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Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Crème Brulée on French Menus. The Man Who Created or Re-Created Crème Brulee. The History of Crème Brulee.

Behind the French Menu
Bryan G. Newman
Last updated May 2017   
Crème Brulée.
Photograph courtesy of  avlxyz

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 launched in 1982,  by the French-born, and, French-trained chef Alain Sailhac.  The launch took place at La 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 were able to accept Crème Brulée as a truly French creation.

A trio of crème brulées.
Photograph courtesy of Katherine Lynch.
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.

A Passion fruit Crème Brulée.
Photograph courtesy of Andrea in Amsterdam
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 grill at home. you need a strong flame and today that is 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.
A kitchen blowtorch.
Photograph courtesy of Scoro.
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 and made using gingerbread.

Crème Brulée spiked with the addition of fresh fruit.
Photograph courtesy of  conjunction3
Crème Brûlée au Dulce de Léché - Crème Brulée made with that South American delight loved by Argentinians’ and others.  Dulce de léché is made by slowly heating and caramelizing sweetened milk.
Crème Brulée with a strawberry.
Photograph courtesy of sightmybyblinded.
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 French label of uniqueness and quality.
Crème Brulée au Parmesan et Tomates Séchées – Crème Brulée made with dried tomatoes and Parmesan cheese; ta savory Crème Brulée.
Making the caramelized topping.
Photograph courtesy of Dave Lifson.
Crème Brulée et Fève de Tonka - Crème Brulée flavored with the Tonka bean. The Tonka bean's origins are South American, and its aroma includes 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 aniseed flavored Pernod took over from Absinthe when it was banned in France in 1915.
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; that may make you think that you are going to receive a very special vanilla. However,  Vanille Bourbon while an excellent 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, 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. 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 and may 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 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 is also accepted as an American creation.
Photograph courtesy of Alan Chan.
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 also claims to be the primogenitor of the modern Crème Brulée;  they have served a dish called Burnt Cream or Trinity Creamat thee college since the 1800s’.
Then, I then I heard from Veronica Shine who has a very interesting blog on the Hispanic Kitchen. 

Veronica Shine writes 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 and so they used cinnamon and lemon. The flavors of today’s Crema Catalonia remains cinnamon and lemon. Crema Catalonia in the meantime has been declared a national dish and is to be served, every year, on March 19th, St. Joseph’s Day (Spanish equivalent of Father’s Day).
Starbucks Creme Brulée Macchiato in China.
Photograph courtesy of miniQQ
To read Veronica Shine’s post on the subject of Crema Catalana, click or copy paste:
Veronica Shine's writings and others also pointed me in the direction of the famous French chef Francois Massialot (1660- 1733).  Massialot served a number of Royal French households and he wrote what would become a three-volume cookbook written between 1691 and 1733.  His book was called Nouveau Cuisinier Roïal et Bourgeois, The New Chef, Both Royal and Bourgeois.  Massialot's books were translated into English and  part was 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 a dish called burnt cream in English. The exact English translation of  Massialot's Crème Brulée in his French version.
To see Francois Massialot’s book go on-line to the French national library website: the Biblotech National de France at  There under its original title:  Le Cuisinier Roïal et Bourgeois with its landing page address below:   

You may read on page 213 of Massialot’s book, as I have done, the original recipe for Crème Brulée.

The front page of the original edition of
Nouveau Cuisinier Roïal et Bourgeois
Photograph courtesy of the  Biblotech National de France.
You may read a copy of the original book, in French, from the French National Library site, without payment or download the books for a small contribution.   Follow the instructions in French, English, Spanish or German.
Meanwhile, Alain Sailhac, back in the USA
Alain Sailhac, the creator of the modern Crème Brulée, changed careers in 1986  became the Executive Vice President and Dean Emeritus at the ICA, the International Culinary Center, ( originally this school was the French Culinary Institute). In 1997 Alain Sailhac was named chef of the year by the Maîtres Cuisiniers de France, the Master Chefs of France. 
Bringing Creme Brulee to you.
Photograph courtesy of the sparechangekitchen
Success has many fathers, and mothers; that was abundantly clear from the successful launch, or if you wish, re-launch of Crème Brulée.
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Bryan G. Newman
Behind the French Menu.
Copyright 2010, 2012, 2014, 2017.
For information on the unpublished book behind this blog contact Bryan Newman

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