Holiday-Spiced Vegan Creme Brulee

From the New York Times’ Well Blog: “Vegan chef Chloe Coscarelli wowed the culinary world when her vegan cupcakes won the Food Network’s Cupcake Wars. For holiday diners with dietary needs, she offers this vegan and gluten-free crème brulèe. This festive dessert is infused with warm autumn spices, and the crackly torched top will be a show-stopper.”

My own experience with this recipe was that while it certainly isn’t the same rich, decadent custard of traditional creme brulee, it hits all of the right taste, texture, and scent attributes and satisfies my (frequent, and voracious) craving for my favorite dessert. This can be made with any blend of seasonings – in the summer, I use the same basic custard recipe but revise the flavor profile. To make a key lime version, decrease the milk slightly and add key lime juice to the custard. Michael likes it plain, with simple vanilla flavors (or scrapings from a vanilla bean pod, if we have them).

Ingredients
1/4 cup non-dairy milk (rice, soy or almond milk will work)
1/4 cup organic cornstarch (can also use arrowroot)
1 14-ounce can coconut milk
1/2 cup sugar, plus some extra for brulèe
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Preparation

1. In a small bowl, thoroughly mix the non-dairy milk and cornstarch with a whisk or fork and set aside.

2. In a medium saucepan, heat the coconut milk, 1/2 cup sugar, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves and salt over medium-high heat just until boiling.

3. Turn the heat to medium-low and slowly drizzle the cornstarch mixture into the sauce pot, whisking continuously. Keep whisking until the mixture becomes very thick in texture (1 to 2 minutes). Turn off the heat and whisk in the vanilla.

4. Pour the custard evenly into crème brulèe or custard dishes (you can use ramekins or coffee mugs as well). Let them cool for 10 minutes, then chill in the refrigerator for 4 hours or overnight.

5. Remove the crème brulèe from the refrigerator 1 hour before torching so that it approaches room temperature. Sprinkle about 2 teaspoons of sugar onto each ramekin, then shake it so that the sugar spreads evenly. Do not use brown sugar because the molasses will burn.

6. Hold your torch about 2 inches from the sugar and melt the sugar until it bubbles and turns slightly golden. Be sure to move your torch back and forth continuously so that it does not burn in one spot. If you see any black spots forming, move your torch away from that area, since you do not want the sugar to burn. Once there is no more visible dry sugar, let the crème brulèe sit for 3 to 5 minutes and serve immediately. For an extra thick crackly top, add 2 more teaspoons of sugar and repeat the torching process.

Yield: 6 to 8 servings.

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