I can’t believe Christmas is over! It certainly snuck up on us this year. I say that every year, but it really snuck up on us this year. Confession: we didn’t even put ornaments on our tree! (Ducking and hiding.) We went to the tree farm about a week before Christmas, cut down our very first live tree since we got married, ooh’d and aah’d over how perfect and majestic it looked towering in our living room, draped it with some white twinkle lights — END SCENE. We even had a pile of ornaments sitting on the table waiting to be tucked into those glorious branches and it never happened. We’re the worst tree parents EVER.
Aside from the overwhelming magnitude of our tree neglect, we did manage to work in some favorite holiday activities (and a few new ones) before the big day arrived. We did our traditional homemade cocoa and spent a few evenings by a roaring fire while catching up on the latest ABC Family Christmas Movies (Christmas In Handcuffs anyone?). I did lots of baking and cooking, desperately seeking a balance between health and holiday treats. The balance was never found but I learned that if you eat your weight in chocolate, you actually do end up killing the craving — success, sort of? We attended our first Gingerbread House Party and it was OH so much fun. Our friends, Hannah and Ben had us over to dress up our cat (S’mores) and their dog (Moses) in Santa and Reindeer gear for a “family photo.” I observed while Hannah created the most delicious and difficult pulled cream candy known to man. Hopefully I’ll convince her to do a tutorial for Offbeat & Inspired so you guys can see how wonderful these candies are! She also made bourbon-soaked cherries wrapped in fondant and dipped in chocolate. I could have eaten those for days. Cheers to having a pro candy maker in our midst!
After the preliminary festivities, we packed up our cat and 4 days’ worth of clothing (or in my case, 3 weeks worth) for an 8-hour road trip north, destined for a little New York town called Albion where we would spend Christmas with Dave’s family.
Dave’s mom is a cook and a baker. A really good cook and baker. Every time we visit she has new recipes to share and new cookbooks for me to drool over. It’s so inspiring to hear about all the treats she whips up for family, neighbors and friends. Before we drove up this year, she and I e-mailed back and forth about what recipes we could try out together during our visit. This has become somewhat of a tradition — one that I really love! For this trip, she suggested creme brûlée. She used to be the head pastry chef at a cafe/quilt shop and creme brûlée was one of the most popular items on the menu. At first I was intimidated by the fancy nature of this dessert, but I’m all for learning! I would take notes with my camera and she would work her creme brûlée magic.
These turned out better than anything I’ve ever had in a restaurant. The thin shell of hard caramel was sweet and toasty with a perfectly smooth and creamy vanilla custard underneath.
As I’m getting older and still sort of easing into “official adulthood”, I find myself being more purposeful about taking note of the really special events and moments in life. Spending Christmas day with my husband’s family while Mom-in-law teaches me how to make creme brûlée from scratch on the counter tops of her cozy well-worn kitchen with flurries of snow falling outside is truly one of them.
Time with friends and family is such a treasure during the holidays. What memories did you make this Christmas? What traditions did you continue?
Makes 6-8 (4-6 oz.) ramekins
2 cups of heavy cream
3 large eggs
1/2 cup of sugar (plus more for sprinkling)
3/4 tsp. vanilla
Preheat oven to 250 degrees F.
Bring 2 cups of heavy cream almost to a simmer over medium heat.
In a large bowl, stir eggs and sugar together until well blended.
Very slowly, add the hot cream to the egg mixture while whisking thoroughly until well blended.
Strain the mixture through a fine mesh sieve back into the pot used to heat the cream. Rinse out your large bowl and strain your mixture a second time back into the bowl.
Stir in the vanilla.
Divide the custard evenly between the ramekins and place them in a large baking pan. Fill the pan halfway with water.
Place the baking pan in the oven and bake until the custard has set, from 1 to 1 1/2 hours. The centers should jiggle slightly when the ramekins are gently shaken.
Remove ramekins from the baking pan immediately and transfer them to a cooling rack. Cool to room temperature, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 8 hours.
Right before serving, generously sprinkle the tops with sugar and caramelize with a torch.