There is something about custard that produces eye-widening delight. Supple and silky, like the best pudding ever. This crème brûlée is made with duck egg yolks, richer and larger than those from chickens, and it is outrageously good. (Even if you cannot find duck eggs, this crème brûlée is worth making.) Classic crème brûlée consists of just yolks, cream, sugar, and a choice of optional aromatics, like lemon or lavender, in case you desire a little extra nuance. Here, I opted for orange zest and fresh rosemary, which impart bright notes to the rich custard. After the custard has set, seal it under a sheen of sugar-glass, then gleefully shatter it with the back of your spoon. Bonus, there’s a built-in opportunity for another great creation, using the separated whites—meringue—two gifts in one! —Melina Hammer
granulated sugar, plus more for brûléeing
Finely grated zest from 1/2 orange (about 1 tablespoon)
- Grab four 3/4-cup ramekins, shallow porcelain bowls, or small gratin pans (all heatproof). Place on a rimmed sheet pan or baking dish large enough to hold them.
In a saucepan over medium heat, combine the cream, sugar, and salt, stirring until the sugar dissolves and small bubbles appear around the edges of the cream, 4 to 5 minutes.
Remove from the heat and add the zest and rosemary. Allow the mixture to steep at room temperature for 45 minutes. The longer the mixture infuses, the more pronounced the flavor will be. Taste after 45 minutes and either allow the aromatics to infuse longer or strain the mixture through muslin draped inside a sieve, or a fine-mesh wire strainer into a bowl. While the cream infuses, heat the oven to 325°F.
- Crack an egg and transfer it to your palm. Separate the white from yolk by gently passing it back and forth, allowing the white to slip through your fingers and into a bowl placed underneath. Place the yolk into a separate medium bowl. Repeat with remaining eggs. Save eggwhites for meringue or soufflé.
- Whisk the yolks until thickened, about 1 minute or when your arm starts to ache.
- Gradually whisk the cooled cream mixture into the beaten yolks and strain once more.
- Move the sheet pan or baking dish with the ramekins next to the oven. Bring a pot of water to a boil, enough to fill the baking pan halfway up the sides of the ramekins.
- Equally divide the custard between the four ramekins. Carefully transfer the pan with the custards into the oven. Gently but swiftly pour the hot water into the sheet pan or baking dish, until the water reaches halfway up the sides of the ramekins, creating a bain-marie.
- Close the oven door and bake until the custards are set but still tremble slightly in the centers if shaken. Depending on your vessel, this will take 20 to 35 minutes, so start checking at 5 minute intervals after 20 minutes.
- Using tongs in one hand and a potholder in the other, carefully lift the custards out one at a time and place them on a wire rack. Let the custards cool on the rack for 25 minutes.
- Wrap each tautly with cellophane and refrigerate until well chilled, 4 to 24 hours.
- After removing the custards from the fridge, sprinkle a layer of sugar to coat the surfaces. Use a small kitchen torch to cook the sugar until bubbling and caramelized. Repeat with the remaining custards. Wait a few minutes for the sugar shell to harden, then eat.
When she’s not writing, cooking, styling, and shooting her forthcoming cookbook – out Spring 2022 with Ten Speed Press – Melina makes food look its best for the New York Times, Eating Well, Edible, and other folks who are passionate about real food. She grows heirloom+native plants and forages wild foods at her Hudson Valley getaway, Catbird Cottage. There, Melina prepares curated menus to guests seeking community, amidst the robust flavors of the seasons.