Nobody will make fun of you today if you burn the cream. In fact, that’s exactly what you’re supposed to do with today’s food holiday. July 27 is National Crème Brûlée Day!
If you’d rather put on a kilt and speak in a brogue, it’s also National Scotch Day. Just be sure you’re drinking whisky made in Scotland, otherwise, it’s not considered Scotch. Tara is not a fan of whisky, so Crème Brûlée it is! Besides, it’s her birthday, and she should have something sweet and yummy. After all, I got to indulge in prime rib on my birthday.
No fewer than three countries claim to have invented Crème Brûlée: England, Spain, and France all take credit for this delectable dish. In reality, custards had been popular since the Middle Ages, and it’s unknown for certain who first caramelized the sugar on top, the defining characteristic of Crème Brûlée. The name is undeniably French, first appearing in a cookbook published in 1691, but a later version of the cookbook in 1731 changed the name to crème anglaise and it didn’t become popular in that country until the 19th century. The Spanish claim to have invented crema catalana, a predecessor to Crème Brûlée, in the 18th century, though their version is not baked, but served cold with a hot topping. “Bloody Hell, you wankers,” say the British. “We invented burnt cream.” A student at Trinity College in Cambridge supposedly came up with a creamy unsweetened custard that had a caramelized topping sometime in the 17th century, and called the invention Trinity Cream, but many historians say this dish wasn’t sweet enough, and the topping was too thick, to qualify as Crème Brûlée.
While the exact truth remains elusive, we can at least agree on the modern day technique. Crème Brûlée is usually served in individual ramekins; after the custard is baked, the top is caramelized using a kitchen blowtorch (or, alternately, a broiler). I love Crème Brûlée, and have long considered it a decadent and special dessert, so I was looking forward to today’s challenge. There’s a doughnut shop in Portland that specializes in Crème Brûlée doughnuts, so we made a special trip down there to pick some up. Here’s a little tip: never go to a doughnut shop in the middle of the afternoon. They had maybe three doughnuts left, tops. We had no backup plan, but my Yelp app came to the rescue and we ended up at a bakery on the other side of the river that sold actual Crème Brûlée. So we brought some home and celebrated Tara’s birthday in style!