Torching the tops – broiler in overdrive and creme brulee cupcakes


In summer 2011, I had one of the only real arguments (in that it was sustained and stupid) of my adult life when a guest at my house yelled at me for not owning a toaster. He attempted to make toast using the broil feature of my oven, only to end up with a couple of slices of fully charred bread. In fairness, the broiler in my oven is temperamental. It seems to do nothing, nothing, nothing, and suddenly, it kicks into high gear, and if you are not watching the oven’s contents closely and carefully, it will turn rapidly into inedible charcoal.

Knowing this about my oven, I ended up with not one, but two, four-slice toasters (I can satisfy a great deal of toast demand now). Otherwise, with other projects, I broil with caution.

When I made lemon meringue cupcakes, I used the broiler and basically did not take my eyes off them as long as they were under the broiler.

When I decided to try out an experiment with crème brûlée baked into a vanilla cupcake, I knew I either needed to go out and buy a culinary torch or try my luck once more with the fussy broiler in the oven. I decided to go with the latter option because, while I could certainly use a culinary torch sooner or later, I do not have an immediate need for one, and if the crème brûlée cupcakes turned out less than stellar, I would not be planning to make them again. While being a full proponent of there being a proper tool for every task, I do not feel compelled to acquire every tool for every task I could possibly do, preferring to limit myself to the tools that will go to the best and most frequent use.

I also knew I had to find out if this would work for me before I invested too much time and effort, so I went with a crème brûlée packaged mix (the horror!). I might try this another time using homemade filling.

Vanilla cupcakes
3/4 cups butter, softened
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 eggs
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt (if using unsalted butter)
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 3/4 cups flour
1 1/3 cups milk

Two packages of crème brûlée mix

For the cupcakes, preheat the oven to 350F/175C. Cream the butter and sugar together until fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Then add the baking soda, baking powder, vanilla and salt. Add the flour and milk in alternating turns with the mixer on low. Beat mixture just until combined/smooth.

Fill cupcake liners in your cupcake pan to about 3/4 full. Bake for about 20-25 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. The cupcake will just have started to turn a slight golden brown color. Let the cupcakes cool in the pan for about ten minutes before removing them to a wire rack to cool completely.

Crème brûlée cupcake assembly
When cupcakes are cool, use a melon baller or a small knife to scoop out the centers of the cupcakes, leaving an approximately one-inch edge around the border and being careful not to reach the bottom of the cupcake, leaving a small layer of cake on the bottom of the cupcake. Once this is done, you can set the prepared cupcakes aside. (Scooped-out crumbs can be used to make cake pops.)

Crème brûlée
Follow the instructions for your crème brûlée, either on the package or from scratch, depending on your method. When the crème is finished cooking on the stovetop, immediately pour it into the waiting cupcakes until the cavities are full but not overflowing. Let the filled cupcakes sit for an hour to settle, and then refrigerate for another hour until ready to serve.

When ready to serve, sprinkle caramelizing sugar on top of the cupcakes and put under your broiler for three minutes or until the sugar has melted (or use a culinary torch to achieve the same results).

I did not follow these exact directions since I was not going to be serving them directly and unfortunately left these for last to prepare and did not have time to let them sit at room temperature or in the fridge before doing the broiling on top. I plodded ahead with the broiling almost immediately after filling the cupcakes and hoped for the best.

I did not hear any feedback one way or the other about these. I may try them again but will try with my own crème brûlée recipe and may by then have a proper culinary torch.

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