We experimented with many devices before finding the ideal way to caramelize the sugar on our creme brulee. The old-fashioned way, swinging a red-hot salamander (an iron mold with a long wooden handle) from flame to custard, wasn't our idea of fun—and anyway, once we got the hot salamander hovering over the custard, it was too small for the ramekin, leaving a lot of sugar uncaramelized. Simply browning the sugar in a hot broiler kind of worked, but the browning was uneven and the custard overcooked. Finally, we picked up a small kitchen blowtorch, and our troubles were over. Designed for the home cook, this is a fairly compact tool and not at all intimidating. Aiming and firing the thing, in fact, is more fun than fright, and the torch has an adjustable flame; if the sugar starts to get too dark, just switch off the fire. Miss a spot? Turn it on, fire it up, and hit it again. Nothing to it. We found that the best sugar-fire ratio for a delicate, golden crust was 1 ½ tsp. sugar to 2 minutes of torch time. For a darker, more intense brulee, we used 2 tsp. sugar and left the custard under the flame for an additional 1 minute.
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