Rhubarb and rosemary are surprising bedfellows in this crème brûlée.
Upright stalks of brilliantly hued rhubarb are always the first to arrive in the spring produce parade. Rhubarb's natural astringency may overwhelm at first bite, but with a little sugar and fruit, its tartness is successfully tamed. For this dessert, however, I chose not to rely on rhubarb's dependable sweet partner, the strawberry, because I did not want additional sweetness or liquid in the compote, which is spooned into the bottom of the custards.
I preferred a subtle background flavor that would tickle the tongue and ground the sweet creaminess of the custard. So, I added a sprig of rosemary—yes, rosemary—to the compote and the custard while they cooked, infusing them with a hint of lemon and pine. The result was subtle but notable, producing a crème brûlée that is at once rich and creamy, sweet and tart, earthy and heavenly.
Rhubarb and Rosemary Crème BrûléeActive Time: 40 minutes Total Time: 1 hour and 20 minutes, plus cooling and chilling time
Makes 6 servings
- 1 pound rhubarb, diced
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1 (2-inch) rosemary sprig
- 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 1 (2-inch) rosemary sprig
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 6 large egg yolks
- 1/2 cup sugar plus extra for sprinkling
- Finely grated lemon zest for garnish
Heat the oven to 325 degrees F.
Arrange six (6-ounce) ramekins in a baking dish. Spoon some of the rhubarb compote into the ramekins, about 1/3 inch deep. (Refrigerate the remaining compote for another use.)
Heat the cream in a clean saucepan over medium heat until it just begins to boil. Remove from the heat and add the rosemary sprig. Let the cream steep for 5 minutes, then discard rosemary sprig. Stir in the vanilla.
In a mixing bowl, beat the egg yolks and the 1/2 cup sugar until light. Add the cream in a steady stream, whisking gently to incorporate. Ladle the cream mixture over the rhubarb in the ramekins. Pour boiling water into the baking dish halfway up the ramekins to make a bain marie, or water bath.
Transfer the baking dish to the oven and bake until the custards are just set but still wobble a bit when gently jiggled, 35 to 40 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool the custards in the water for 15 minutes. Remove the ramekins from the pan, place on a wire rack, and cool completely. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 8 hours or overnight.
Before serving, sprinkle each ramekin with 1 to 2 teaspoons sugar or enough to evenly cover. Place the ramekins on a baking sheet and broil under an oven broiler until the tops are deep golden brown, 3 to 4 minutes, rotating the baking sheet for even cooking and carefully watching to prevent burning. If using a blowtorch, hold the flame 2 to 3 inches above the custard, slowly moving it back and forth until the sugar melts and turns deep golden brown.
Serve garnished with lemon zest.