Not that long ago too many restaurants offered Creme Brulee on the dessert menu. It was as if those chefs not serving it were lacking somehow. Or felt some misguided need to do whatever "the herd" was doing. I appreciated the effort to opening up our country's eyes to something new and different, but after awhile, it got to be a little much. Not that I didn't love creme brulee, I did (and still do). There are so many qualities that make it appealing to eat. Its smooth texture has decidedly luxurious aspect to it. Sort of an adult vanilla pudding sans Bill Cosby with a pleasant mouth feel (he was Jell-O's spokesman for you younger readers). So, a waiter might say something like "and tonight we are featuring Creme Brulee - two spoons to share?" And we would order it like lemmings over the cliff. It became time to break off this relationship, like the "ex" we would go back to time and again but for no good reason other than convenience.
Well, we did. The mysterious Mr. Chipotle showed up and distracted us from of our unhealthy relationship with Ms. Brulee. It was easy. Love at first sight really. Complex. Mysterious. Spicy. Romantic. It felt like "Gone with the Wind" on a tortilla with a squeeze of lime. Chipotles are everywhere now.
I was first introduced to dried and smoked chiles on a business trip to the charming colonial Mexican city of Guadalajara in 1995. A chance lunch of Pork Adobado in a restaurant on the way to a meeting introduced me to the use of smoked chiles in cuisines from both Mexico and the Philippines. Adobado typically refers to some type of smoked or dried chile (ancho, poblano, etc...) that is preserved in vinegar. It is then cooked with a meat for a slightly spicy, typically rustic dish. For whatever reason, what I ordered came with chipotles, which are traditionally made from dried Jalapeno peppers. The smokiness of this altered pepper is deep and revealing. A real flavor booster that delivers a complex taste and transforms everyday preparations of beef, pork, chicken and even fish.
Having traveled throughout Latin American I have come to love the varied cuisines of these unique regions. And as a resident of San Diego, CA I eat Mexican food regularly. Don't get me wrong, I like chipotles. A few days ago I bought a couple of cans of chipotles at a local market for absolutely no reason. I started to think about how we are now living in such an evolving food culture and how this evolution of chipotles showing up everywhere was unthinkable not that long ago. Back in 1999 you couldn't buy a chipotle except in a Latin American food market. Today googling the term "chipotle" returns 4.5 million results. Creme brulee doesn't get even half of that kind of attention from a search engine.
We definitely have moved on from our sultry ex, Ms. Brulee. However, this love of the Chipotle is pointing toward a relationship attachment problem in our society. Too much of a good thing? While I wish it were the case, I think our problem is worse than that and we might need to bring in Dr. Phil. We can't stand to be alone, can we? It's time to get real.
Chipotle burgers. Chipotle Pancakes. Chipotle Mayonnaise. "The Herd" is definitely back. I hit my limit this week when I visited the Food Network site by chance and the #1 recipe was for the talented chef Bobby Flay's "Grilled Chicken Wings with Spicy Chipotle Sauce". That did it. Creme Brulee. Chipotles. Isn't it enough already...or is it?
And then I did the unthinkable. I got these two old flames together. You know what I mean. When you start to tire of a love interest, you think of a previous one, remembering only the good parts. In this instance, bringing together creme brulee and chipotles may be the only case where this is a good idea. I have asked our dear friend Chocolate to tag along. Try this recipe, and tell me what you think. Enjoy this sultry, smoky, smooth and sexy dessert with an enormous glass of Zinfandel, Malbec, or a Cabernet Franc from the up and coming wine regions of Mexico. It'll be just like old times...with a new twist.
Recipe for Chocolate Chipotle Creme Brulee
2 Chipotle chiles split in half with excess adobo sauce removed
2 cups whipping cream + 1 cup for topping (see note below)
2 cups half and half
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate (70%, such as Valrona), coarsely chopped
4 ounces semisweet chocolate, finely coarsely chopped
8 large egg yolks
1/3 cup sugar
Preheat oven to 300°F. Combine cream and half and half in heavy large saucepan with the split chipotles and seeds. Bring to a boil mixing occasionally and pressing chipotles to the side of the pan to extra the flavor. Reduce heat to low.
Strain the mixture, pressing the chipotle solids to extra additional flavor. Pour the hot mixture from the saucepan through a strainer over the chipotle, into medium bowl and then back into the saucepan 2-3 times. Strain one final time back into the saucepan and discard solids.
Boil water in a tea kettle while you complete the next step.
Add chocolate and whisk until melted and smooth. Remove from heat. Whisk yolks and 1/3 cup sugar in large bowl to blend. Gradually whisk in hot chocolate mixture to yolks starting with a small amount of hot liquid and whisk quickly. Strain the liquid and egg mixture a final time.
Pour equal amounts of custard among eight 3/4-cup custard cups. Place cups in large baking pan. Add enough hot water to pan to come halfway up sides of cups. Bake until custards are set, about 50 minutes. Remove from water; chill 2 hours. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
(Note: a traditional creme brulee calls for a burnt sugar crust to complete the dessert by adding 1 TBSP of sugar over the top of the brulee and either placing it under your oven broiler for 1 to 2 minutes or using a hand torch to caramelize the sugar. While that makes perfect sense for a traditional brulee, I don't believe it works as well here. Rather, I like a dollop of freshly whipped cream with a small amount of sugar or vanilla to lightly sweeten it. You will want something clean to cut the intense flavor and richness of the chocolate and chile and this does it.
* Recipe can be cut in half for four servings.