Whether you’re huddling around a roaring campfire, grilling a sumptuous piece of meat, or brûlée-ing a custardy crème, fire is sexy. Maybe it’s the element of danger involved in the exothermic process of combustion, or maybe it’s just because it looks cool, but breaking out a kitchen torch tells me we are about to experience something that is decadent, delicious, and a little bit excessive.
The holidays are the perfect moment for such antics. It’s already a time of excess, with the pie, cookies, roasts, and booze, and I can’t think of a single reason you shouldn’t use the raw elemental power of The Flame to create crackling sugar crusts on all of your holiday treats.
Pie and other desserts
Let’s begin with the most obvious: Custardy pies. Pumpkin pie, sweet potato, cheesecake, and any pudding- or custard-based pie or tart will take extremely well to a brûlée-ing. Sprinkle on enough plain white sugar to just coat the top, then torch with a low, sweeping flame until it bubbles and caramelizes. Let set for a few minutes before cracking with a spoon.
Cake a bit cloying? You can torch marshmallow fluff and meringue-based frostings (such as 7-minute frosting or Italian meringue) to give it some depth and a slight bit of char to balance out the sweetness. (I would avoid butter cream, however. It would most likely melt.)
Meat and seafood
As I have mentioned previously, slow-cooked pork belly is pretty hard to improve upon, but giving it a sweet and crackly brûlée crust is one way you can do just that. I like to sous vide mine for 24 hours before torching the sugar-coated skin to create a crunchy, caramelised shell on top of melty, porky fat. It’s very good.
But belly isn’t the only cut that deserves a torching, and pork isn’t the only meat. Scallops, duck liver mousse, duck breast, and even the skin of a crackling standing roast would all taste pretty damn good with a bit of brûléed sugar, and the method is the same each time: Dust heavily with sugar, then torch with a gentle flame until bubbling and browned.
Whether you are making a casserole or baking a yam, you should brûlée your sweet spuds. The precedent was set by mini marshmallows, but torching a layer of plain sugar is easier, cheaper (you don’t have to buy marshmallows), and a little more elegant. Just cook your yams like you usually would, then finish with a healthy dusting of sugar and some low, licking flames.
I’ve said it before, but I’m gonna say it again: Baked brie already ranks pretty high in terms of decadence, but a crunchy, sweet shell of caramelised sugar on top of a gooey, creamy, slightly pungent cheese is literally all things that are good. Just remove the top part of the rind from the wheel, bake it at 175°C until it’s completely warm (10-12 minutes), then — altogether now — sprinkle it with some plain white sugar and gently torch it.
Once you’ve done that, try it with some other soft cheeses. Anything with a washed rind will work (follow the procedure for brie), but don’t sleep on ricotta, or this mixture of goat cheese, cream cheese, and crème fraîche. (Trader Joe’s also has a lemon ricotta that I think would work well here.)
Grapefruits, clementines, and tangelos are certified Christmas snacks straight out of the stocking, but you can render them a bit more sultry with a kiss from the blow torch. Again, the process is simple: Halve the fruit, sprinkle with sugar, and torch with a low flame.
Christmas morning breakfast
Did you know you can brûlée eggs? Well you can, and they are delightful. I’ve mentioned these beauties a few times now, and I will continue to mention them every chance I get. They’re sweet, savoury, fudgy, and just a tad charred, and they are quite easy to make. Simply boil one for six minutes, peel it, slice it in half, and sprinkle it with a generous pinch of salt on each half, followed by a dusting of sugar. Torch with a low flame until it bubbles and caramelizes, and serve with the saltiest, crispiest bacon.
Other brûlée-able breakfast items include thick-cut bacon (cook on a wire rack in the oven until crisp, then sprinkle with sugar and torch or broil), sausage patties (cook, sugar, torch), and bread pudding (bake as usual then — guess what? — sugar and torch). You can also brûlée a doughnut (torch as is); you can even brûlée a cappuccino, though the latter might be a bit too finicky for a chaotic Christmas morning.