The minute people hear I went to culinary school in Paris they sigh longingly as if my everyday was filled with wine, cheese, and romance. While I'm the first to admit I nearly consumed my body weight in cheese and wine, the romance was lacking. I was not swooning over a loved one or in any way in love, but the truth is romance is everywhere in Paris even if you have no one to be romantic with.
Simple things like riding on the back of a friend's motorcycle with a baguette sticking out of your tote takes on a glow of romanticism. Meeting a friend for a glass of wine is made that much more intimate because you have to cozy up to those impossibly small sidewalk tables. And walking across a cobble-stoned street on a rainy night? You can't help but feel like an outtake of a Robert Doisneau photo session.
Yes, Paris is quite possibly the most romantic place I've ever been but it was in the details and not the dating for me.In that same way Paris is the City of Love but not just for lovers, Valentine's Day is the day of love but not just for those in love. So, it seemed only right to take a page from the French and mix up a classic dessert like crème brûlée.
Unfortunately for it, crème brûlée is so ubiquitous that it's easy to write it off as nothing special. But make it in a very shareable dish for two and infuse the cream with coffee beans, cardamom, and vanilla and you add a dash of intrigue to an otherwise very familiar dessert.
halved lengthwise and seeds scraped
Heat oven to 325°F and arrange a rack in the middle. Bring a pot of water to a boil. Combine cream, half-and-half, coffee beans, cardamom, and vanilla beans and seeds in a medium saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat, about 5 to 7 minutes. Reduce heat to low and simmer until infused with coffee, cardamom, and vanilla flavor, about 30 minutes more. Strain cream mixture to remove coffee beans, cardamom, and vanilla and discard; set cream mixture aside to cool slightly.
Combine yolks, 1/2 cup of the sugar, and salt in a large bowl; whisk until sugar is dissolved and mixture is pale and thick, and leaves a trail when the whisk is lifted, about 2 minutes. Whisking constantly, gradually pour in cream in a slow, steady stream. Skim any foam or bubbles from surface.
Arrange 6 (2/3-cup) or 4(1 cup) ovenproof ramekins in roasting pan and evenly divide custard. Tap each ramekin a few times to break any bubbles that appear on the surface. Place roasting pan on oven rack and add enough warm water to come halfway up sides of ramekins or custard cups. Bake custards until just set in center, 40 to 45 minutes. Transfer custards from water bath directly to refrigerator. Chill uncovered until cold, at least 2 hours.
The custards can be made through this step up to 2 days in advance. Store covered and refrigerated until ready to serve.
When ready to finish, put 1 teaspoon of remaining sugar on each custard. Rotate ramekins to coat evenly. Using kitchen torch, melt sugar on each custard until deep amber. Let the caramel cool and harden and then serve immediately.
If you don't have a kitchen torch, use your oven's broiler instead. Place custards on a baking sheet and broil until sugar topping melts and browns, about 3 to 5 minutes.
Food styling and photography by Aida Mollenkamp