mike kostyo

I know food.

Little Baby Crème Brûlées

Do you sometimes wonder what the plates of the future will look like? What am I talking about, it probably keeps you up at night. I'm not talking about the plate itself, those will be holograms, but the plating style. How a chef puts the food on the plate. Remember when it was weird pointy things rising from the plate? A few years ago The New Yorker described them as "small towers of something wrapped in something--with the tops sliced at an angle; crumbly landscape of some kind; and a reflecting pool running around the edge." You saw it everywhere. Then it got to the point where Applebees was cutting their BBQ egg rolls or whatever at an angle and placing them every which way on a bed of slaw and it was time to move on.

To, apparently, tiny, carefully arranged messes. Now everything is bits and pieces of cubed vegetables and microgreens that have been plated just-so with tweezers. Like this and this and this. The chef looks very serious as s/he tweezes that single pea onto the plate. "There. That is where it must go." I'm sure.

Where do these plating ideas come from? The New Yorker also had an article (they love articles) a couple of weeks back about cultural conceptualizations of aliens and how they changed over the years. I remember this chart from the 90s. Did our aliens become more aquatic-looking at the same time that deep-sea explorers were making great discoveries? What does that say about other cultural manifestations? What do our plates reflect?

Somebody should ask those people who are always forecasting the color for the year, whatever that means, constantly claiming the world is in the mood for canoe brown or purple robe for some reason. I'm sure they can come up with something for you. "Oh, the white chocolate tower on a pool of tangerine sauce was an expression of our pre-9/11 hubris, while the new plating style of tiny sprouts and yellow radishes evokes the sprouting gardens of the farm-to-table, romanticizing-the-past movement."

Who knows? Maybe a carrot is just a carrot. Eat your carrots.

Anyways, little baby crème brûlées. Or big crème brûlées You can make them any size you like, because you are an adult. Congratulations! Mine are miniature because I made 25 of them for my coworkers. Of course, the bigger you make them the longer they will take in the oven. You best bet is just to check on them every so often because ovens are all over the place and who knows how thick the sides of your ramekins are and maybe you put too much water in and it's too easy to let them sit in the oven and then end up with a curdled mess. So watch them until they just jiggle in the middle. Then they will be perfect.

This is the best recipe for crème brûlée in the universe. I said it, aquatic aliens -- the universe. I'm afraid to get crème brûlée from restaurants because it's never as good, although I still do, because crème brûlée is the best and I always tell myself, "This place will do it right." But they don't. In other words, I make the best crème brûlée. Pat pat. You can use whatever sugar you like for the tops. I know some people have preferences for superfine or turbinado, but I've used everything and it has worked just fine.

Enjoy! Coming up I will tell you about the Fancy Food Show. Something for you to look forward to.

Crème Brûlée

Adapted from Restaurant Favorites at Home  |  Makes 6 Large, 8 Medium, or 25 Miniature Crème Brûlées


Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. Place your ramekins in a large cake or roasting pan and set aside.

Split the vanilla bean and scrape the seeds out. In a medium saucepan, add the 4 cups of cream, vanilla bean seeds, vanilla bean pod, and 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt. Cook over low-to-medium heat until it just comes to the boil. Set aside to cool slightly.

In a heatproof bowl, add the 8 egg yolks and 3/4 cup of sugar and whisk until combined. Now, continually whisking, add just a bit of the hot vanilla cream mixture. Keep whisking to prevent the eggs from cooking and slowly stream a bit more of the cream until all of it has been added. Strain the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer into a pitcher or other pourable container. Discard the solids.

Slowly pour the mixture into the prepared ramekins (if you are afraid of them sliding too much when you transfer them to the oven, you can place a towel in the bottom of the pan) until filled nearly to the top. Slowly pour hot water into the pan until it reaches 3/4 of the way up the sides of the ramekins, being careful not to splash the water into the custard.

Transfer to the oven and bake until they are set. The centers should be just jiggly yet not liquid. This usually takes about 40-50 minutes, but start checking them as early as 30 minutes (and even earlier if you are making mini crème brûlées). As I said before, the thickness of your ramekins, amount of water, oven temp, etc. affects the time greatly.

Remove from the oven. Use tongs or a spatula to transfer the ramekins to a cooling rack. Let them come to room temperature before refrigerating them for at least two hours and up to a day or two (cover in plastic wrap if refrigerating them for eight or more hours). 

When ready to serve, remove from the refrigerator. If condensation has formed on the tops, lightly place a paper towel on the surface to soak it up. Sprinkle a tablespoon of sugar on top and lightly tap to evenly distribute it over the surface. Pour out any extra sugar.

Using a blow torch or crème brûlée torch, evenly torch the sugar until it browns and bubbles. Let them sit for a moment or two before serving.


+ 4 cups heavy cream

+ 1 vanilla bean

+ 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt

+ 8 egg yolks 

+ 3/4 cup granulated sugar

+ extra sugar for the tops