Thanks so much to everyone who watched my Facebook Live recipe video with Amanda Downum! We both draw hugely on history for our writing, so we decided to show you how to make an insanely rich, decadent, historically inspired dessert that was well loved by wealthy Brits from the Tudors to the Victorians – Bone Marrow Creme Brulee!
There’s really no substitute for the intense flavor you get from historic fats like bone marrow or suet. The bone marrow not only makes the custard decadently creamy with a beautifully lingering mouth-feel, it also imparts the same sort of flavor kick you get from mixing a little bacon grease into your pancake batter or cooking your home fries in the same pan you used for your hamburgers.
When you bite into a spoonful of the Bone Marrow Creme Brulee, first you get the sweet and salty crunch, followed quickly by the umami bomb of natural fat snuggling up to your tongue. Just as you think this seems to be a rich creme brulee, but not that big a …. Whoa! The beefiness hits you. It’s like mopping up the pan drippings from a nice New York Strip steak with a warm, fluffy tortilla – except that flavor has magically been transformed into an insanely creamy dessert.
Try it yourself. Despite the scary bone marrow, it’s actually a pretty forgiving recipe. If you watched our Facebook Live video you could tell this recipe wasn’t rocket science.
BONE MARROW CREME BRULEE
- 2 oz beef bone marrow
- ½ tbsp salt
- Enough water to cover the bones
- 1 ½ cups heavy cream
- 2 tbsp honey
- 1 vanilla bean (optional)
- Another pinch of salt
- 3 egg yolks
- 3 tsp Kosher or heavy grained salt
- 3 tbsp Sugar (or mix of vanilla/cardamom/regular sugar)
MELTING THE MARROW
Start by boiling a pot of water. Before you can squeeze the marrow from your bones, you need to soften it up. Toss the bones in a pot with just enough water to cover them and about half a tablespoon of salt. Let it bubble away for around 10 minutes, though if you forget and wander off for up to 15, you won’t hurt anything.
When the marrow has softened, grab your least favorite chopstick, a bowl, and a pair of tongs. The bones will be hot, so lift them out of the water with the tongs, position them over the bowl, and enjoy feeling like a sexy neanderthal as you jam the chopstick into the softened marrow, forcing it from the bones.
When it comes out, it’ll look an awful lot like brains.
That’s all about to change, though. Dump the marrow into a skillet and melt it over a medium heat, whisking constantly. The fat will literally melt into a puddle while the trace solids sizzle up. Within five minutes or so it’ll look like you just made bacon.
There are a bunch of tiny random solid bits in there, so pour your liquid marrow through a fine mesh strainer.
Now we’re finally ready to start on the real action!
MAKING THE CUSTARD
Pour the strained fat into a saucepan along with your cream, two tablespoons of honey squeezed from the head of a bear, your vanilla bean (if you’re using it), and a pinch of table salt. Bring the whole mess to a boil, whisking frequently. Yes, your whisk is going to get a workout.
While the cream and friends are being sanitized by heat, whisk the egg yolks together until they’re pale and fluffy. You can use a minion or a stand mixer for this.
When the milk is gently simmering and the eggs are nice and fluffy, it’s time to introduce the two. The vanilla bean isn’t invited to this party, so fish it out.
Slowly drizzle the cream mixture into the eggs, whisking like a madman to keep it from curdling. If you try to speed this process up you’ll end up with sweet scrambled eggs. Keep slowly adding the hot creamy goodness to the eggs a little bit at a time until you run out of cream.
You can just pour it all into the ramekins, but as you saw in the video, the extreme beefiness of this recipe responds really well to a thin bottom coat for an extra bit of flavor. If you’re going to smear in any of the ideas below, keep it down to ½ – ¾ tsp. You want to accent the flavor, not overwhelm it.
Once you’ve smeared your ramekins, fill them up with about ½ cup of custard.
BAKING THE CUSTARD
Arrange the ramekins in a cake pan. Remember the extra hot water you boiled earlier? Pour it into the cake pan until it reaches about halfway up the sides of the ramekins.
Put the whole shebang into a 325F oven for 40-45 minutes, or until it the custard is mostly set but still a little bit wobbly in the middle.
Now comes the hard part – you have to leave them alone. I know you want to taste right now, but your patience will be rewarded. Let them rest in the fridge for at least 3 hours or overnight before you mess with them again.
When you’re ready to serve your bone marrow creme brulee, sprinkle the top of each custard with a generous ¼-½ tsp kosher salt (or pink, black, or other fancy salt) AND 1 tbsp of vanilla sugar, cardamom sugar, or turbinado sugar. Bigger crystals equal better grains.
If you have a creme brulee torch, you now FINALLY get to attack your food with fire! Go at it until you develop a crunchy caramel crust on top. If you don’t have a torch you can always pop them on the top rack of a hot broiler for 2-3 minutes. Keep a close eye if you broil them, because there is a fine line between crispy sugar goodness and blackened sugar horror. Your broiler doesn’t hate you. It’s just lashing out because it’s lonely.
- Use refrigerated coconut milk substitute (not actual coconut milk) instead of cream
- Add an extra egg yolk
- Leave out the honey
- Sprinkle the tops with coconut sugar, dehydrated molasses, or the solid sweetener of your choice. Remember, it needs to be something that’ll brown and melt under the fire.
AMP UP THE SAVORY!
Cut the honey in half. As soon as you add the gloppy bone marrow to the pan, toss in 2 tbsp fresh rosemary leaves. Let the rosemary cook directly in the melting fat, then strain it all out along with the solids.
This ensures you keep the beautifully smooth texture of the custard while imparting a subtle rosemary flavor.
POTENTIAL BOTTOM COATINGS
As you saw in the video, you can bump up the flavor complexity by adding ½ – ¾ tsp of any ONE of the following to the bottom of the ramekin before pouring in the custard:
- Prepared horseradish
- Tomato (or tomato-jalapeno) relish
- Fig jam
- 1 tbsp shallots sauteed in olive oil
FANCY SUGAR TOPPINGS
As I said in the video, making a fancy historic sugar is really easy. Spices used to be incredibly expensive, so people were quite clever about getting as much use from them as possible. Cardamom, vanilla, and other aromatic spices might spend 3-6 months sitting around, imparting their flavor to sugar, before they were fished out to be used in another recipe. Save some money, impress your friends, and make your own.
Put 10-12 pods of cardamom in 2 cups of sugar. Shake it once a day for at least a week. The longer you let it sit, the more intense the flavor. I keep mine going by topping it off and adding in another pod or two whenever it’s about half full.
You can buy pre-made vanilla sugar in the import aisle of most grocery stores, but honestly, it’s the same deal as the cardamom sugar. Toss half a dozen cheap grade B vanilla beans into 2 cups of sugar, shake the tupperware once a day, and forget it exists until you try an ambitious recipe. The longer you forget it, the better it’ll taste. When you’ve used about half, top it off with more sugar and another bean.
Star Anise Sugar:
Add 8 star anise (and 1 cinnamon stick, if you’re feeling extra fancy) to 2 cups of sugar. Just as with the other aromatic sugars, seal it up in tupperware, shake it weekly, and use on all sorts of desserts or in your coffee or tea.
If you’d like to encourage us to make more recipe videos, help us pay our rents by treating yourself to a copy of Chris-Rachael Oseland’s An Unexpected Cookbook: The Unofficial Book of Hobbit Cookery or Amanda Downum’s Lovecraftian fantasy novel, Dreams of Shreds and Tatters.