In the few days I had at home last weekend I managed to catch the very beginning of red currant season. Red currants are still fairly uncommon in the US. Astringent and seedy, I can see why they don’t fit in with the sugar-sweet raspberries and mellow blueberries we favor, but I’d like to make a case for them. Firstly, they’re beautiful – translucent globes that shine with red juice. They freeze well – and when frozen they make the most satisfying marble sound as you drop them into a glass bowl. They also add an acidic complexity to otherwise saccharine fruit desserts.
I was worried the currants might be overripe by the time I returned from my trip to Asia. I wanted to make sure I could use at least a few in a new recipe, so I picked the reddest of the bunch. With them (and some frozen ones leftover from last year), I made a Red Currant Crème Brûlée, inspired in equal parts by dinner at ForettaBarinn last week in Iceland, where I had a delicious rhubarb crème brûlée, and by Nigel Slater’s beautiful cookbook, Ripe. Trevor has promised to watch over the rest of the berries and optimize their harvest so that I can enjoy as many as possible when I get back home.
Sometimes when people ask me what my favorite food is, I tell them that it’s cream. This is only partially a joke. Accordingly, crème brûlée is one of my all-time favorite desserts, and it can be very difficult for me to not order it. Luckily (dangerously?) it’s very easy to make at home – just a simple custard of egg, cream, and sugar, gently baked in a bain marie.
This particular crème brûlée – with a layer of homemade red currant jam on the bottom – was exceptional. The sweet, silky smooth custard just barely punctuated by bursts of tart red currant jelly, the crackling burnt sugar crust – it’s more than the sum of its parts, for sure. I only wish I hadn’t inadvertently calculated the nutrition facts when pouring all two cups of lovely cream into the bowl. If I hadn’t known, I would have eaten more.
I didn’t remove the seeds from my homemade red currant jam because I don’t mind them. But if you want a really smooth jam, strain the jelly through a fine mesh strainer after simmering. You can also use store-bought red currant jelly if you don’t have any of your own fresh currants around.
More Red Currant Recipes…
Red Currant Crème Brûlée
- 1 1/2 cups fresh or frozen red currants, stems removed
- 1/3 cup plus 6 TBS of sugar, divided, plus more for caramelizing the tops of the custards
- 1 TBS raspberry liqueur
- 2 cups of heavy cream
- 1/2 vanilla bean
- 4 large egg yolks
- For the red currant jam: Combine the red currants, 6 TBS of sugar, and the raspberry liqueur in a small saucepan. Lightly crush some of the currants with the back of a wooden spoon to release their juices. Bring to a simmer over medium-low heat. Simmer until the currants have burst and softened and the sauce has thickened to the consistency of a thin jelly (it will continue to thicken as it cools). This should take about 10-15 minutes. Remove from the heat. If a very smooth jam is desired, strain through a fine-mesh strainer while still hot, discarding the seeds. I prefer to use it un-strained. Set jam aside and let cool to room temperature.
- For the crème brûlée: Preheat the oven to 325F. Place the cream in a clean, medium-sized saucepan. Carefully slice the vanilla bean in half lengthwise and use a small spoon to scrape the vanilla seeds into the cream. Add the vanilla bean to the cream as well. Heat cream over low heat until it just reaches a slight simmer, stirring the cream frequently to prevent a skin from forming. Once it reaches a simmer, immediately remove from the heat and let steep for 4-5 minutes. After 5 minutes, use a spoon to remove the vanilla bean.
- In a large, heatproof bowl, whisk the egg yolks and the remaining 1/3 cup of sugar together until the egg yolks are pale in color and the sugar is mostly dissolved. While continuing to whisk the yolks, pour the warm cream over the egg and sugar mixture. Whisk until very well combined.
- Divide the red currant jam between four 6-oz ramekins, spreading the jam out so there is a thin layer on the bottom of each ramekin. Carefully pour the cream mixture over the top of the jam, doing your best not to mix the jam and the cream. Place the filled ramekins in a large, high-sided baking dish or casserole. Carefully fill the baking dish with very hot water so that the water reaches halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Don’t get any water inside the ramekins! Carefully transfer the baking dish to the preheated oven. Bake until the centers of the custards are just barely set – they should still jiggle slightly when the dish is moved – about 45-55 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool completely, then remove the ramekins from the baking dish, cover with plastic wrap, and chill for at least 2 hours.
- Just prior to serving, remove the chilled crème brûlées from the fridge. Spoon a thin, even layer of sugar over the top of each custard. Use a pastry torch to caramelize the sugar until it is melted and browned all over, forming a thin crust on the top of each crème brûlée (here’s a video to help!). Serve immediately.
You will need a pastry torch and 6-oz oven-safe ramekins for this recipe.