So there’s this guy in my life…

I call him Daddy.

You probably shouldn’t, because that would be weird.

I mention him today not so you’ll know I didn’t just fall out of a tree somewhere, I mention him – much more importantly – because today is his birthday.

(Happy Birthday, Daddy! *balloons, sparklers, confetti etc.*)

I also mention him as I understand that this year he has been gifted with the über-manly gift of the Power of Fire. In the form of a brûlée torch. He does rugged and classy, dig.

So I thought I’d look up a few recipes for him to try out. (Read: to make for me when ever I visit home.)


I wanted to find interesting variations on the traditional vanilla custard crème brûlée, and I think I succeeded… We’ll begin with a deep, dark chocolate custard blended with earthy coffee and a spicy kick of cinnamon. The cinnamon was my idea, natch.

You ready, D? Let’s try this.

Chocolate Cinnamon Espresso Crème Brûlée
Adapted from Use Real Butter


  • 1 1/3 cups Double/heavy cream
  • 1 tbsp Instant espresso powder (I used instant coffee granules)
  • 1 tsp Ground cinnamon
  • 100g Dark chocolate, chopped
  • 3 Egg yolks
  • 3 tbsps Caster sugar
  • 1 tsp Vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup Caster sugar (for the topping)


Oven 150 C (300 F).

In a medium saucepan, bring the cream, espresso powder and cinnamon to a simmer, whisking to help the coffee to dissolve.

Remove from the heat and add the chocolate to the warm cream mixture. Mix until smooth and combined, then set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk the egg yolks, sugar and vanilla together.

Slowly add the chocolate mixture to the egg mixture, whisking to combine. Strain through a sieve.

Ladle the custard into six oven-safe ramekins and place in a water bath.

A water bath is essentially a roasting dish filled with hot water – you’ll usually find it lurking around custard and cheesecake recipes.

You can either put the custard-filled ramekins in the dish, fill it with boiled water from the kettle until the water is level with the custard, then carefully ease the dish into the oven (my way) or, when the oven is ready, set  the roasting dish with custard-filled ramekins on the oven rack and carefully pour the hot water into the pan, then slide the rack in (my oven rack, much like all other aspects of  the oven, is not to be trusted and would definitely spill boiling water all over me, my custards and my cat – no thanks).

Bake until the custards are set, but still jiggly in the middle – between 40 and 50 minutes, more like 40 if your oven is fan-assisted.

Remove the pan from the oven and let the custards cool in the water bath.

Once the water is room temperature, remove and refrigerate the custards for at least two hours, to set.

Before serving, sprinkle a couple of teaspoons of sugar over each custard and either blast it with a kitchen torch (go on, Daddy, torch those little custardy suckers!) or place them under a very hot oven grill until the sugar bubbles and caramelizes.

Apologies for how my brûlée-ing turned out. When I put the sugared ramekins under the grill, the sugar took way too long to start melting and the smell of caramel gave way to the smell of burning chocolate as the tops of the custards were starting to boil. I suspect my grill doesn’t get as hot as it should.

From this rather embarrassing exercise I learned two things:

One: attempting to use the grill of the no-brand oven in your cheaply refurbished hole-in-the-wall in East London to artfully singe a delicate layer of sugar over custard is a rubbish idea.

Two: my dad officially has the tools to out-brûlée me, which means the next time my family hosts a dinner, he and I will be in pretty stiff competition for title of person-who-made-nicest-dessert. Which is totally unfair because it’s meant to always be me. Except for when it’s my mum, obviously.

Sugar melting issues aside, these are pots of deep, dark, devilishness. The flavour is intense, so you might want a small spoon, and perhaps a dash of cream to offset the bite of the coffee and cocoa… Or just suck up the wussiness and bite back!

Now for the second way of our Two Ways birthday brûlée experience. I suppose I’m revealing these backwards, but this one’s a bit of an interesting creature:

It doesn’t necessarily involve the oven (if you have a kitchen torch to hand… as some of us do…), it doesn’t involve sugar and it requires a dash or two of salt and pepper.

It’s savoury. It has cheese. Its composition is simple – basically, it’s dead easy.

A word on the cheese custard thing: it sounds a bit bland, right? You know me, and you know I love to add a bit of this or that – the cinnamon in the above recipe being a case in point – but this recipe truly, truly needs no extra flavours. I considered adding a bit of caramelised onion or some chives or bacon bits, but after one taste of the un-tampered-with product, all I did was improvise a crunchy(ish) topping that wasn’t burnt sugar.

The ingredients look so unassuming, and the cheese content seems so meagre, but just go with it, the flavours are astonishing: sharp, smoky, creamy, savoury… And all from bog-standard mature Cheddar and a dash of cracked pepper!

Seriously, so many good things are about to happen here.

Cheddar Cheese Brûlée
Adapted from The British Larder


  • 270ml Double/heavy cream
  • 5 Egg yolks
  • 55g Mature cheddar, grated (plus an extra cup or so for topping)
  • Salt and freshly cracked black pepper


Place the four ramekins in the fridge to chill.

Next you’ll want to break out your double boiler or construct a bain marie.

Combine all the ingredients in the top of the double boiler or the glass bowl for the bain marie.

Gently heat the mixture, stirring frequently, for approximately 15 minutes, or until the cheese custard thickens and the eggs are cooked. Be careful not to overheat the mixture as it can separate and curdle.

Once the mixture is cooked, immediately pour it into the chilled ramekins and return them to the fridge to cool and set over night.

For the ‘brûlée’ aspect, I made cheddar semi-crisps to pop on top of each custard. Because I’m amazing.

I used my largest pastry cutter as a mould and sprinkled a layer of grated cheese in to form a circle on some baking paper.

I popped this under the grill until the cheese melted and browned around the edges and top – and they magically spread to exactly the right size for my ramekins. Al. Che. My.

Once these were cooled, I placed them on the cheese custards and put them under the grill briefly to settle them in a bit.

I have a theory that sprinkling a bit of cheese on the custards and torching them till they toast and bubble might be a fine idea… Will ask  my dad how that one goes. *cough*

Another idea for these savoury guys, after chilling, is to serve as a cheese spread for crusty bread, crackers, or even veggie dipping.

You’ll end up eating them with a spoon though. And then possibly your fingers.

So! Yes! Cooking and burning stuff!

D’s a superhero on the barbecue, so he can do cooking and burning… I expect a full report.

After the nap my fab folks will need from all the impending brûlée consumption.

HB again to my D – hoping it’s an excellent one!



4 thoughts on “Birthday brûlée: two ways

  1. Both creations look irresistible and so easy that even an aged parent (with the right tools) can manage them. Thanks for the delicious birthday greeting and the challenge. I’m off to the kitchen!

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