I'm not sure where the recipe came from, but I've had this in my arsenal for a while - I knew it was a keeper when we took it to dinner with friends and they all ooh-ed and aah-ed over it (although potentially they were just impressed that I had a dessert-specific blowtorch - or perhaps they were just afraid that I might scorch them if they didn't make appropriately appreciative murmurs!) so it has a place in my slightly OCD recipe folder.
The recipe is a fairly typical from-scratch custard, but the addition of cornflour means it thickens up fairly rapidly so you won't have to get too impatient.
The first step is steeping a cinnamon quill and the zest in the milk and cream - bring them to the boil then leave to infuse for an hour or so. If you don't have a cinnamon quill (or a spare hour) you can skip this step and just add some ground cinnamon.
Beat up the egg yolks (use the whites to make a brown sugar pavlova) with some sugar until they're nice and fluffy - a couple of minutes with an electric beater. Add the cornflour and quickly beat through. At the same time pop the milk/cream back on the heat and bring it back to the boil so it's all ready for tempering the eggs.
This is a good way to control the tempering - keeping it nice and slow; heating the eggs too quickly would make lumpy custard too, but these lumps would be even worse than the odd bit of errant zest. You just transfer a couple of spoonfuls of the hot milk into the eggs and stir. Rinse, repeat...
... and slowly pour the rest of the milk in, stirring all the while. Once combined transfer it back into the saucepan and return to the heat.
Stir, stir, stir, and before you know it it will thicken up remarkably. This custard definitely coats the back of a spoon!
It needs to chill for at least four hours - overnight is better, so you need to plan ahead.
For the topping you can use normal sugar (though if you're going white sugar I'd recommend caster as it's easier to melt the finer grains) but I like a nice brown sugar - this is a tasty muscovado. If you don't have a handy blowtorch you can pop your brulees under a grill (though this doesn't work so well with the martini glass serving method!), melt sugar in a sauce pan and pour on top, or even flambe them by pouring a little hard liquor on top and lighting it (though I haven't tried these last two so can't offer advice).
We found the sugar melted more readily when it had partially dissolved from sitting on top of the custard - so sprinkling the sugar on top then leaving it alone for 5 minutes before applying flame will make your life easier.
Move the flame around the whole time you're burning - wave it back and forth, working across the surface of the custard. It takes a little while to melt the sugar but it's well worth it - just look at the delectable caramelisation:
Does dessert get any better than this? Hmm, how about chocolate creme brulee...
1 Tbsp grated orange zest
1 Tbsp grated lemon zest
1 cinnamon stick or ¼ tsp ground cinnamon
4 large egg yolks
80g castor sugar
2 Tbsp cornflour
Extra sugar for brulee top
Place cream, milk, cinnamon and zests in a saucepan and bring to the boil. Remove from heat and stand for one hour. This step can be omitted if using ground cinnamon.
Beat egg yolks and castor sugar until pale and thick. Add cornflour and beat until combined. Bring the cream mixture back to the boil and strain it into a bowl. Add 2 Tbsp of the cream mixture to the egg and stir to incorporate, then gradually add the rest. Return to the saucepan on a low heat, and stir continuously until it coats the back of a spoon. Pour into four ramekins and chill for at least 4 hours or overnight.
Just before serving sprinkle sugar over the top of each serving and caramelise the sugar. Serves 4