Crème brûlée is one my favorite desserts, a decadent vanilla-flavored egg custard topped with a burnt sugar. What's not to like in that?
I used to make it quite a bit, but haven't done so lately. I got a hankering for it and thought, why not invent a cocktail version? After all, desserts are an excellent source of inspiration for cocktails.
Of course, I'm not the first person to reimagine Crème brûlée as an alcoholic beverage, although examples I find on the 'net all seem to fall short. Some call for rimming the glass with sugar and then torching it which sounds 1) very dangerous and 2) not likely to actually deliver much burnt sugar flavor into the drink. Some call for Frangelico, a hazelnut liqueur, but I have to wonder whatever for? Crème brûlée doesn't contain hazelnut, so why should its liquid kin? Nor Cointreau for that matter, another liqueur I see in several recipes. Looks like I have to go to the drawing board for this one.
I decided that my drink had to incorporate burnt sugar and not as a garnish but as an integrated component. So I decided to make burnt sugar syrup. Simple syrup is...appropriately...simple enough: just boil equal parts sugar and water. Burnt sugar is a bit more complicated. I heated sugar in a small frying pan over medium heat left undisturbed until it started to melt, at which point it's also hot enough to start caramelizing. I began stirring as it melted until it was uniformly amber in color.
Meanwhile, I boiled about a cup of water in a small sauce pan to which I added 1/2 of a vanilla bean pod split down the side with the vanilla beans scraped out into the water. I poured the burnt melted sugar into the vanilla water and then boiled it a bit longer. Adding hot sugar to liquid is a bit tricky. With cold liquid, it's going to sputter a lot, and even with boiling water it sputtered a little bit. Then the sugar tends to form a big caramel mass, so you have to cook it a little longer to let it dissolve in the water. But eventually it does and you can set it aside to steep the vanilla flavor while it cools before removing the pod. The result is a burnt sugar syrup speckled with vanilla beans. Two key crème brûlée flavors accounted for.
As for the "crème" part, it's a no-brainer to use cream. Since I'm not one for raw eggs in cocktails, I'm not going to try to incorporate that aspect into the drink. Custard is mostly heavy cream anyway. Lastly, for the spirit, I chose a vanilla vodka, Stoli Vanil, which enhances the vanilla flavor even more without introducing a spirit whose taste you wouldn't find in crème brûlée.
Crème Brûlée Cocktail
By A. Huddleston
1 oz. vanilla-burnt sugar syrup (see recipe below)
1 oz. heavy cream
1 oz. vanilla vodka (such as Stoli Vanil)
Stir ingredients together in a glass and pour into a chilled martini glass.
Vanilla-Burnt Sugar Syrup
1 cup water
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 vanilla bean pod
1. Heat the sugar in a small (8-inch) frying pan over medium heat. Leave sugar undisturbed until it begins to melt and then stir sugar as in melts and caramelizes until all the sugar has melted and it is a dark amber color.
2. Meanwhile, add water to a saucepan. Cut the vanilla pod in half lengthwise and use a knife tip to scrape the vanilla beans into the water. Add the pod halves to the water and bring to a boil.
3. Pour the burnt sugar syrup into the boiling water (be careful of sputtering, you may want to stand back a bit). Continue boiling and stir to dissolve any hardened clumps of syrup. Set aside to cool. Strain when cooled and store in a container in the refrigerator.