Creme brulee was top priority on the list of things to try, since it calls for crisping the top (and because I can't resist a good custard dessert). Creme brulee is a rich egg custard, topped with a thin layer of caramelized sugar. In this version, hints of vanilla and orange liqueur give the smooth custard subtle layers of flavor. It is a beautiful dessert that can be made ahead of time. And have you ever cracked open a creme brulee top with a light tap of your spoon? It's one of life's little pleasures, I promise.
Creme Brulee (adapted from Alton Brown and Ina Garten)
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1 quart heavy cream
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
1/2 cup sugar, plus 1 tablespoon for each serving
6 egg yolks
1 tablespoon orange liqueur
2 quarts hot water
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Place the cream, vanilla bean, and vanilla seeds into a medium saucepan set over medium-high heat, and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat, cover, and allow to sit for 15 minutes. Remove the vanilla bean, and reserve for another use.
In a medium bowl, whisk together1/2 cup sugar and the egg yolks until well blended and it just starts to lighten in color. Add the cream a little at a time, stirring continually. Add the orange liqueur, and blend together. Pour into 6 8-ounce ramekins. Place the ramekins into a large roasting pan, and pour enough hot water into the pan to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake until the creme brulee is just set, but still trembling at the center when you gently tap the side, about 40-45 minutes. Remove the ramekins from the pan and refrigerate for at least 2 hours and up to 3 days.
Remove the creme brulee from the refrigerator and allow to sit for 30 minutes prior to browning the sugar on top. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of sugar evenly on the top of each creme brulee. Using a kitchen torch, melt the sugar to form a crisp, browned top. Allow the brulee to sit for 5 minutes before serving, to allow the top to harden.