Saturday, May 1, 2010

Lemongrass-Lime Crème Brûlée

Recently I had a lovely lunch at Le Caprice, the restaurant in the newly renovated Pierre Hotel in New York. It’s part of a group of London restaurants, and the chef, Michael Hartnell, is a 28-year-old Brit, who was formerly the Chef at The Ivy in London and was brought over to open Le Caprice. Though they call it a bistro, it’s certainly the swankiest one I’ve ever set foot in. The interior is Art Deco, with black and pearl-white tones and a polished white floor. There was even a celebrity in the house—Diane Sawyer was sitting in the next booth with a man who looked like he might have been her agent. The waitress brought me a Bellini, without even asking me if I wanted 

one (of course I did!). All was right with the world. After a delicious Crispy Duck Salad, a signature dish, I tasted a few desserts, including a silky-smooth Lemongrass-Lime Crème Brûlée, a Chocolate Souffle, and a Rhubarb Tart. I loved them all, but it was the crème brûlée that had me at first spoonful. I loved the subtle fragrance of the limey custard combined with the sweet, crackly caramel shell topping. It reminded me of scent by Jo Malone, the London perfumer. Here’s my 

version of it, which, I must say, tastes pretty darned close to the original. Serve it after a nice Thai meal, or, for that matter, just about any meal. If you want to serve more dainty portions, you can bake it in six 4-ounce dishes instead. It’s pretty rich.

Lemongrass-Lime Crème Brûlée

Makes 4 servings

1 1/2 cups heavy cream
½ cup whole milk
3 lemongrass stalks, cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
2 teaspoons freshly grated lime zest
8 large egg yolks
½ cup granulated sugar
Sifted light brown sugar for sprinkling on top

1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 250°F. Arrange four 6-ounce gratin dishes or ramekins in a roasting pan or large baking dish and set aside. In a medium saucepan, combine the cream, milk, lemongrass stalks and lime zest and bring to a boil over medium heat. Remove from heat and let stand to infuse for 20 minutes.
2. Strain the cream through a fine-mesh sieve and return to the saucepan. Return to a simmer. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and granulated sugar until blended. Whisk in the hot cream mixture. Strain the custard through a fine-mesh sieve into a large measure with a pouring spout (or pour it into a bowl and use a ladle). Divide the custard among the gratin dishes. Place the pan on the oven’s rack and pour  warm water in the roasting pan so that it comes halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake for 70 to 90 minutes, until the centers are just set. Transfer them to a wire rack and cool completely.
3. Cover each custard with plastic wrap and refrigerate until well chilled, at least 4 hours (or up to 2 days).
4. To caramelize the tops, right before serving, unwrap each custard and gently blot the top with a paper towel to remove any condensation. Sprinkle each evenly with about 1 tablespoon sifted brown sugar. Torch the sugar until it bubbles and browns, but be careful to keep the torch moving so that the sugar doesn’t burn. Let them stand for a minute before serving.