Holiday Entertaining: Gingerbread Creme Brulee
It wasn't until we had guests coming over for dinner on the patio that we deemed it "necessary" to mend the outdoor speaker system, which had been a problem for months. So Eric spent the better part of the day with his head stuck into our audio-visual center (better him than me), changing wires, turning knobs, and mumbling something about calling The Geek Squad.
Then there's the kitchen cabinet, which I "accidentally" kicked in one particularly stressful afternoon. Long story. I don't really feel the need to fix that just yet. It kinda adds character to the space.
I feel very fortunate to have two ovens in my kitchen, since I obviously spend quite a chunk of my waking hours there. One oven is a convection, and the other is conventional, and on many occasions they have been in use simultaneously.
A few months ago, as I was roasting sweet potatoes in the convection oven, I heard a click. The oven had apparently become possessed, locking by itself and starting the cleaning cycle. I couldn't turn the oven off, and I couldn't open it, so I watched in a panic as the internal temperature rose, and rose. My poor little foil-wrapped potatoes were trapped, about to meet their demise. Eric ran to the fuse box and flipped off the oven, which I was finally able to open when it had completely cooled. By then, the unsalvagable sweet potatoes were pathetic piles of burned mush.
Hoping that this was just a one-time fluke incident, I continued to use the oven. The next few attempts ran smoothly, with no charred chicken or blackened brownies. When I was toasting bread for bruschetta, however, it happened again. Click. Lock. Heat. Ugh.
Since that day, I have worked in a one-oven kitchen, avoiding what I know will be an expensive repair, including phrases like "new motherboard" and "expired warranty." Fortunately, I haven't really needed the second oven......until now.
Like many of you foodies out there, when I do Thanksgiving at my house, I like to do it BIG, I like to do it ALL, and I like to do it FROM SCRATCH. Yes, it's a ton of work, and I turn into a flour-stained, sleep-deprived mess for 48 hours, but I love the whole process, and I thrive on the frenzied schedule. Last year, I didn't get to cook, so this year we are having a group in our home. Two ovens will be needed. Time to fix the oven.
Even with two working ovens, it's crucial that my menu contains some items that can be prepared well in advance, and which do not require any sort of reheating. I'm also planning for the potential news that whatever ails my oven will require an out-of-stock part which takes two weeks to arrive. Make-ahead desserts are a must.
Whenever I host Thanksgiving, I like to do a buffet of dessert options for my guests. Of course we have something in the pumpkin and apple families, but I also like to throw in a little cranberry, a dash of chocolate, and my personal favorite, gingerbread. Having gingerbread cap off your turkey day meal is akin to Santa Claus ending the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade -- it welcomes the Christmas holiday.
This year, I am planning to serve a Gingerbread Creme Brulee dessert in small ramekins. That way, guests can take a little bit of everything. This dessert can definitely be prepared in advance and chilled, and the small cups provide a nice visual contrast to the larger pies, tortes, trifles, and cakes. The warm spices in this dessert mixed with the cool, creamy custard and the sweet, caramelized top are sure to make your guests feel very thankful!
Here are my extra tips for making these marvelous make-ahead desserts:
- If you have a hand torch for making creme brulee, by all means use that as opposed to broiling them. I received one several years ago as a gift, and while I don't use it often, I definitely have fun with it when I can!
- If you aren't serving the creme brulee immediately after caramelizing the tops, you can chill them for several hours, loosely covered or uncovered. It is best to serve them fairly soon after caramelizing though, for a nice crisp crust that contrasts with the creamy filling.
- Crystallized ginger can be a bit hard to find, but this time of year it is easier. Look in the bulk foods section of your grocery store (where the grains, nuts, flours, dried fruits are stored in bulk), in the dried fruit section, or sometimes it is even in the produce section. If you have a Trader Joe's in your area, I've found that they sell bags of the ginger at a fairly reasonable price.
- If you don't have ramekins or creme brulee dishes, you can use small oven-proof cups (just be sure that they are indeed oven-proof!)
Gingerbread Creme Brulee
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 cups half and half
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
8 large egg yolks, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 tablespoon molasses
6-8 tablespoons granulated sugar
Lightly sweetened whipped cream and chopped crystallized ginger for garnish (optional)
Preheat the oven to 300F degrees.
In a heavy medium saucepan set over medium heat, bring the cream and the half and half to a low boil, and then turn off the heat. In a large bowl, whisk together the brown sugar, egg yolks, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, and molasses until well combined. Gradually add the hot mixture to the egg mixture, whisking constantly, until thoroughly incorporated. Return the mixture to the saucepan and cook over medium heat for 1 minute more, whisking constantly.
Divide the custard among 6-8 ramekins (4-6 ounce sizes work the best), filling them almost to the top. Place the ramekins in a large baking dish with deep sides, spacing them apart. Pour enough hot water into the baking dish so that it reaches halfway up the sides of the ramekins.
Bake the custards for 30-40 minutes, or until the tops are set.
Carefully remove the ramekins from the baking dish and transfer them to a baking sheet or a tray that will fit into your refrigerator. Chill the custards until they are very cold, at least 3 hours or overnight.
Preheat the broiler. After the custards have chilled, sprinkle the top of each with about 1 tablespoon of the sugar. Watching closely, place the ramekins under the broiler until the sugar starts to caramelize and turn golden brown, about 3 minutes.
Allow the creme brulees to rest for a few minutes, and then serve with a dollop of whipped cream and a sprinkle of candied ginger (optional).