Duck Fat Cherry Crème Brûlée

Duck Fat Cherry Vanilla Creme Brulee

To a normal human being, dessert is not usually the first thing that comes to mind when one says 'duck fat'. But why not? It is rich and savory, substituting duck fat for butter or cream just makes sense. Granted I would put duck fat in everything if I had an endless supply!

Crème brûlée may seem like a dessert only available in the fanciest of restaurants, but it's actually a pretty simple dessert. Crème brûlée is one of several variations of crème anglaise, which is an indispensable pastry custard known as simple vanilla sauce. Crème anglaise is milk, cream or a combination which is sweetened with sugar, flavored with vanilla, and thickened by egg yolk (Ruhlman 211). Crème brûlée can be made with almost all common pantry ingredients, and it has been for centuries.

The first recipe for crème brûlée appeared in a cookbook by François Massialot called Le Cuisinier Royal et Bourgeois in 1691 C.E. (Muusers). Massialot produced a similar product to a modern crème brûlée but without the modern equipment available to the everyday cook. Massialot used a red hot shovel as a salamander, fresh out of a fire to caramelize the sugar on top of his crème brûlée. We are lucky enough to be well equipped with ovens, broilers, and over 300 years of human trial and error. That means there is no excuse not to create delicious crème brûlée in our homes whenever we please.

My version of crème brûlée contains a personally important triad of flavors. To me duck fat, dark cherry, and vanilla bean represent the feeling of warmth during the winter months. In fact, vanilla in particular has a strong psychological effect with regards to both flavor in scent. Vanilla's scent has been proven to reduce stress and anxiety in humans, "Cancer patients undergoing Magnetic Resonance Imaging - a diagnostic procedure known to be stressful - reported a massive 63% less anxiety when heliotropin (a vanilla fragrance) was administered during the procedure" (Fox 9).

I am uncertain if the pairing of cherry and vanilla is inherently coveted by humans or youthful nostalgia makes it so enticing. Bright red cherries stacked on top of scoops of vanilla ice cream bring back simple yet happy memories for many adults. Cherry and vanilla can be so much more though! The cherry balances out the duck fat and vanilla in this dessert to create a sense of harmony. I find it this convection contradictory, both experimental yet traditional. However, I'd take a contradictory yet delicious dessert over a consonant and dull last course any day.

Caramelize the Crust

Duck Fat Cherry Crème Brûlée

  • 1 & 3/4 c 2% milk
  • 1/2 c Liquid duck fat
  • 1/2 c Frozen sweet cherries (preferably pitted)
  • 1/2 c Sugar
  • 1/2 c Egg yolks (6-7 yolks)
  • 1 Vanilla bean
  • 1 lime
  • pinch of salt
Cooking Directions
  1. Preheat oven to 325 F.
  2. Blend ½ C of pitted cherries in a food processor.
  3. Put the 1 & 3/4th C of 2% milk and pureed cherries in a small pot, set on medium heat. Scald the milk by heating until the mixture reaches 180 F. Once the milk reaches this point take off heat immediately, set aside covered for 15 minutes.
  4. Now pour ½ C of egg yolks, ½ C of sugar, the scraped insides of the vanilla pod, and a pinch of salt into a separate metal bowl. Place the leftover vanilla pod in the resting pot containing the milk. Whisk the egg/sugar mixture until thoroughly combined.
  5. After the milk mixture has sat for 15 minutes, slowly pour through a strainer into the egg yolks. The milk may still be warm, thus temper the egg mixture by pouring a little milk then whisking. Repeat this process several times before incorporating the milk mixture into the eggs.
  6. Take the room temperature ½ C of liquid duck fat and pour as slowly as possible into the egg/milk mixture. Try to keep the stream as thin as a pen head or smaller while pouring. Vigorously mix to incorporate the duck fat into the liquid.
  7. Set up a double boiler by bringing a pot of water to a boil that is small enough to place your metal bowl on top of. Let the Metal bowl sit for 3-5 minutes while slowly stirring. The mixture should thicken up enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon.
  8. Once the mixture achieves a thickened consistency carefully pour into 6 separate 4 ounce and oven safe ramekins.
  9. Carefully place ramekins into a deep hotel pan and make sure there is plenty of space between ramekins. If you don’t have a hotel pan any deep oven-safe dish is fine.
  10. Pour water into the hotel pan, thus the water comes about ½ - 2/3 of the way up the sides of the ramekins. Be careful not to submerge any of the custard in water.
  11. Slowly place the water bath into the preheated oven for roughly 40-45 minutes or until the custard is set. The custard is set when there is a slight jiggle in the center, but it is no longer liquid. The best way to get perfect set custard is to check at around 35 minutes and then check often afterwards.
  12. Carefully remove the crème brûlée from the oven, and then remove from the water bath. Transfer all ramekins to the refrigerator for 90 minutes.
  13. When ready to serve sprinkle enough brown sugar to lightly coat the top of the custard. For best results use a crème brûlée torch to caramelize the sugar until the heat forms a perfect shell. If that is not available place the ramekins under a high heated broiler and watch as the sugar caramelizes.
  14. To finish the dish lightly sprinkle lime zest over the top of the caramelized shell.
Total Time: 3 Hours

Citations and Further Readings:
  • Fox, Kate. "The Smell Report." Social Issues Research Center. SIRC, n.d. Web. 18 Nov. 2014.
  • Muusers, Christianne. "Crème Brûlée." Coquinaria. N.p., 20 Feb. 2005. Web. 18 Nov. 2014.
  • Ruhlman, Michael. Ratio. New York: Scribner, 2009. 211. Print.
Photos by Jordan Henline


Post a Comment