Crème bruleed chocolate cake in honor of Julia Child

A tribute baked for Julia Child, the master chef of home cooking, on her 100th birthday.

The Pastry Chef's Baking
A chocolate cake 'shell' filled with vanilla bean custard baked in honor of Julia Child's 100th birthday.

"If you're afraid of butter, use cream." The average foodie, chef, and baker know those famous words were uttered by the incomparable Julia Child who brought the art of French cooking to the American kitchen and palate.

In a roundabout way, I owe my blog, The Pastry Chef's Baking, to Julia Child because it was watching the movie, "Julie & Julia" that finally spurred me to start blogging almost three years ago. 

So in honor of her birthday on August 15, I'm giving a French twist to the classic American chocolate cake by making this crème brûlée chocolate cake – a chocolate cake "shell" filled with vanilla bean custard; I added sliced bananas to top the custard and brûléed them to crackly goodness. 

A version of this confection is in the "Baking with Julia" by Dorie Greenspan baking book but I went with Martha Stewart's recipe for chocolate cupcakes instead as it was also similar in using cocoa powder for the chocolate flavor and oil instead of butter. Plus, I wanted something on a smaller scale for a brulee since it doesn't have a long shelf life and is best enjoyed within minutes of being caramelized.

The chocolate cake itself came out well. The creme brulee custard tasted good but I don't think I cooked it over the stove top long enough since I was afraid of overcooking the egg yolks and having the custard break like the last time I tried a stovetop crème brûlée. 

So it didn't set like it was supposed to and I had to rely on the freezer to firm it up. Then when I tried brûlée-ing it, the custard simply melted. I'm afraid I needed the master chef herself to save my crème brûlée. However, one of her legacies that I always remember is not to be afraid of trying something.  Even if you fail, you try again. And again. Someday I will conquer a stovetop version of creme brulee. It wasn't today but I'm not afraid to try it again. 

Thank you for showing the way with your fearlessness and Happy Birthday, Julia Child!

Crème Brûlée

 3/4 cup heavy cream
1 vanilla bean
5 large egg yolks, at room temperature
3 tablespoons sugar

Pour the heavy cream into a medium saucepan.  Split the vanilla bean and scrape the soft, pulpy seeds into the pan, toss in the pod and stir to mix.  Bring just to the boil over low heat.

Meanwhile, in a medium heatproof bowl, whisk the egg yolks and sugar together just to blend. Place the bowl over a pan of simmering water and whisk, continuously and energetically, until the mixture is very pale and hot to the touch. Remove the yolks from the heat. Gradually but steadily whisk the cream into the yolks, pod and all.

Put the bowl back over the hot water and let it sit there, with the heat turned off, whisking occasionally, for 5 to 10 minutes, until the cream thickens. Set the bowl into a larger bowl filled with ice cubes and cold water and allow the mixture to cool, whisking now and then. When the custard is cool to the touch, retrieve and discard the vanilla bean (or clean it and save it to flavor sugar) and push the mixture through a strainer into a clean bowl. Cover the bowl tightly and refrigerate for at least 2 hours. The custard can be made the day before and kept covered and refrigerated until needed.

Chocolate Cake

1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
1-1/2 cups sugar
1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
3/4 cup buttermilk
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup warm water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly spray dessert shell pans with nonstick cooking spray. (You can also use muffin tins but don't line with paper liners if you're going to brulee the custard.) In a mixing bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Add eggs, buttermilk, oil, vanilla and the water.

With an electric mixer on low speed, beat until smooth and combined, scraping down sides of bowl as needed.

Divide batter evenly among lined cups, filling each about two-thirds full. Bake, rotating tins halfway through, until a cake tester inserted in the centers comes out clean, about 15 minutes.

Transfer tins to wire racks to cool 10 minutes; turn out cupcakes onto racks and let cool completely. 

To finish, top with chilled custard, sprinkle with granulated sugar and torch with handheld torch until sugar is crackly and brown.  You can also add bananas on top of the custard and brulee that as the top layer instead with a sprinkling of sugar.

Related post on The Pastry Chef's Baking: Stove Crème Brûlée

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