The lovely leeks get a double-exposure here. First, their flavor infuses the cream for the custard, and then they get all crisped up to for the crust that every crème brûlée needs.
This custard would be heavenly served with a piece of tenderly cooked fish and good salad with a tart-ish dressing. —boulangere
Test Kitchen Notes
An amazingly subtle crème brûlée with few ingredients and many flavors that linger on your palate. Heavy cream mingles with leeks and eggs to create a silky, smooth custard. The sweetness of the honey is offset by a bit of lemon juice, resulting in a slightly sweet, nutty treat. The crispy leeks garnishing this savory brûlée are the perfect contrast to the soft custard, too. It was luscious hot, but just as yummy at room temperature and cold. I could just keep eating this. —Laurelb
After you’ve trimmed the leeks so that you’re left with the tender white part, split them in half the long way and wash them well. Let them drain on paper towels while you gather your other ingredients. When dry, slice them 1/4-inch thick.
Pour the cream into a stainless steel (or other non-reactive) pot. Add the leeks and pink peppercorns, and warm the mixture over medium heat. Heat it to a scald—tiny, uniform bubbles will appear around the perimeter. Remove the pot from the heat and allow the leeks to steep for 15 minutes. The combination will smell amazing.
At the end of that time, return the pot to medium heat and bring it back up to a scald.
Set a strainer over a mixing bowl or large measuring cup, and pour the cream and leeks into it. Pour the leeks out onto a plate lined with paper towels to absorb some of the cream. Pick out the pink peppercorns and discard them.
Whisk together the yolks and the egg. Whisk in the honey, salt, and lemon juice. Whisk in the cream, pouring in a slow, steady stream so as not to scramble the eggs.
Set four 4-ounce ramekins in a baking dish. Pour the custard mixture back into the measuring cup, then divide it evenly among the ramekins. Set the baking dish in the oven, leaving an inch or so hanging over the edge of the rack. Run tap water as hot as you can get it, and pour enough into the baking dish to come at least halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Gently ease the baking dish the rest of the way into the oven. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes. The custards are done when you can tap the edge with a wooden spoon, and the custard “jiggles like jello, but does not wiggle like a wave.”
While the custards are baking, prepare the leeks. Melt the butter in a small skillet over medium heat, and allow the milk solids to brown, about 3 minutes. When the butter is a beautiful, nutty brown, add the leeks, honey, lemon juice, and salt and stir to blend. Continue cooking until most of the water has been cooked away and leeks begin to turn a deep brown, about 3 to 4 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and transfer the leek mixture to a baking sheet with a slotted spoon so as to leave the butter behind. Spread it out evenly. Set it aside until the custards are done.
Carefully lift the baking dish out of the oven, and use a kitchen towel to remove the ramekins from the hot water and drape a kitchen towel over them to keep them warm.
When the custards come out of the oven, raise the heat to broil. Place the baking sheet containing the leeks beneath the broiler so that they can finish crisping up, about a minute or two. Watch them closely—they go from caramelized to burned in the blink of an eye. Sprinkle them over the tops of the custards and serve immediately.