ALDI's Crème Brûlée, Two Ways

How to enjoy a dessert that makes everyone feel like a million bucks.

ALDI is always full of surprises, and on a recent grocery trip I found some little jars I'd never spotted there before: single-serve vanilla crème brûlée for a little more than $2 each. Crème brûlée is one of those dishes you probably associate with a fancy night out more than an ALDI run. It's the epitome of glamor: the waiter arrives at your table to present you with your own little ramekin of custard, served with a delicate shell of caramelized sugar on top that you tap into with your spoon. Sleek and satisfying. So I wanted to know whether ALDI's $2 equivalent could make one feel similarly sophisticated.

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Part of the reason you don't see crème brûlée sold at stores very often is that there's no way to pre-package the glassy sugar shell on top of the dessert; that must be created by the home cook, and it's only achievable with an open flame. It turns out that ALDI's crème brûlée comes with a little packet of sugar to sprinkle on top, and if you have a small kitchen torch, which I do, you blast the surface of the custard until the sugar melts; from there, it rapidly hardens back up into the glassy surface that's so fun to sink a spoon into.

Of course, not everyone just has a miniature blowtorch lying around, which means that many ALDI customers will need an alternative heat source if they want to enjoy this crème brûlée. The instructions on the packaging suggest using your conventional oven's broiler.

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I tried preparing the crème brûlée using both methods: the blowtorch and the broiler setting on my shitty conventional oven. The instructions say it only takes 30 seconds beneath the broiler on high to get the surface sugar to melt; they also warn that leaving the crème brûlée beneath the broiler for longer than 60 seconds can cause the sugar to turn into liquid and not crystallize back up.

I have to say, the broiler method kind of sucks. This is in part because our oven has historically sucked. (Hey, we rent.) The sugar just melted and never really set back up; while the result is still edible, it's more of a flan or a crème caramel, not a true crème brûlée. Your mileage will vary depending on the hardware you have at home.

The torched version, seen at left in the above photo, achieved a perfectly glassy top, and if you're a fan of burnt sugar, you can float the flame in one spot for just a tiny bit longer (no more than half a second) to get some black specks to form on the surface. The torch makes for a crème brûlée that's more visually interesting, and its flavor is slightly more complex since each bite is a little different.

For an extraordinarily fast treat, the ALDI crème brûlée is good for the price. Made from scratch, it's a finicky dish, since you have to pull the potentially dangerous maneuver of setting up a boiling hot water bath within your oven. I generally avoid making it, as do most people.

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ALDI's product has the right texture—smooth, luscious, and silky—and would be killer with some fresh berries served on top. The only knock I have against this crème brûlée is that the vanilla flavor is a little bit on the artificial side, but I figured a $2 treat wasn't exactly going to contain the world's rarest vanilla bean.

If you're looking for a little afternoon pick-me-up or a quick dessert that'll make you feel pampered, I definitely recommend picking up a few of these things before they mysteriously disappear like every other oddball ALDI find. I just hope you've got either a good broiler or a mini kitchen torch on hand, because that finishing touch will turn a $2 experience into a million-dollar one.

 

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