Splurge: coffee crème brûlée: 95 cents each

You may have noticed there are only three desserts on this entire site, and two of them are crème brûlées. There’s no particular reason for this other than the fact I don’t really like making dessert, and not only can crème brûlée be made in advance, it offers the most bang for the dessert-making buck. Smooth, cold, creamy custard topped with a shatteringly crisp crust: What’s not to like? I made these coffee ones for a dinner we were having with my father-in-law, to complement the beef-heavy main dish. If you’re sensitive to sugar, you might want to reduce the amount to 1/3 cup or so. Otherwise, everything about this—from the amount of coffee flavor to the custard texture—is spot-on.

This recipe, adapted from an ancient issue of Bon Appetit, is for 4 small ramekins.

Special equipment:
-4 custard cups or ramekins
-butane or propane torch (doesn’t have to be a chef’s torch; I used a large soldering torch)

• 2 cups whipping cream (95 cents/cup): $1.90
• 1/2 vanilla bean, split: 75 cents
• 1 stick cinnamon: 5 cents
• 1 tsp espresso powder: 30 cents
• 1 T coarsely ground coffee beans: 10 cents
• 1/2 cup sugar: 10 cents
• 4 egg yolks: 48 cents
• 4 T turbinado sugar: 10 cents
TOTAL: $3.78/4 = 95 cents each

Combine cream, regular sugar, cinnamon, vanilla bean (scrape the seeds out with a sharp knife, let them and the pod both steep in the cream), coffee beans and espresso powder in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer, stirring often, until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat immediately, cover, and let sit for 3o minutes. Strain through a sieve.

As you may notice in the picture below, some of the finer coffee grounds got through. I thought it added visual interest, and it didn’t affect the texture in any way, but if you’re looking for a cleaner presentation, you may want to strain through a double layer of cheesecloth.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Beat egg yolks in a medium bowl. Slowly add the strained warm cream, whisking constantly. Divide the mixture among the 4 ramekins. Place them in a roasting pan or baking dish, and pour enough hot water into the dish to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake for about 50-55 minutes, or until the center is only very slightly jiggly when shaken. Remove ramekins to cool, refrigerate until chilled, preferably overnight.

When ready to serve, sprinkle about 1 T turbinado sugar over the top of each and caramelize with a butane or propane torch. It should be brown and crunchy, but not blackened or burnt. Serve immediately or chill in the fridge for up to 1 hour.

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