hard to come by. Life swells and easily overtakes us unless we are intentional about carving out space to have meaningful connections.
Last night, thanks in large part to my sister-in-law and her husband letting us put the kids to bed at their house, Dan and I had our first date night since April. I was surprised at how foreign this felt. When we were first married, we made dating each other a top priority and rarely were our Friday nights not spent out on the town, but now I find I’m sorely out of practice. Dan’s fingers felt strange as they intertwined with mine, and I experienced an unfamiliar freedom not having to keep track of the diaper bag, stroller, and of course, the children.
The evening wasn’t seamless, but it was a start, and I look forward to finding our groove in the midst of our current chaos. I am reminded that we must take advantage of more opportunities to pursue each other, even if we aren’t able to leave home. Something as simple as preparing a late night meal together can be an intimate activity that, thankfully, doesn’t require a babysitter. A bottle of wine, a high quality steak, and a mouthwatering dessert can transform an ordinary weeknight into a special occasion.
Given its simple elegance and luxurious flavor, few treats are as romantic as crème brûlée. In this version, the heady aroma of lavender awakens the senses, and fresh blueberries provide a balancing freshness. The cold, creamy custard contrasts with the warm, crackling crust, all the elements combining to form a dessert that begs to be shared.
- 1 vanilla bean
- 1 quart (4 cups) heavy cream
- 2 tablespoons dried lavender (food grade)
- 8 egg yolks
- 3/4 cup granulated sugar plus ¼ cup for sprinkling
- 1 1/4 cups fresh blueberries
- Begin by preheating your oven to 325 degrees.
- Slice the vanilla bean in half lengthwise, then scrape the pulp from the pod using the back of a knife. Add the pod and pulp to a medium saucepan along with the heavy cream and dried lavender. Warm over medium heat until the cream just starts to simmer, stirring frequently to prevent burning, then remove from the heat and let steep for 15 minutes. After steeping, pour the mixture through a fine mesh strainer to remove the lavender and vanilla; discard solids or rinse and retain for a future use.
- Meanwhile, whisk the egg yolks and sugar together until pale yellow in color and slightly thickened. Very slowly add one cup of the infused cream, whisking constantly to temper the egg yolks, then carefully add the rest of the cream, again whisking as you pour.
- Set 5 ceramic ramekins (8 ounce capacity) in a large baking or roasting pan and fill them with the custard. Create a water bath by adding hot water to the pan until the water level is about half way up the side of the custard containers (be careful that no water gets into the ramekins). Carefully transfer the pan to the center rack of the oven and bake for 40-45 minutes until the custard is set but still jiggly in the center (don’t allow to brown). Remove the pan from the oven and allow to cool for 10 minutes, then transfer the ramekins to the countertop to cool completely. Once they reach room temperature, cover them with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2-3 hours or until you are ready to serve.
- Immediately prior to serving, sprinkle 2 teaspoons of sugar across the surface of each custard, shaking and rotating the ramekin until it is evenly distributed. If you have a torch, carefully melt the sugar until it is evenly caramelized. Alternatively, you may use your oven’s broiler to achieve the crunchy, sugary crust. When adopting this method, I find it helpful to invert a baking pan on an oven rack that is set at the highest position. Turn the broiler on high, and allow it to heat up fully with the oven door open. Carefully slide the ramekin on top of the inverted pan so that it as close as possible to the heat source. Broil for 2-3 minutes, watching closely and moving the custard as necessary to achieve even caramelization. Once this process is complete, allow the crème brûlées to rest for a few minutes so that the sugar crust may harden.
- Top with blueberries and serve immediately.
Adapted from Alton Brown.
Tips and Tidbits
- The lavender and blueberry combination sings on my palate, but these aren’t your only options. Fresh sage or mint could be substituted for the lavender (try increasing the quantity to ½ cup for those), and blackberries would make a scrumptious topping.
- The larger, shallower ramekins produce a favorable crust-to-custard ratio as well as yield the perfect amount for sharing, though you can certainly use whatever size you have. Depending on the diameter and depth of the dish, be aware that the cooking time may vary. For smaller containers, try checking for doneness around 20-25 minutes; if your ramekins are on the deeper side, they may require more baking time. Just keep an eye on them and remove them from the oven when they are set but still trembling in the center.
- Simply omit the lavender to make a classic crème brûlée.