Monday, November 14, 2011

I Brought a Torch to Work!

A few weeks back, I got an email from a local restaurant advertising a wine and tapas pairing dinner.  I get about two or three of these emails a week and I'm always tempted to go...but I never really want to spend $75 for dinner.  This one, however, sounded really good and I thought it might be fun if I could convince a couple of my friends to go with me.  I sent out an email gauging interest, and got a response back from a friend almost immediately suggesting that instead of going to a pairing, she host one at her house! 

So, we decided to have a big girls' night where everyone was responsible for bringing one dish paired with one alcoholic beverage.  I obviously offered to be in charge of the dessert.  I decided to make crème brûlée cupcakes (found at the Cupcake Project, obviously!).  These cupcakes are vanilla cupcakes with a pumpkin crème brûlée.  I've never made crème brûlée before, so that was challenge number 1.'s what you need to know about this crème brûlée recipe - you need 6 ramikins, or you need to plan on baking your crème brûlée for much, much longer than 40 minutes! 

So...I have a procrastination issue...which is a nice way of saying that I leave everything until the last minute.  Our girls' night was scheduled for Saturday evening.  I planned to make the crème brûlée on Friday night.  I left work at 5:00 or so on Friday evening.  I had PLENTY of time to get to work.  Instead, I waited until 9:30 to start.  That was a mistake. 

Also, I only purchased 4 ramikins.  That was mistake number 2.

In the end, I was up until 2:00 in the morning waiting for my crème brûlée to finish.  So...if you plan to make these cupcakes, plan to be more prepared than me! 

This is my crème brûlée fresh out of the oven!  (pre-brûlée)

The cupcakes themselves offered only one small challenge, and that was figuring out how to work with whole vanilla beans.  The recipe calls for the seeds of one whole bean.  Here is a video on how to get the seeds out.  These cupcakes, even by themselves, and FANTASTIC!  Super moist and light, great vanilla flavor, perfect!

As a side note - to finish the crème brûlée, you sprinkle with sugar or brown sugar and torch it until the sugar carmalizes.  I took the man in the video's suggestion of putting the vanilla bean shells in some sugar and then used that sugar as the topping (thinking vanilla sugar would round out the vanilla cupcake flavor).  It was delicious...but I'm not sure that the vanilla flavor of the sugar really added anything to it...

The second major challenge for these cupcakes was deciding when and how to assemble them.  Spreading the crème brûlée on top of the cupcakes was almost like covering the cupcakes in pudding...and I was concerned that it wouldn't stay put.  So, I opted to just bring a container of the crème brûlée with me and assemble them right before we ate.  It worked out perfectly! 

Another challenge was using the torch.  It wasn't so much a challenge as a fear that I was going to start the cupcake, the cupcake liner, myself, the table, the house, etc. on fire.  Luckily, there were no torch catastrophies! 

These cupcakes are extremely delicious and extremely messy (but totally worth it)!  I am DEFINITELY making them again!  I paired them with a very, very sweet dessert wine (per the suggestion of the local booze store).  I think the wine was a bit too sweet...but that may just be me.

(and yes, that is my combination alcohol cabinet/book shelf...isn't it lovely?!)

After the party I had 10 cupcakes left.  I couldn't leave them at my house (I would have eaten them all), so I brought them to work (like I usually do).  I also brought my torch.  This morning, I assembled the cupcakes one-by-one and took them into specific people's offices and  brûléed them on the spot.  It was great!  I could tell a few people were concerned I was going to burn the office down (I didn't). 
One secretary said, "I can't even have a candle in my office, so I am fairly certain you can't have a torch."  She may be correct...but I used it anyway.

WARNING - if you plan on brûlée-ing in your office, beware that SUGAR GETS EVERYWHERE!  There is sugar all over my desk...still totally worth it!

EVERYONE loved these cupcakes!  They are probably the best ones yet (do I say that every time?)! 

So...if you like pumpkin and vanilla plus playing with fire, you should definitely try these cupcakes!

Ultimate Vanilla Cupcakes - Makes 16 cupcakes
1 cup granulated sugar
1 vanilla bean
1 3/4 cups cake flour, not self-rising
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
2 large eggs, room temperature
1/3 cup full-fat sour cream
1/4 cup canola oil or vegetable oil
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract (I used vanilla bean paste)
2/3 cup whole milk
  1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
  2. In a small bowl, combine sugar and seeds from the vanilla bean.
  3. Using the back of a spoon, move around the bown and apply pressure to break up any clumps of seeds and to better infuse the vanilla flavor into the sugar.  Set aside.
  4. In a medium-sized bowl or bowl of a stand mixer, mix together cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
  5. Add the vanilla bean sugar and mix until well combined.
  6. Add butter and mix on medium-low speed for three minutes.  You should end up with a very fine crumb texture.
  7. In a small mixing bowl, whisk together eggs, sour cream, oil, and vanilla extract until smooth.
  8. Add the egg mixture to the flour mixture and beat on medium speed until just combined.
  9. Slowly add milk and mix on low speed until just combined.  The batter will be liquid (it is supposed to be liquid).
  10. Fill cupcake liners just over 1/2 full.
  11. Bake for 14 minutes and then test to see if they are done.  They are done when a toothpick comes out without wet batter stuck to it.  The cupcakes should appear white with specks of vanilla bean.  They should not be golden brown.  If they are not done, test again in two minutes.  If they are still not done, test again in two minutes.
  12. When the cupcakes are done, removed them immediately from the tins and leave them on a cooling rack.
  13. You may want to do a test cupcake before baking your whole batch.
Pumpkin Crème Brûlée - Yeild SIX (not 4) ramikins of crème brûlée
10 egg yolk
1 quart heavy whipping cream
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups pumpkin puree (by my measurements, this was one can...)
1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice
Sugar for brûléeing
  1. Preheat oven to 300 F.
  2. Whisk together all ingredients.
  3. Divide evenly between the ramekins.
  4. Place the filled ramekins into a deep roasting pan or whatever pan you would use to make something like lasagna.
  5. Fill pan with water to halfway up the ramekins.
  6. Cover pan with foil and poke holes in foil to release steam.
  7. Bake 45-50 minutes or until the crème brûlée no longer jiggles when you move it.
  8. Refridgerate for at least three hours.
Assembling the Cupcakes -
  1. First, I had no idea how much crème brûlée I would have in comparison with the number of cupcakes I made.  So, you should know that I used about 1/4 of the crème brûlée to top my cupcakes. 
  2. I mixed the remekin of crème brûlée with a spatula and then "frosted" the cupcakes with the crème brûlée.
  3. Sprinkle on sugar and then carmalize it with your torch. 
  4. Serve right away!
PS - if you are looking for a torch, you can find a relatively cheap one at Bed, Bath and Beyond!


  1. I don't really understand what putting a vanilla bean in plain sugar would affect the sugar flavor... I feel like you would have to boil it or something, but then you don't have sugar! :0

  2. I'm not really sure how it all works. I can only tell you that after the vanilla bean was in the sugar, the sugar did, in fact, taste like vanilla. It also changed colors slightly!