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Custard Brulee for Valentine's Day (or whenever)

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Mmmmm! Soft smooth custard covered with a blanket of crunchy sweetness. No, it's not creme brulee, but definitely a dessert within the same family. The recipe is a family favourite from Andy and Bonnie DeWeerd, pullet farmers in Tavistock, Ontario.

This custard is made with whole eggs. (Creme brulee has a richer texture and taste because it's made with just the yolks.) The eggs are gently cooked with half and half and sugar until the mixture begins to thicken. Moderate heat and an attentive cook who doesn't mind a little stirring are essential to keep the eggs from over-cooking and curdling, and to prevent the custard from getting lumpy.  But back up a bit! In order to ensure a smooth custard, it's also important that the eggs be tempered. If you're wondering how to temper eggs or what this refers to, it means you have to warm them up a little before fully incorporating them into the recipe. This is done by adding a little of the hot liquid in the recipe (in this case, some of the half and half/sugar mixture) to the whisked eggs. This raises the temperature of the eggs and prevents them from scrambling or curdling when they are combined with all the hot mixture. After some of the hot liquid is whisked into the eggs, this combined mixture is then gradually added to the rest of the hot liquid. The result is a smooth mixture that then gets stirred over the heat until it begins to thicken. Once the custard thickens a little, it's poured into ramekins or custard cups, then chilled in the fridge for a few hours or overnight so it can set up a little more.  This soft-set custard can be spooned over cake or fruit instead of caramelizing. But if you want a sugar crust top, just before serving, sprinkle the tops of each custard with brown (or white) sugar. Ignite your mini butane torch and caramelize the sugar until it forms a hard crust. If you don't have a butane torch, you can pop the custards until a preheated broiler just until the sugar caramelizes. Keep a close watch as this happens quickly. Here's the recipe for Custard Brulee.

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