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London Fog Crème Brûlée

November 28, 2011

The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes
The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes
Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening,
Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,
Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys,
Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,
And seeing that it was a soft October night,
Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.
~T.S. Eliot, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”

I learned this week that London Fogs were actually invented in Vancouver! Now this is surprising: for a city that so loves complaining about the miserableness of the rain, we also managed to take what was a horrible phenomenon of thick yellow smog produced from burning coal and turn it into a glamorous beverage. Every time the real London Fog (or “pea soup fog”) appears in literature, it is described as something pretty horrible, which I’m sure was just the reality of the situation: “a greasy, heavy brown swirl still drifting past us and condensing in oily drops on the windowpane” (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle) for example. Trust North Americans to pretend that anything European had to be secretly great. The Prufrock fog falls somewhere in the middle I think – sure, you don’t really want yellow smoke rubbing against your window-panes at all, but the personification is just so sweet that it redeems the smog quite a bit in my eyes.

This crème brûlée was inspired by the beverage not the fog, though there was a certain point during the mixing of egg yolks and Earl Grey-infused cream that it was definitely looking a lot more like the “distilled from pea soup” fog (Inez Haynes Irwin) than anything and I started to wonder what I was thinking coming up with this recipe. The classic London Fog drink is Earl Grey tea with vanilla syrup and cream and this crème brûlée is basically the same ingredients in different proportions and really does turn out, despite it’s awkward middle phase, very much like the drink but with increased deliciousness of course because of the outrageous amounts of cream and sugar. This was my first shot at crème brûlée after Hélène gave me a cooking torch for my birthday and if this dessert wasn’t totally over the top I would make it and versions of it all the time. It’s surprisingly easy to make (the French had me convinced that it was the most fancy ever!) and you can do it without a torch as well.

London Fog Crème Brûlée
3 egg yolks
1 cup whipping cream
1/3 cup sugar
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and cut in three sections (or 1/2 tsp vanilla extract)
2 bags of Earl Grey tea

Heat the cream on medium with tea bags and vanilla bean. Cream isn’t the best medium for steeping, so you’ll have to press on the bags quite a bit to get the flavour out of them (you’ll be able to see the cream turn brown as they steep). Scrape out the inside of the vanilla bean so that the little black particles float out. Remove the tea bags and vanilla bean pod and bring cream to just below boiling point.

Beat the three egg yolks with the sugar in a bowl, then pour the cream into the mixture in a stream, whisking constantly. This is where the mixture begins to look horrible.

Pour the mixture into three ramekins and place in a square pan. Pour hot water into the pan until it is halfway up the sides. Bake at 350˚ for 25 minutes – the custard should not jiggle too much inside, but be just soft. You’ll notice that the custard suddenly looks beautiful! A wonderful Earl Grey colour – magically revived from its pre-baking state. Let cool in the fridge for 3 hours.

Just before serving, sprinkle sugar on top of each custard – the sugar should be even but need not be thick. Caramelize the sugar with a torch (the most fun option) or in the oven on broil for 1-2 minutes (watch very carefully!)

Confusingly, we served the crème brûlée with financiers made in madeleine molds.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Jenn permalink
    November 28, 2011 8:07 pm

    So delicious. I can’t wait to make this at home. Also – T.S. Eliot! Awesome excerpt from a great poem.

  2. Allen permalink
    November 29, 2011 11:43 am

    This looks SO AMAZING I can’t wait to try making it myself!

  3. February 12, 2012 10:16 am

    Looking for dessert ideas for a dinner party next weekend…. this sounds delish. I’m already using my ramekins for individual chicken pot pies, but I am strongly considering buying more so I can make this too.. Do you think a ceramic oven-safe dish would work in place of a pan? I can’t imagine it makes much of a difference, other than perhaps heat….

    • Allie permalink*
      February 12, 2012 12:54 pm

      Hi Vanessa – I think you can use anything for the water. I’m sure material doesn’t matter. I would definitely get extra ramekins for this. I think you can never have too many, and they’re pretty inexpensive! Enjoy your dinner party :)

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