At Portland's new Little Bird, chef Gabriel Rucker trades the bold nose-to-tail cooking that made his first restaurant, Le Pigeon, a national standout for a menu rooted in traditional French bistro fare with subtle Northwest twists. Here, pastry chef Lauren Fortgang brings the same sensibility to the bistro's desserts by infusing velvety crème brûlée with local bay leaves. Use fresh laurel if available, or substitute the freshest dried leaves you can find. Either way, you'll appreciate the way they offer the dessert their subtle, distinctive flavor.
Bay Leaf Crème Brûlée
Recipe adapted from Lauren Fortgang, Little Bird, Portland, OR
Yield: 8 servings
2¾ cups heavy cream
1¼ cups whole milk
1¼ cups sugar, divided, plus more for caramelizing
½ teaspoon salt
5 bay leaves, preferably fresh
2 large eggs
6 large egg yolks
1. In a medium saucepan, combine the cream with the milk, ¾ cup of sugar and the salt. Tear the bay leaves into small pieces and add to the saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the sugar dissolves and the mixture just comes to a boil, about 8 minutes. Remove the saucepan from the heat, cover and let the bay leaves steep for 15 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk the whole eggs with the egg yolks and the remaining ½ cup sugar until smooth. Preheat the oven to 325° and place a rack in the center.
3. When the cream mixture is done steeping, slowly whisk it into the egg mixture. (If necessary, return the cream mixture to the stove and reheat over medium heat until steaming before adding it to the eggs.) Pass the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer into a large bowl and discard the bay leaves.
4. Divide the custard among eight 6-ounce ramekins and place the ramekins inside a large baking dish. Add enough warm water to reach halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Cover the dish with tinfoil and bake until the custards are just set in the center, about 45 to 55 minutes.
5. Remove the custards from the oven, transfer to a rack and let cool to room temperature, about 1 hour. Cover and refrigerate until chilled, at least 2 hours or overnight.
6. Remove the custards from the refrigerator, sprinkle with a thin, even layer of sugar and heat with a kitchen blowtorch until the sugar caramelizes. Alternatively, broil the custards as close to the heat source as possible until the sugar is evenly caramelized, about 1 to 3 minutes. Serve immediately.