Crème Brulée on French Menus. The History of Crème Brulee.

Behind the French Menu
Bryan G. Newman


Crème Brulée.

Alain Sailhac and the modern Crème Brulée,

There are many stories about the creation of Crème Brulée, both modern and from the Middle Ages. However, without too many arguments, the modern Crème Brulée was created and launched, or at least was recreated and relaunched in 1982 by the French-born, and, French-trained chef Alain Sailhac.  The launch took place at Le Cirque, which at the time was the most famous French restaurant in the USA, and Alain Sailhac was the executive chef (1978 – 1986).  With so much French input French chefs in France were able to accept Crème Brulée as a genuinely French creation.
Crème Brulée with fruit

Alain Sailhac created Crème Brulée by producing a lighter version of the traditionally richer, and thicker crusted, Spanish dessert called Crema Catalana. The custard that he made for the original dish was egg yolks and heavy cream flavored with vanilla while the thicker Crema Catalana custard was flavored with cinnamon and lemon.  

Kitchen flame - the blowtorch at work.

The crispy caramelized topping on crème brulée is achieved with the aid of a specialized kitchen blowtorch. Unfortunately, you cannot duplicate the topping under a regular home grill. You need a strong flame applied for a short time on a targeted area and today that is best supplied with a kitchen blowtorch; The crispy caramel topping defines a good crème brulée.  If I am offered a crème brulée, and the caramelized topping is perfect, then I mostly consider the rest an afterthought; however, I have been told that my view is in the minority.
  Unconventional crème brulées
Crème Brulée on French menus:

Crème Brulée à la Bergamote - Crème Brulée flavored with the bergamot orange; this is the same orange used to flavor Earl Grey tea.
Crème Brulée à la Vanille et au Pain d'Épices – Crème Brulée flavored with vanilla on a gingerbread base.
Crème Brulée and wild strawberries.

Crème Brûlée au Dulce de Léché - Crème Brulée made with Dulce de léché so loved by Argentinians’ and others.  Dulce de léché is made by slowly heating and caramelizing sweetened milk.
Crème Brulée au Miel de Sapin des Vosges AOC/AOP - Creme brulee made with the unique honey made from honeydew that bees collect from the aphids on the fir trees in the Vosges in the Lorraine. This is a special honey with a slightly malty flavor and it carries that valuable AOP/AOC, the French and European label of uniqueness and quality.
Crème Brulée au Parmesan et Tomates Séchées – Crème Brulée made with dried tomatoes and Parmesan cheese; a savory Crème Brulée.
Crème Brulée et Fève de Tonka - Crème Brulée flavored with the Tonka bean. The Tonka bean's origins are South American, and when included in a cooked dish, its aroma contains the scents of vanilla, almonds, and cinnamon. The Tonka bean is said to be one of the secret ingredients in the French alcoholic drink Pernod. The anise and aniseed flavored Pernod took over from Absinthe when it was banned in France in 1915.

BTW - Selling Tonka Beans or adding Tonka beans to processed foods has been illegal in the US since 1954.  Apparently, too much Tonka and you will be very sick; nevertheless, I have never seen or heard of any Tonka Bean problems in France or Canada.

Drink your Crème Brulee in the pub
Crème Brûlée à la Vanille Bourbon  - Crème Brulée with the original vanilla flavoring  used when Alain Sailhac created the modern Crème Brulée.

The menu listing above notes Vanille Bourbon and that may make you think that you are going to receive a unique vanilla. However, Bourbon vanilla, with its excellent flavor, is also the most common vanilla on the market!  (Some restaurants think that by using a somewhat unknown, but interesting name, the product may sell better).  Mexico was the source for all the three popular types of vanilla seen today, and when botanists succeeded in growing vanilla outside Mexico, the vanilla variety called Bourbon vanilla was grown on France's Indian Ocean island of Réunion. 
Until the French revolution, the island of Réunion was called Île Bourbon, the Bourbon Island; it had been named after France's Bourbon Kings. With the French revolution, the revolutionaries changed the name of the island from that of their hated Bourbon King to Réunion. Then, since 1946 Réunion is a department/region of France and as much a part of France as Paris or Provence. If you visit Réunion remember that while you are in the Indian Ocean you are also in France and it is part of the European common market. In Réunion, you will need Euros to pay your restaurant bills and expect baguettes and croissants and a French breakfast. 
Crème Brulée is more than just a dessert.
Since Alain Sailhac’s original launch, the flavor and the custard under the topping have seen many changes and the savory versions of Crème Brulée are served as entrées, the French starters, or as garnishes for the main course. At the same time, Crème Brulée remains one of the most popular menu listings for dessert.
Crème Brulée
The origins of Crème Brulee
Alain Sailhac linked the origins of the modern Crème Brulee to the Catalan dish Crema Catalana.  However, Trinity College, Cambridge claims to be the primogenitor of the contemporary Crème Brulée;  they have served a dish called Burnt Cream or Trinity Cream at the college since the 1800s’.
Veronica Shine
Then, I heard from Veronica Shine, who has a very interesting blog on the Hispanic Kitchen.

Veronica Shine wrote that according to the Confectionery Guild of Barcelona, the origins of Crema Catalana came from the Jewish inhabitants of Catalonia. They used the flavors of the Moorish influence in Spain, flavors from before 1492 with cinnamon and lemon two favorites. The characteristics of today’s traditional Crema Catalana remains cinnamon and lemon. Crema Catalana in the meantime has been declared a national dish and is to be served, every year, on March 19th, St. Joseph’s Day (the Spanish equivalent of Father’s Day).
Creme Catalana
Veronica Shine's writings and others also pointed me in the direction of the famous French chef Francois Massialot (1660- 1733).  Massialot served several Royal French households, and he wrote what would become a three-volume cookbook written between 1691 and 1733.  His book was called Cuisinier Roïal et Bourgeois, The Chef, Both Royal and Bourgeois.

Francois Massialot (1660 - 1733).
 Massialot's books were translated into English with part published in 1702 as The Court and Country Cook.  I have not read the English translation, but I am told it has the exact recipe for the dish called burnt cream in English; an English translation of  Massialot's Crème Brulée and or Crème Croquante - Crunchy Cream.
To see Francois Massialot’s book go on-line to the French National Library website: the BnF, the Biblotech National de France click on the words Cuisinier Roïal et Bourgeois below:

The New Chef, Both Royal and Bourgeois.
Printed MDCCV that’s 1705.
Francois Massialot
You may read a copy of the original book, in French on the French National Library website, without payment or download the complete books for a small contribution.  Follow the instructions in French, English, Spanish, or German.

Massialot’s original recipe for Crème Brulée a l’Orange
with a pistachio accent
For the original recipe for Crème Brulée a l’Orange – Orange accented Crème Brulée read page 281 and for the recipe for Crème Croquante - Crunchy Cream read page 282.
Meanwhile, Alain Sailhac, back in the USA

Alain Sailhac, the creator of the modern Crème Brulée, changed careers in 1986 and  became the Executive Vice President and Dean Emeritus at the ICA, the International Culinary Center, USA. (Originally this school was the French Culinary Institute). In1997 Alain Sailhac was named chef of the year by the Maîtres Cuisiniers de France, the Master Chefs of France.
Michael Lomonaco, Andre Soltner, Alain Sailhac

Behind the French Menu
Bryan G. Newman


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