If you intend to cook at home on Valentine’s Day, I have the dessert for you. Silky, sexy, surprising. What more do you want? I tasted it at a party at the Cheese School of San Francisco, where chef Jocelyn VanLandingham dreams up all sorts of creative ways to slip cheese into recipes. Crème brulée infused with Parmigiano-Reggiano and topped with black cherry jam…no, I never would have thought that up, but man, is it good.
The party was a media event to showcase the products of KL Keller Foodways, a specialty-food importer in Oakland. I’ve known Kitty Keller forever; she brings in gorgeous honeys, nut oils, mustards, vinegars and other condiments, most of them French. Her Basque Black Cherry Jam is to die for. When you order sheep cheese in a restaurant in the French Pyrenees, black cherry jam like this one will be on the plate. You can use any jam you like to top these custards, but the black cherry was brilliant.
Parmigiano Crème Brulée
VanLandingham serves this rich dessert in small portions. You can divide the custard mixture among two ramekins instead of four if you prefer larger portions, but the baking time will be longer.
1 cup heavy cream
2 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano, in 2 chunks
4 sprigs fresh thyme
6 black peppercorns
½ bay leaf
2 large egg yolks
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon sugar, plus 4 teaspoons sugar for topping
Basque Black Cherry Jam or jam of your choice
Put the cream, cheese, thyme, peppercorns and bay leaf in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium heat. Cover and place over the lowest possible heat for 1 hour; you may need to use a flame tamer to keep the cream from bubbling. Set aside until completely cool, then strain, discarding the solids. You should have about ¾ cup flavored cream.
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Put four 2-ounce ramekins in an ovenproof baking dish. Have a tea kettle of boiling water ready.
In a small bowl, whisk the egg yolks and the 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon sugar until pale yellow. Whisk in the flavored cream. Strain the mixture through a fine sieve, preferably into a measuring cup with a pour spout. Divide the mixture evenly among the ramekins. Add boiling water to come halfway up the sides.
Bake until the custard is almost set but still quivery, 20 to 23 minutes. Don’t overcook! Transfer the ramekins to a rack to cool completely, then place in a lidded container and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled. You can prepare the custards to this point 1 day ahead.
When you are ready to eat them, sprinkle the surface of each custard evenly with 1 teaspoon sugar. Use a propane torch to melt and caramelize the sugar. (You can do this under a well-preheated broiler, positioning the custards about 3 inches away, but the torch works faster so the custard stays cold.) Let cool for about 3 minutes, then serve, topping each portion with a small spoonful of black cherry jam.
Makes 4 two-ounce portions