I Love Chocolate

by Stephanie Zonis


Dark Mocha Crème Brûlée

6 servings


OK, lovers of dark chocolate, it's time to bring out the heavy artillery. I'm talking about a propane torch, which is what I use to caramelize the sugar topping on each of these custards. I had never used a propane torch before I developed this recipe, but if I can do it, so can you. You can order palm-size torches from gourmet catalogs, but they're rather expensive and usually use butane, a far dirtier-burning fuel that I don't like to use indoors at any time. I got my propane torch, which is full-sized, from a local hardware store. When you use the torch, please read and follow the manufacturer's instructions very carefully! I know that most crème brûlée recipes for home cooks instruct you to caramelize the sugar topping under a broiler, but I live in an apartment and my broiler is untrustworthy, so I use this method instead...and it's a lot of fun. Do not substitute brown sugar for the granulated sugar in the topping! I tried this, and when the torch was applied the brown sugar caught fire almost immediately. In addition, if you want to use a broiler to caramelize the topping, you'll have to bake the custards in individual, ovenproof ramekins (such as miniature soufflé dishes); custard cups cannot be used under a broiler as far as I know.

The caramelized sugar topping is pretty, even against the dark custard. You'll know it's there, too, especially when you dig in and it shatters. After the sugar topping has been caramelized, some people like to serve crème brûlée right away, but I don't. I think the custard is best when very cold, so I'll put the brûlée back into the fridge for at least an hour (the custards can stand in the fridge for up to 6 hours after they're topped, as long as they remain uncovered). The custards themselves can be made a day or two in advance, then kept, covered, in the refrigerator. If any condensation forms on the custard surface, blot it up gently with a paper towel before applying the topping. This dessert is very rich, and it would be best after a light meal.


6 ounces best-quality bittersweet
   chocolate, finely chopped
Pinch salt
1 cup heavy cream
5 egg yolks, from eggs graded "large"
1/3 cup plus 2 Tbsp. sugar
1 Tbsp. plus 2 tsp. unsweetened
   Dutch process cocoa powder
3/4 tsp. instant espresso powder
3/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp. milk
1 Tbsp. vanilla

For Topping:
12 teaspoons granulated sugar


Have ready 6 ovenproof glass custard cups, each of 6 ounce capacity. Tear off a square of foil to completely cover the top of each cup, folding any excess down over the outer edge of the cup. If any foil overhang comes more than about 1 inch down the side of any cup, trim it so it is 1 inch or less. Have ready a baking pan at least 1-1/2 inches deep, into which all 6 cups can fit without touching one another or the sides of the pan; you'll also need enough simmering water to fill the pan to a depth of 1 inch. If the baking pan is aluminum, sprinkle about 1 teaspoon cream of tartar into the bottom to prevent discoloration. Have ready a fine-meshed strainer and a heatproof measuring cup or pitcher of at least 3-1/2 cup capacity. Set all aside. Adjust rack to center of oven; preheat oven to 300 degrees F.

In small bowl, combine finely chopped chocolate and salt. In small saucepan over low heat, heat cream just to a simmer, stirring occasionally; remove from heat. Pour about half of hot cream over chocolate. Let stand for a minute or two, then stir or whisk very gently until smooth. (If necessary, place bowl of chocolate over simmering water on low heat—water should not touch bottom of bowl—and stir often until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth. Remove from heat and hot water.) Gradually stir or whisk in remaining cream. Mixture should be warm, not hot.

Place a medium heatproof bowl on a pot holder or folded kitchen towel. Into the bowl, place the egg yolks; beat with fork until well-combined. Beating constantly with fork, gradually add warm chocolate mixture to yolks.

In small, heavy-bottomed, nonaluminum saucepan, combine 1/3 cup plus 2 Tbsp. granulated sugar, cocoa powder, and espresso powder. with small whisk, whisk well to combine. Add 2 Tbsp. milk (reserve remainder); mix well to make a smooth paste. Gradually stir in remaining milk. Set over medium heat. Stir very frequently just until mixture reaches a simmer. Remove from heat.

Stirring chocolate-yolk mixture constantly, very gradually add hot milk mixture. Scrape bottom and sides of bowl with rubber spatula after about half of hot milk mixture has been added, then continue adding hot milk mixture, stirring chocolate-yolk mixture constantly, until all has been incorporated. Stir in vanilla. Custard will be on the thin side.

Place fine-meshed strainer over heatproof measuring cup or small pitcher; strain custard into pitcher (you should have about 3 cups). Divide custard evenly between custard cups, then cover each custard cup with a foil cover.

Place baking pan on oven rack; carefully pour in enough simmering water to form a thin layer on the bottom. Carefully transfer filled, covered custard cups to baking pan; gently add more simmering water to baking pan, pouring it carefully around (not on top of) cups, to a depth of 1 inch (you might want to measure the water depth, as too much water will slow baking time).

Bake 45 minutes. After about 30 minutes, check baking pan; if more simmering water is needed to maintain the 1 inch depth, add it now. After 45 minutes, CAREFULLY remove baking pan from oven—it will be hot and heavy. Using pot holders, remove each custard cup individually from the water (it might help to use a spatula to do this) and transfer to a cooling rack. Remove foil covers from custards. Custard tops will be shiny and very dark; when tapped gently, custards will seem just set. Cool briefly at room temperature, then chill until very cold (at least 4 hours), covering tightly with foil covers or plastic wrap after 2 or 3 hours. Chill until needed.

In preparation for the topping of the crèmes brûlées, please read manufacturer's instructions for your propane torch at least twice. Make sure the area in which you'll work is well-ventilated, but not drafty. Assemble the torch (if necessary) just before use. Sprinkle 2 tsp. of granulated sugar on top of each custard as evenly as possible. Take your time doing this. Do not sprinkle sugar randomly, then tap the custard cup to try to distribute the sugar, as too much sugar will settle toward the middle if you do. Place sugared custards on a stable, flat surface with a lot of cleared space around it. I place mine on a sturdy metal cooling rack on top of a 6 quart, widemouth pot.

Ignite the torch. You only need a flame a few inches long, but it should be blue, not orange. Play the flame lightly but completely over the sugar on top of each custard; the nozzle of the torch should be several inches above the sugared surfaces at all times. When the sugar on one custard starts to smoke, move to another area or another custard; you can always go back over an area, and you need to give the sugar a few seconds to react to the flames. You're trying to caramelize the sugar to a rich golden brown, but not burn it. If necessary, shut the torch off for a minute, then check the custards to see which areas require more flame before re-igniting the torch to caramelize those areas. Even with your best effort to keep the sugar topping as even as possible, some of the sugar will be blown around on the custard surface a bit, so you'll get areas of heavier and lighter topping on any one custard— OK. When you're finished caramelizing the toppings, shut off the torch and put it aside in a safe area to cool off. Allow the custards to cool for several minutes, then carefully, using pot holders (the top portion of the cups will get hot), replace the cups in the fridge. Chill at least 1 hour, uncovered (or up to 6 hours), before serving.


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This page created March 2001