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SWEET JUSTICE: JUNE 2009

An eastern twist to crème brûlée.

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Photo: A classic dish and an all-time favorite: Crème brûlée.

You'd think that it would go without saying that anyone who's crazy enough to work in the food industry loves food, but please allow me to introduce myself: my name is Jud, and I love, love, LOVE food.

To be specific, I dig the sugary treats, desserts, pastries, and baked goods. I love to make them, too; there's nothing quite like slaving away in the kitchen to create something that makes someone visibly happy. I chose the pastry path because I largely stopped eating meats over 20 years ago and really don't like to cook them either. Also, there is something really amazing about producing food that serves no purpose other than sensual pleasure. It's rare that one finds a pastry with substantial nutritional value; in fact, they achieve the exact opposite. Yet, time and time again, we squeeze room into our ever-growing bellies for a little piece of Heaven.

Perversely, I'm entertained by the fact that what I deal in brings death and disease to the chronic indulger. After all, who wouldn't enjoy leading your average, straight-laced, teetotaler completely astray from all rationality with something as seemingly innocuous as a slice of pie or chocolate decadence? What really amazes me is it's common knowledge that a lousy diet is gonna kill you, yet culturally we're not changing course in the slightest!

To top it off, our kids have picked up on our collectively idiotic food sensibility and are running---rather, waddling unsteadily towards the cliff's edge with us adults. (The American Dietetic Assocation reports that heart disease accounts for more than one-third of all adult deaths and that the rate of child obesity has ballooned into the millions. Some religious nuts even view this madness as a sign of the end of days.) Fat foods create fat, sick people, and after spending all that money on prepared treats and the subsequently larger-sized wardrobe, you've got to spend time and more money with hospitals and medications. Big pharma and the insurance industry are loving you since you're dying to make them rich . Feel stupid yet?

My point is this: you can eat dessert and rich snacks, but exercise some self-discipline, for Pete's sake! And while you're at it, get some physical exercise, too. No one's saying you can't enjoy life; I'm probably in the best shape of my life and I still break down occasionally and hit the Cinnabon stand. I'm just not being stupid about it—as far as I can tell. That being said, I'm passing along a recipe for one of the classics, one of my favorite desserts, and quite possibly the worst thing you could eat: crème brûlée. It's simple to make, and consists of only cream, yolks, sugar, and your favorite flavoring. Eat it slowly and savor every bite before you head to the gym and work it all off.

Chai Crème Brûlée.

This is my eastern twist to the classic dessert. If you omit the cinnamon and cardamom, you can make the traditional version.

A hand-held torch is a great tool for caramelizing the sugar (also one of my favorite kitchen toys). If you don't have one, you can do this by placing the custards beneath the broiler flame.

Ingredients

2 cups heavy cream

1/2 cup superfine sugar

1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise

2 sticks cinnamon, broken

4 pods cardamom

5 large egg yolks sugar for caramelizing

Method

Preheat oven to 375•F. Place six 3/4-cup ramekins in a 9x13 pan. You can also use the four-inch oval shallow version of these ramekins for a more elegant presentation, but you'll need a larger pan.

Mix cream, sugar, and cinnamon in heavy medium saucepan. Using a sharp knife, scrape seeds from vanilla bean and add seeds and bean to saucepan. Split the cardamom pods and release the seeds into the cream mixture. Stir over medium heat until mixture comes to a simmer.

Cover pan, reduce heat to very low and simmer for 10 minutes to infuse flavors. Do not boil the cream!

Strain into a large measuring cup. Whisk yolks in medium bowl until uniform. Gradually whisk in hot cream mixture just to blend. This is called "tempering." If the cream is added too quickly or you do not constantly stir, you'll scramble the eggs!

Return custard to measuring cup; divide among ramekins. Place pan with the ramekins on the middle oven rack and pour enough water in the pan (don't splash your custards!) to match the height of the custards. This is called a "bain marie," or water bath; it prevents the egg protein from setting too quickly.

Bake custards until almost set in center when ramekins are lightly tapped, about 30-35 minutes. With a kitchen towel, transfer custards to work surface and cool 30 minutes.

Chill at least four hours and up to two days.

To serve, sprinkle 1-2 teaspoons sugar evenly over each custard in a thin layer. Working with one custard at a time, hold torch so that flame is approximately 2 inches above surface. Move flame across the surface so that sugar melts and browns.

Serve immediately.

Yield: serves 6

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