Burn, baby, burn: A flaming dessert to wrap up a volatile year
The dark days around winter solstice make human beings hungry for light. It could be a decorated tree, a menorah in the window, or just some lights on your house. Whatever your creed or culture, you probably have a tradition that casts a glow during the holidays.
But this time around, as we bid farewell to a dumpster fire of a year, pretty lights might not be enough. It might be time to light things on fire.
Fire can be cleansing and creative as well as a force of destruction, and some of us surely hope to rise like phoenixes from the ashes. But first we have to tuck in 2020. And we're going to put it to bed in style, with an Orange Eggnog Creme Brulee, finished with a bourbon flambe.
The bourbon and sugar bonfire doesn't produce the typical glassy creme brulee finish. The sugar melts, but the bourbon prevents it from recrystallizing into a glassy sheet. Instead, they combine into a granular topping that's firm yet soft.
A fire that burns only to destroy isn't worth its emissions. But the bourbon and sugar bonfire atop a creme brulee burns with purpose: to create a sauce that soaks into the orange vanilla eggnog custard below.
This creme brulee flambe works because it has too much of everything. Too much nutmeg, too much orange, too much bourbon and too much sugar. But all of this too muchness adds up to just the right flavor balance.
Plus, it looks good on fire, especially when you toss in cinnamon, which sparkles and dances in the flames. Enjoy the pyrotechnics of this beautiful transformational force as we show 2020 to the door, and venture forth into the new year like an odyssey of custard-happy phoenixes.
Orange Eggnog Creme Brulee Flambe
Fills 4 ramekins
For the custard:
2 cups cream
4 egg yolks
1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons freshly ground nutmeg
1/4 cup fresh orange juice + 1 tablespoon OJ concentrate, or similar amount of juice
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
Optional: Thin-sliced shards of orange peel for the garnish
Preheat the oven to 325 F. Place an edged cookie sheet on the top rack. Pour two cups of water into the sheet to create steam for the custard.
Heat the cream slowly in a heavy-bottomed pan on the stove. Meanwhile, combine the yolks, sugar, nutmeg, orange juice, vanilla and salt in a mixing bowl.
When the cream starts to simmer, add it slowly to the mix, stirring in a little at a time to temper the yolks. ("Temper" means heat the yolks and combine them with the hot cream in a smooth, controlled way that doesn't cook and curdle the eggs.)
Butter the ramekins and add the warm batter. Place them on the cookie sheet in the steaming water and bake for an hour, until they are bubbling evenly. The bubbling starts on the edge and moves toward the centers, until the entire surface shrinks and tightens and hardens into a darker yellow.
Remove from the oven. If serving right away, prepare to light your fire. If serving later, allow to cool to room temperature, and add the orange peel garnish, if using. Keep chilled until ready to serve.
Flaming Bourbon Sugar Sauce
2 tablespoons white or turbinado sugar
2 tablespoons brown sugar
4 tablespoons bourbon
12 pinches cinnamon powder for the flame
Serving time could be the minute they come out of the oven, or the next day after the ramekins have properly chilled and the custard has settled. Whenever it's time to light those fires and serve those creme brulee mix the sugars together and get ready to pour the whiskey.
To each ramekin at a time, pour in a tablespoon of bourbon and light it with a long-necked lighter. Let it burn for 30 seconds while you toss 3 or so pinches of cinnamon into the flames, and watch the spraying sparks. Then add a tablespoon of sugar mix to the ramekin, and let the fire burn out, dissolving the sugar.
When the fire dies, it's ready to serve. When the first Orange Eggnog Creme Brulee Flambe is gone, check the calendar. If it's still 2020, eat another. Repeat until it's finally over.