About four to five years ago circa this time, I would have been gearing up for upcoming mission trips in the hottest locations of the planet. Myanmar was truly no joke, you guys! (add obnoxious emphasis to that statement) The students at the mission school gave us tips on how to stay cool and that flowy skirts were the best. And bless their little hearts, on countless mornings they lovingly and carefully decorated our faces with all the Thanaka in the world, which surprisingly did keep us from sunburn and an extra constellation of freckles on my freckle-prone face, which I knew mom would complain about for years to come.
We wanted to become one of them and so we did. It was more than just Thanaka on our faces, though. It was the way we ate together and sang the sweetest hymns both in English and Burmese--with a few scratchy notes on our part, because who can wake up at 4AM while feeling jet lagged and fending off a flying gecko all night long? (inside joke) I remember their kitchen being spacious enough for five women, more or less. One is boiling what seemed like vermicelli at the time, another peeling and grinding fresh ginger while in a squatted position that seemed all too familiar thanks to my Korean upbringing, and everything else was a bit of a blur, to be honest. I was so taken aback by their hospitality and joyful smiles that I was too preoccupied taking a mental snapshot.
They brought out these amazing coconut noodles that were unlike anything else I'd ever tasted! If I'm not mistaken they might have been ohn-no-kyauswe. The brothy sauce was extremely creamy with a memorable coconut taste and I vaguely recall a strong flavoring of fish sauce. I think.
It was at that moment I recognized the power of food. Something seemingly unimportant to many found its profound purpose for those of us trying to make a soulful connection as foreigners. Amidst the amusing hand gestures and wordless sentences, we were able to roughly communicate our appreciation for their care in hopes of returning the same. The latter part I earnestly wish would have happened, and I will say in faith that it did.
As crazy as it is to make the connection between those treasured memories and this here recipe, I owe a lot of my passion for food to said memories. First of all, I always think of Crème Brûlée as a summer dish since it's eaten fairly cold. And second, sure it may sound painfully cliche, but food has the ability to bring all cultures to the same dinner table despite differences. You can have your mouth full and give a thumbs up followed by "mmmm", and everyone will laugh in agreement. This matcha Crème Brûlée is the offspring of that notion but I'm starting to think a lot of my recipes are...It incorporates the infamously addicting Crème Brûlée custard base dabbled with a hint of culinary grade matcha powder to lighten up the taste. Earthy flavors are easily one of my favorites because they add character to any dish. Plus, I always feel like I'm not overdoing it with sugar since it helps balance out the flavors...because if psyching myself out of guilt helps, then why not? :)
I don't own a culinary torch, which I suspect is the case for most people. I have heard though, that a plumber's torch caramelizes the sugar just as well, if not better. So please let me know if you give it a go! When I made my first batch two weeks ago I did a little experimenting with the broiler and man, was that smartest decision ever! Only not really, because after googling it I've found that some people have found success in this same exact method. Great minds, right? A torch is definitely helpful (and fun) since you only heat the top caramel crust as opposed to the whole dish, but it's equally unnecessary if you use the broiler in either your conventional or toaster oven. Both are great choices for obtaining that crunchy layer. I highly recommend sticking it in the broiler for approximately 4 minutes right before serving, as the caramel layer won't stay as fresh when it's been refrigerated for more than a few hours. And if you're looking to lighten up this dish for health reasons, about 1/4 of the cream can be substituted with whole milk instead. But really. Do you want to sacrifice that ultimate melt-in-your-mouth experience with low fat custard base?! I didn't think so either.
Matcha Crème Brûlée Without a Torch
Makes 3 servings || With help from
Time: Approximately 1-1.5 hours including cooling and baking
Equipment: broiler or culinary torch if you own one
1 1/2 cups whipping cream
1 tbsp culinary matcha powder
4 large egg yolks
2 tbsp white sugar
pinch of salt
2 tbsp white sugar
water for bain-marie
matcha powder for sprinkling
Preheat oven to 375 F degrees. Heat whipping cream in a medium sauce pan on low-medium heat for 2 minutes. Sift matcha powder slowly into the cream and whisk thoroughly, breaking matcha lumps. Heat while stirring for about 2 more minutes until it lightly simmers. Turn off heat.
Break egg yolks and whisk thoroughly in a small bowl. Add 2 tbsp sugar, salt, and whisk. Pour into the cream mixture, mix until well incorporated over low heat for about 1 minute so it's smooth and velvety. Pour into ramekins or small baking cups (I used aluminum). Fill a large baking pan or cookie sheet with enough water to cover half of the ramekin bowl (or small aluminum pan), carefully place the ramekins in the water, and bake approximately 22-25 minutes. Custard should be lightly firm, but still jiggly like jello. Cool for about 30 minutes.
Turn on broiler. Sprinkle 2 tbsp sugar over the top of each custard base and broil for about 4 minutes or until caramel top is golden brown and "glass-like". Cool in fridge for about 10-15 minutes and sprinkle with matcha powder before serving!
How did you become interested in food and the culinary world?
Favorite custard dish or recipe?