Friday, January 25, 2008

how to make crème brûlée with an oxyacetylene torch: a picture guide

(or How Cooking is Just a Socially Acceptable Excuse To Play With Knives and Fire)

Start by making friends with a crazy MIT grad student. (Mine is named Alex. She went to school with Bella. She is responsible for the pictures.) Have your crazy MIT grad student friend invite you to Flamboyant Dessert Night, held at an MIT theme house populated by mad hippie engineers.

Arrive at Flamboyant Dessert Night and learn that the crème brûlée is having technical issues: the giant baking dish won't fit in the water bath. Stage an impromptu takeover of dessert. Rescue the crème brûlée by transferring the custard into smaller baking dishes, i.e. every cake pan in the house.

Bake the custard. Test for doneness using the nearest clean implement you can find (a carving fork, in this case), like so:


When the custard is cooked, remove from oven. Let cool, then chill in the fridge. Remove from fridge when cold (or when the mad hippie engineers start to get impatient.)

Sprinkle the custard with sugar.


Ask for the blowtorch. Receive assurance that the blowtorch is on its way. Wait. Grow impatient. Wonder how long it takes to procure a simple propane blowtorch. Discover that there's been a slight breakdown in communications when two of the mad engineers wheel in a gas tank.

Accept that MIT students are crazy, and that you will be making your brûlée with a tool more commonly found in a construction site than a kitchen.


Making crème brûlée with an oxyacetylene torch is very similar to making crème brûlée with a propane blowtorch, but there are a few key differences. The flame of an oxyacetylene torch is hot enough to weld steel. If your cake pans are metal, make sure they don't melt. If your cake pans are Pyrex, make sure they don't explode. And be careful not to let the flame come too close to the custard, because you want the sugar to caramelize and not burn.

Making crème brûlée with an oxyacetylene torch is probably inadvisable. (Small children should not try this at home.) It is, however, immensely fun, and the power trip is almost better than the sugar rush from eating the crème brûlée itself. It makes me wonder if I shouldn't cook with heavy-duty power tools more often.

Coming soon: how to carve a roast chicken with a chainsaw.

10 comments:

Solomon said...

Not enough overkill. How about boiling water with a 14 TeV proton-proton collider?

adele said...

No, that's wandering into molecular gastronomy territory.

Solomon said...

Molecular? Feh. I'll have you know that this is well into the regime of relativistic field gastronomy (which, I believe, is what happens when you go on a picnic with your parents...).

Matthew said...

Fantastic :)

Nathaniel said...

I am so very jealous of this.

Alex said...

I love the commentary. Come by again and we'll light more things on fire!

I repeated the experiment today with two 16-inch cake pans acquired from Eastern Baker's Supply in the North End (five story store with two basements, all full of every cooking supply possible). We only had propane torches on hand, alas, but it worked out well and everyone enjoyed it.

"That's not a Bad Idea, that's a Good Idea!"

Yulinka said...

Ha! How about "how to pound chicken breasts flat with a hammer"? (Not some special kitchen chicken breast pounder thingie. A real hammer, which is what I ended up using when making stuffed chicken breasts a few weeks ago.)

Katy said...

Melting or exploding cakepans? I'm not sure I like creme brulee *that* much!

Ok, maybe I do. But first I'd move my dogs to safety. :-) Then I'd don a bulletproof vest.

adele said...

That's only if you use an oxyacetylene torch. A plain old propane blowtorch doesn't carry such risks. :P

tammy said...

Awesome. I've only used the common propane blowtorch, which is child's play.