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A crème brulee torch is a kitchen tool used primarily for caramelizing sugar. The dessert the tool is named after is a custard dish that is covered with sugar and placed under heat to create a hard top shell. The crème brulee torch is surprisingly controversial among chefs, with some claiming it is an essential tool and others insisting it is a fussy nuisance.
Modern torches are usually a handheld device filled with butane, propane, or some other flammable liquid. It is operated by a button or trigger that ignites the butane and produces a flame. Some torches include child-safety locks to prevent accidental ignition and injury. Crème brulee torches are often sold in combination with ramekins, traditional serving dishes for crème brulee.
To properly create the caramelized effect on crème brulee, you should use a fine-grain white sugar. Hold the torch a few inches away from the custard and ignite. Experts recommend moving the torch in concentric circles over the sugar, making sure not to stay in one spot too long. The perfect caramelized custard should break with a distinctive crack, but be soft beyond the caramel layer. It may take a few tries to get the technique perfectly, but as the custard will be delicious regardless, this may not be too much of a problem.
Crème brulee torches are made specifically as cooking torches, and as such have a high price tag for a simple item. Most torches marketed for cooking begin at about $20 US Dollars (USD) and can range up to $50 USD. These sets may include ramekins, but may also be just the torches. This has lead to a war of sorts between chefs, dividing those who insist on the proper tools from those who believe in kitchen innovation.
Alton Brown, the popular Food Network TV chef, advocates avoiding crème brulee torches in favor of simple propane alternatives. These are available at many hardware stores and may cost as little as $10 USD. While not as fancy or sleek as the crème brulee varieties, these tougher versions seem to work equally well at caramelizing food.
Crème brulee may be what the torch is named for, but it is hardly its only function. A small torch is valuable for a variety of cooking techniques, such as blackening pepper skins, glazing meats, or quickly melting cheese. Other proponents suggest that a small crème brulee torch is ideal for delicate soldering in electronics.
As with any equipment that uses flammable material, be sure to have fire safety precautions when using a torch for any reason. Anyone using a crème brulee torch should maintain a fire extinguisher in good condition. Be sure that children using torches have constant, reliable adult supervision. To protect the skin from accidental burns, the user may also wish to wear protective equipment, such as gloves, goggles or oven mitts.
A lot of recipes for creme brulee really do not work well unless you have a micro torch to light them; I guess that a larger one would also work, except most people do not want a full size propane torch in their house, or if they do, they probably won't admit it.
I have always sort of wanted one of these, even though I have almost no interest in trying to make creme brulee. The idea of a hand held held blow torch just seems both adorable and hardcore at the same time, which I find oddly appealing.
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