Creme Of The Crop

Recipe and photos by Brandon Matzek

Whether you're hosting a casual cocktail party or a formal sit-down dinner this Holiday season, there's one detail that must be present: a showstopper dessert. Such a grand finale will absolve you from that overcooked turkey or the mashed potatoes you forgot to salt.

The one dish that everyone will be talking about long after the party is over: a dish like this Chocolate Peppermint Crème Brûlée.

Hidden beneath a caramelized sugar top lies a rich, creamy chocolate custard flavored with peppermint and coffee liqueur. A seasonal twist on a timeless classic, this Chocolate Peppermint

Crème Brûlée will surely spark excitement in the eyes of your dinner guests. It's a dessert that they can recognize, but with a non-traditional flavor profile. Crème Brûlée may sound intimidating to make, but I assure you it's definitely doable. Before you start this recipe, be sure to have a blowtorch to brûlée (French for "burnt") the sugar. I'd recommend skipping the wimpy kitchen torches, and instead purchasing a blowtorch head that attaches to a small canister of propane (available at Home Depot, Lowes or Ace Hardware).

Brûlée the sugar in front of your dinner guests for added theatrics. Some Crème Brûlée recipes suggest you caramelize the sugar underneath your broiler. This method is not recommended, and may result in uneven caramelization. Finally, do not overcook your custard. If you do, your showstopper dessert will turn to chocolate-flavored scrambled eggs. Be sure to check for doneness based on the visual cues outlined here, and don't rely completely on the timing suggestions.

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Chocolate Peppermint Crème Brûlée

Ingredients
2 cups heavy cream
3 oz. good quality bittersweet chocolate, chopped into small pieces (I used Valrhona here)
3 egg yolks
2 tbsp. sugar, plus an additional 6 teaspoons for the topping
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 to 1/2 tsp. peppermint extract
1 tbsp. coffee liqueur
Mini candy canes, smashed into small bits
Special equipment: blowtorch, 6 ramekins (oven-safe ceramic or glass bowls)

Process
Be prepared. Preheat an oven to 325ºF. Have a full pot of boiling water ready. Place six 4-ounce ramekins in a baking dish. Set aside.

Flavor base. Warm heavy cream in a small saucepan over medium heat until small bubbles form around the edge of the pan, and steam is rising from the surface of the cream. Remove from heat, add chocolate, and stir until melted and combined. Let cool slightly. In a bowl with a pour spout, whisk together egg yolks and 2 tablespoons of sugar until the mixture is thick and pale yellow (about 5 minutes; you can use a hand mixer here as well). Slowly stir in the warm chocolate/cream mixture, and then stir in vanilla, peppermint and coffee liqueur. Start with 1/4 teaspoon of peppermint extract, and then add more to taste.

Cook and cool. Divide the chocolate mixture among the prepared ramekins, and then transfer the baking dish to the oven. Carefully add boiling water to the pan halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Cover the entire baking dish loosely with aluminum foil. Bake until the custards are set around the edges (25 - 35 minutes). Test for doneness by jiggling one of the ramekins. It's done when the edges stay in place, and the center is still wobbly. Do not overcook. Transfer the ramekins to a wire rack and let cool to room temperate. Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.

Fire works. Just before serving, sprinkle 1 teaspoon of sugar evenly over the surface of each custard. Using a blowtorch, caramelize the sugar on top until golden. Move the flame continuously over the sugar. The sugar will bubble, and then darken. Finish with a sprinkling of crushed candy cane.

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