28 February 2016
Okay, so some of you may be thinking "wow, that's a weird flavour combination!". Well, the story behind this recipe actually goes back a couple of years...
I should probably start by introducing CakesByChoppa, who made the initial request that inspired this recipe. If you aren't familiar with him, Choppa is a quite successful Australian YouTuber who decorates cakes. Most of his work is heavily influenced by pop culture, but he also does the occasional video showing the more classical cake decorating techniques. I strongly recommend that you take a look at his YouTube channel, because there's seriously something for everyone.
Anyway, back to the story. Choppa's management company took him out to dinner a couple of years ago to one of those 'fancy' restaurants (you know the ones I mean, where style trumps substance and you end up with something visually awesome on your plate that never quite satisfies your hunger). At this dinner, he was served a very interesting-looking dessert that was basically a study in strawberries and pepper. There was strawberry jelly, strawberry sorbet, strawberry caviar, fresh strawberries, a vanilla mousse, peppercorn tuille, and a sprig of watercress "artfully" strewn over the top. Never one to be an adventurous eater, Choppa was pleasantly surprised, and has been raving about it ever since.
How do I know this, you may ask? Well, Choppa has been my flatmate for over a decade. Seeing as I do 90% of the cooking at home, Choppa has been trying to con me into recreating this dessert, however I tend to steer away from things that I think are over-complicated or pretentious. When I announced that this season I would be taking requests, unsurprisingly I ended up with a comment from Choppa asking for "a strawberry and black pepper dessert" and finally caved.
Seeing as there is no way I could be bothered replicating the dessert he had, I instead borrowed the main elements and condensed them into a simpler form. And thus, the Strawberry & Black Pepper Crème Brûlée was created!
There is nothing complicated here, the name says it all. A compote is basically an un-set jam, which, I suppose, means it’s just a type of syrup. In that case, feel free to use this on some pancakes or crepes!
350g strawberries, roughly diced
¼ cup caster sugar
2 tbsp lemon juice
Not much to it, right? This is probably the easiest part… besides eating it! Although the hard part there is stopping at just one…
1. Place all ingredients into a saucepan over medium-high heat.
2. Cook for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until you have a thin syrup and most of the strawberry has broken down.
3. Remove from the heat, transfer to a bowl, and allow to cool.
4. Distribute evenly amongst six 200ml ramekins, then place the ramekins into the freezer for the compote to set.
This is the most complicated part of the recipe, but other than knowing the exact time to remove from the oven, it’s not too difficult.
300ml pure/single cream
5 egg yolks (at room temperature)
½ cup caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract/paste/essence
Once again, not too many ingredients, it’s just a matter of using them in the right way.
1. Preheat oven to 160°C (320°F).
2. In a jug, whisk together the egg yolks and sugar until combined and smooth.
3. Place the cream, milk and vanilla into a saucepan over medium heat and bring to a slight simmer, then remove from the heat and slowly whisk into the egg and sugar mixture a bit at a time. (If you add it all at once or too quickly the eggs could cook, leaving you with a lumpy, sweet scramble.)
4. Allow the custard mix to cool for 10-15 minutes.
5. Remove the ramekins from the freezer and place them into a large, deep baking dish.
6. Divide the custard mixture evenly amongst the ramekins, leaving a gap of approx. half a centimetre at the top of each one. (This prevents overflow.)
7. Fill the baking dish with enough warm water to come up the sides of the ramekins. (TIP: Don’t use boiling water as your ramekins are still quite cold and may shatter.)
8. Place the baking dish into the oven and bake for 45-55 minutes, or until there is a slight wobble in the middle of each ramekin. (Keep an eye on this. Most crème brûlée recipes only cook for 25-35 minutes, but because your ramekins were cold and the custard and waterbath were warm instead of piping hot, you need a longer cooking time. I would recommend checking once at 30 minutes, then again at 45 minutes, to see if the custard has set.)
9. Remove the ramekins from the baking dish and allow to cool, then place into the fridge to chill for several hours. (TIP: Chill them overnight for best results.)
And on to the final round! This part is not really complicated either, but if you’re new to blowtorch work in the kitchen, you may have some trouble knowing when the right level of caramelisation is reached.
Black pepper (coarse ground)
Mint leaves (optional)
I’ve left quantities out of this, as it’s basically just a matter of personal preference. When I made these, I used a couple of small pinches of pepper (¼-½ tsp) and 2-3 tsp of caster sugar for each crème brûlée and I think it was a good balance (Choppa agreed).
The mint is there to reference the watercress on the dessert that this is based on. Watercress has a peppery flavour. So does mint, but it also soothes the tastebuds after the pepper, and really brings out the acidity in the strawberries.
I’ll leave these choices up to you!
1. Remove the chilled ramekins from the fridge.
2. Scatter some of the pepper over the top of the custard. (See above for suggested amounts.)
3. Scatter some caster sugar over the pepper. (See above for suggested amounts.)
4. Using a kitchen blowtorch, melt the sugar, taking care not to remain in any particular spot for more than a second at a time to prevent burning.
5. Once the sugar is mostly melted and has begun to colour, spoon over some more caster sugar, then finish off with the blowtorch until all of the sugar is melted and a layer of caramelised toffee has formed. (Adding the extra sugar allows for a more even coating of toffee.)
6. Take a small sprig of mint leaves (if you choose to use them) and press it into the soft toffee. (If you don’t want whole mint leaves, then chop them finely and scatter over the top of the toffee instead).
7. Allow to cool for 2-5 minutes until the toffee has set, then eat! (Alternatively, you can place the crème brûlées into the freezer for 10 minutes so that the custard remains chilled.)
Serves 6 (in theory).
A video of this recipe is also available at - https://youtu.be/_-tJCuILC84.
If you have a recipe to request, it's not too late! Please send me an email and I'll see what I can do.