The Final Proof: Burnt cream for the masses

 Written by Final Proof
February 18, 2009
Written by Written by Final Proof
Vancouver chefs Dominique and Cindy Duby are out to promote the many faces of the classic dessert known as crème brûlée

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Despite its fancy name, there’s really nothing complicated about crème brûlée, which translates as “burnt cream,” and likewise there’s no reason chefs and home cooks shouldn’t add it and its many – but until now, little-known – variations to their dessert menus.

That’s the message Vancouver chefs Dominique and Cindy Duby are spreading in their latest cookbook, Crème Brûlée: More than 50 Decadent Recipes, published in October by Whitecap Books. Bakers Journal caught up with the duo in late October in Toronto.

The Dubys are among Canada’s most renowned pastry chefs and have represented and led Pastry Team Canada several times in the world’s most prestigious team pastry events: the World Pastry Cup in France and the World Pastry Championship in Las Vegas. They have also appeared on CNN and The Food Network. Their previous books – Wild Sweets: Exotic Dessert and Wine Pairings and Wild Sweets Chocolate – both won awards at the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards, but their new effort aims to pass on their enthusiasm for innovative flavour combinations to the home cook or the adventurous professional chef.

Crème Brûlée moves the dish from its traditional vanilla-custard-and-caramelized-sugar iteration to a brave new world of sweet and savoury possibilities.

“We hope that our creations will inspire you to add your own flair and invent your very own version of crème brûlée,” they write in the book’s preface, “and that you’ll agree with us that these beautiful custards are easy to make, wonderful to eat, and are, indeed, timeless culinary classics.”

During our time together, the chefs downplayed their expertise with the dessert and their inspiration for writing the book.
“Our publisher asked us to write the book,” Cindy concedes. “There’s the classic crème brûlée everyone thinks of, but we wanted people to see all the other varieties.”
However, not being experts on the subject, the Dubys were able to approach the project from the perspective of a novice or home cook, for whom it is intended. Whitecap, Dominique says, wanted the book to be the first in a series called Definitive Kitchen Classics. The Dubys agreed and retreated to their culinary studio to really get to know the elegant dessert, including the science behind it, its basic ingredients and how it matches up with various wines.
“The first books we wrote were about more advanced cooking, for professionals, but this one is definitely for the home chef,” Dominique says.
“But a lot of professional chefs have said it’s great because they make crème brûlée in their restaurants and now they have a new source of ideas, because basically crème brûlée is crème brûlée; it’s the same ingredients whether you’re making it home or in a restaurant.
“Based on the early response we’ve had, chefs who make crème brûlée are finding it a source of inspiration. Someone who’s not making crème brûlée in a restaurant wouldn’t have much use for this book, but someone who does and has to come up with new ideas would find them here.”
The book is divided into six main chapters describing the various styles of the dessert: fruits and berries; herbs and spices; nuts and chocolate; sweet vegetables; savoury; and new and modern. Augmenting these segments are chapters on crème brûlée 101, caramel recipes, designing your own crème brûlée and pairing wine with crème brûlée.
“Some of the flavour combinations are our own, but many are ones we saw as we travelled and went to restaurants and worked with different chefs in North America and Europe,” Dominique says. “We wanted to come up with things that would be unique and different, because the basic recipe is super simple – there’s not a whole lot you can do with it on its own, but there are a whole lot of dishes that get the sugar burned on top that people might not think of as crème brûlée. So really the traditional version of the dish ought to be called custard rather than crème brûlée.”
When challenged to put forth their favourite recipes from the book, the authors quickly replied with Almond Cherry Brûlée; Chocolate, Fig and Star Anise Brûlée; Yukon Gold (potatoes) and Goat Cheese Brûlée … and at least a dozen others. Clearly, it’s not possible to choose a winner given the dishes’ delectable diversity.
“That’s one of the big misconceptions we are trying to overcome with this book – how limited and narrow crème brûlée is as a dessert dish,” Dominique says.
However, what makes it so versatile is its simplicity: “You don’t really change the base cream; you just change the layers of flavours and ingredients,” he adds. “And we also want to encourage people to add different toppings and textures as opposed to the traditional burnt sugar.”
Amid their passion for flavour, the Dubys don’t neglect the nuts and bolts of the dessert: Their opening chapter lists the necessary hardware, such as a blowtorch, scale, candy thermometer, heatproof serving dishes known as ramekins, silicone mat and water bath. They also discuss the pros and cons of different sugars that can be used in crème brûlée.
But what does their crème brûlée taste like? During the interview, a “classic” crème brûlée and a spiced pumpkin brûlée appeared, along with a spoon. The crème brûlée was exquisite, while the pumpkin dish was akin to pumpkin pie filling – but much creamier and deeply satisfying. Both would make fine desserts – at home or in a fancy restaurant.  / BJ

For more information, visit www.dcduby.com.

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