Passion Fruit Creme Brulee

I realize that, because I’m obsessed with doing everything from scratch, many of my recipes can be a little bit complex.  Personally, I take great joy from avoiding canned and processed ingredients, and doing it all myself.  But I realize that many of my fans would enjoy a really easy recipe every now and then…and to be honest, so do I.  This creme brulee takes all of 5 minutes to throw together and toss into the oven.  But this does NOT mean creme brulee is a quick last-minute dessert.  The custard must cool fully before eating (though it doesn’t necessarily have to be chilled), so understand that while it will be in the oven 5 minutes after you start making it, it bakes for half an hour, and it needs at least 2 hours of cooling down time.

This recipe calls for a can of sweetened condensed milk, which I do use fairly often.  (It’s the best shortcut to dulce de leche or “cream caramel.”)  You CAN make your own sweetened condensed milk at home by combining 2 cups of whole milk with 1 cup of sugar, bring to a simmer, reduce the heat to low, and let it reduce by half, stirring every now and then.  This can take upwards of 2 hours or longer over low heat, but to avoid over-caramelizing the sugar and the lactose in the milk, you gotta do it slowly.  To me, the sweetened condensed milk in the can is a welcome shortcut.  (But if you’re paranoid about toxins from cans leaching into your food, you can make your own from scratch.)

And the use of sweetened condensed milk makes this creme brulee an absolute BREEZE to make.  Take note that this recipe calls for egg yolks, so you’re gonna end up with leftover whites.  If you don’t have immediate plans for them, like baking my Pumpkin Carrot Cake, put them in a ziploc bag, write the number of whites and the date on the bag, and toss it in the freezer for up to a year.  Frozen whites don’t make a truly perfect meringue, but they are totally sufficient for baking cakes with.

Passion fruit is my favorite fruit.  It goes by many names around the world.  Maracuja in Brasil, or maracuya in Mexico and most of the Spanish-speaking world, but parcha in Puerto Rico.  Saowarot in Thailand, bai xiang in Chinese.  The Hawaiian name is perhaps my favorite…lilikoi.  It’s potently sour, explosive in flavor, with just enough sweetness to balance the acid.  You can get them fresh throughout much of the year in gourmet markets, but head to an ethnic Asian or Latin American market and you’ll find them cheaper.  There are 2 primary varieties, green/yellow skinned, and purple skinned.  Don’t be afraid if they look dried and wrinkled…that means they’re perfectly ripe!  Cut them open and scoop out the pulp, seeds included.  For those of you without access to fresh passion fruit, you can make this recipe very easily with passion fruit concentrate or passion fruit puree.  Again, ethnic markets will be your best source.  Passion fruit puree is often sold in the frozen section, but check the fruit juice section to see if they have the juice concentrate:

This is my favorite brand, and you can order it online through Amazon and get free shipping if you’re a Prime member.  (Amazon Prime is the best and worst thing that ever happened to me!)  It’s $11 for half a liter of the stuff…just keep it in the fridge and you’ll find yourself adding it to everything.  Cereal.  Cocktails.  Cream sauces.  Ice cream.  It is concentrated, so a little goes a long way.

Makes 4 individual servings

In your blender, combine:

1 14-oz can sweetened condensed milk (or 1 3/4 cups homemade)
1/2 cup milk
4 egg yolks
1/2 cup passion fruit concentrate/puree (or the pulp and seeds of 4-6 passion fruit)
1/4 teaspoon salt
zest of 1 lime (optional)

***NOTE: If you are using fresh passion fruit pulp, wait to add it to the mix until after you’ve thoroughly blended it, and give it a quick few pulses.  You don’t want to break up the seeds too much, they are delightfully crispy and the texture makes the creme brulee extra fabulous.***

Blend on medium speed until everything is thoroughly incorporated.  Then divide the mixture between 4 ramekins.  (You can put it all into a pie plate to make one big creme brulee if you don’t have ramekins.)

Here’s the weird part.  Place a kitchen towel in the bottom of a rimmed pan large enough to hold all the ramekins.  Place the ramekins on the towel, and begin to carefully pour in very hot water until it reaches halfway up the sides of the ramekins.  I generally preheat my water in a teapot, but you can use hot water from your tap…it will just extend your cooking time a bit.  The reason for the towel is to keep the heat from pan from overcooking the bottom of the custard, and the water bath ensures even, slow cooking and a moist oven, which helps keep the custard from cracking.

Bake the custards on the center rack of a preheated 325F oven for 20-30 minutes or longer, until they are just set but still a bit wobbly in the very middle.  Carefully remove the pan from the oven.  It’s full of boiling water!  Set it on the countertop and let the custards slowly cool in the water bath for an hour.  Then let them cool to room temperature on the countertop.  You can then chill them in the fridge for up to a few days before serving.  (Cover them LOOSELY with foil if you refrigerate them, and before proceeding with the brulee step, gently pat the top of the custard dry because moisture may have condensed on the foil and dripped back onto the surface, which will interfere with caramelizing the sugar.)

Just before serving, place on top of each custard:

1 teaspoon raw sugar crystals (per serving)

Table sugar works, too, but the raw sugar crystals are better.  Using a kitchen or propane torch, torch the sugar until it melts and begins to turn brown, moving the torch around often.  If you don’t have a kitchen torch, I highly recommend one!  You can get refillable butane torches at Home Depot for around $10, or get a fancy one at a kitchen supply store.  I use mine ALL the time, for crisping chicken skin, browning veggies at the last minute, melting cheese for French Onion Soup.  But if this isn’t an option for you, you can place the custards beneath the broiler.  (Use the low setting if you have 2 settings.)  Watch them constantly, DO NOT walk away.  As soon as the sugar melts and begins to brown, remove them.

Serve immediately!

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