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Cardamom Meyer Lemon Créme Brûlée Bubbles

This is my entry for Sugar High Friday #26: Sugar Art. Today is the last day to post entries, so please get them up and email me about them soon! I’m really excited about all the entries I’ve seen so far, and would love to see what the rest of you can come up with, too.

These are blown bubbles of caramelized sugar, filled with a standard créme brûlée custard flavored with cardamom and meyer lemon zest. Edible art, they are probably the prettiest and most elegant dessert I know how to make, and among the most delicious as well.

We taught ourselves to do this after seeing photos of Alinea‘s take on créme brûlée. (Yes, their custard is powdered. Ours is not. As you can see, if you blow the bubbles too thin, the custard starts to melt through eventually – so blow thick bubbles, or serve them quickly. I prefer the latter.)

Although we later learned that they shape their bubbles by coating balloons with caramel and then popping and removing the balloons once the sugar hardens, we decided to blow ours, because the photo reminded me of glass-blowing and I thought it might work. It did.

If you can imagine the two of us dancing around the kitchen for a couple of hours, whirling like mad, burning our fingers, wrecking tubes that were too narrow, and ending up with every available surface covered in ragged bubbles and strands of unintentionally pulled sugar, well, then, you’ve got a pretty good idea of what the learning process was like.

Cardamom Meyer Lemon Créme Brûlée Bubbles

Make the custard (recipe below). Let it chill. Make the bubbles (recipe below). Pipe custard into bubbles. Don’t bother with piping tips; just cut a very small hole in the corner of a ziplock bag, or something like that. Very, very small.

If your bubbles are so perfectly blown that they do not have any holes in them, heat up the tip of a knife with a kitchen torch or gas stove and use that to carefully melt a hole in each bubble through which you can pipe the custard.

Cardamom Meyer Lemon Custard
2 C heavy cream
1 C milk
2 vanilla beans, split and scraped
Zest from 2 meyer lemons
6 green cardamom pods
6 large egg yolks
1/2 C granulated sugar

Heat the heavy cream, milk, and spices in a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a simmer and steep until strongly flavored.

Beat the yolks and sugar together until pale yellow. Pour about 1/2 C of the cream mixture into the egg mixture and beat to incorporate, then slowly pour the rest in while you keep on beating.

Preheat the oven to 350º.

Strain the custard base into a set of small ramekins, and place the ramekins in a high-walled baking or roasting pan lined with a small dish towel that covers the bottom (but not the sides). Pour enough hot water into the pan to come up half way on the sides of the ramekins. Loosely cover the pan with aluminum foil. Bake on the middle rack for about 30 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through.

The custards are done when they are slightly jiggly in the middle, but not very. Remove them from the pan and cool on a wire rack to room temperature before covering and refrigerating for at least a few hours.

Caramelized Sugar Bubbles
3 C sugar
1 1/2 C water
2 tsp cream of tartar

You’ll need a few special tools for this – some aluminum (or any other metal, really) tubes, maybe 12-18″ or so long, about 1/4-1/2″ in diameter. These are easy to find at Pearl Paint, or whatever your nearest arts & crafts supply store may be. Also, a kitchen torch and a knife.

Mix all ingredients in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Have an ice water bath (in a bowl large enough to contain the bottom of the pot) ready nearby. Heat the pot slowly until the caramel reaches a nice gold color, not too dark, then remove the pot from the heat and dip the bottom into the ice water bath to stop it from cooking further.

Wait until the caramel cools a bit. You want it thick enough so that you can gather up a ball of it at the end of your metal tube, and touch it a bit with your fingers when necessary, but not so thick that you will be unable to blow it out. I end up reheating it as it cools too much, and waiting when it is too hot, trying to catch moments where it is at the perfect consistency.

The idea is to gently blow bubbles of sugar through the tube, patching holes with your fingers as they form, or just cradling the bubble until it cools and hardens. Blow softly. Be patient. It takes a while to get the knack of it. When things are going particularly well, I shape them best by dancing, whirling with tube and sugar kept buoyant by my breath around the kitchen letting gravity do the work for me, letting the sugar flow into the shape I wanted without ever touching it at all.

The kitchen torch and the knife come in handy when trying to clean out any sugar hardened in the tube in between bubbles.

If you won’t be serving them right away, store them in a covered container lined with parchment paper, with a small dish or pile of salt in there to absorb the moisture.


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36 Responses to “Cardamom Meyer Lemon Créme Brûlée Bubbles”

  1. Molecular gastronomy at home–very cool. And I love the image of you and Dave whirling around the kitchen like mad scientists!

  2. Kieran says:

    Wow. That is extremely cool. Can’t wait to try it! Thanks a bunch!

  3. WOW! My jaw just hit the floor :D I’m still wrapping my brain around how you did it :) I think I have a new hero! :D

  4. WOW, those are absolutely stunning! That most definetly is sugar art!

  5. Yvo says:

    That is gorgeous! And I’m amazed at the ingenue behind it. I just made my very first ever batch of caramels two nights ago and am proud of how they came out. Phew. This gives me incentive to make it again :)

  6. Brilynn says:

    I’m completely blown away, (argh, horrible pun) by these. I actually gave a little yell when I saw them. I have no idea how you do such amazing things.

  7. Cenk says:

    These are amazing!

  8. That is so freakin’ cool! You have outdone yourself!

  9. cindy says:

    here in seattle we have some very creative glass blowers, but THIS is too awesome! i have to show this to our glass-blower friend!

  10. Julie says:

    These are too lovely…like the most fragile of holiday baubles, but in luscious edible form. Thanks both for hosting this event and for your subtle and glorious ingenuity. My post for this event just went up, although suffice it to say it’s quite a bit more earthbound than these sweet treats which can be imagined floating aloft…

  11. Veron says:

    Absolutely amazing!! Very elegant as well as a show stopper. A dessert that your guests will surely not stop talking about.

  12. Andrea says:

    Bravo! They look fantastic, and it sounds like something fun to try.

  13. Kristen says:

    I have never seen something so elegant made out of caramelized sugar. Very impressive! I’m still in awe.

  14. That is amazing! I would have loved a video of the mad scientists in action.

  15. Sugar art indeed. Absolutely artistic and gorgeous!

  16. Riana says:

    Impressive!! Definitely way beyond my league.
    The photos are gorgeous too. I love the lightings.

  17. Staximo says:

    These bubbles are so… unbelievable!!!!! Fantastic!!!!
    This is really sugar art!!!!!!!

  18. Tanna says:

    Awesome! I can’t imagine attempting such a thing.
    Very beautiful…what an amazing thought to pick one of these up and pop it in your mouth…wow!
    I love the dancing expecially with all those bubbles…Lawrence Welck should have had these!!! LOL

  19. Y says:

    So very pretty! Just makes you want to attack the crust with a spoon, like a normal brulee would :)

  20. Rob says:

    Danielle, I have to admit to some pangs of jealousy. I badly want to try making these, and I’m incredibly impressed that you took the plunge and succeeded. Brilliant work! Have you got any inkling how Alinea made the powdered custard inside the sugar bubbles? By the way, I think cardmamom/meyer lemon custard sounds like an incredible flavour combination.

  21. ilingc says:

    OMG that looks awesome!

  22. Danielle says:

    Thanks, everyone! These were so much fun to make, and I’m glad you’re enjoying the tale.

    Cindy, I’d love to hear what your glassblower friends think of these. I’m actually planning on taking my first glassblowing class in the near future, and I’m really excited about it.

    Rob, there’s a whole forum on Alinea over on eGullet. You may be able to find the answer there, though I don’t know it offhand. The cardamom/meyer lemon really worked well together (Dave was skeptical about the meyer lemons, but convinced in the end).

  23. Ales says:

    bubbles of caramelized sugar?!? genius is the word…

  24. Anonymous says:

    Cardamom Meyer Lemon Créme Brûlée Bubbles…

    This is just amazing. Blown bubbles of sugar filled with custard….

  25. Bron says:

    Wow, you are my hero!
    It’s like the most beautiful edible ornament ever!

  26. Caroline Côté says:

    I’m in awe! Never seen anything like this before ; Bravo!

  27. Jenny says:

    Awesome, absolutely amazing…how long after making these do they last before serving?

  28. Shayna says:

    This is by far the coolest thing I have ever seen! I will be experimenting with these VERY soon! I wanna figure out a way to sprinkle edible gold, or maybe in the spring sugared edible flowers on top of the custard inside!

  29. Nils says:


    Just today I thought of Alinea and the concept of capturing smoke and aromas. Christmas is the time for BIG and BRAVE spices and perfumes. I try to figure this out by Saturday. Thanks a bunch! Big support kick! (nice blog btw ;)

    cheers from Norway!

  30. Bruce says:

    Wow those look amazing!! You are an amazing artist!!

    Restaurant Quality Creme Brulee at home!!

  31. Elle says:

    Art, life, wonder…. Can’t wait to try, though leaps beyond anything I’ve done. But ephemerally stable edible form brought about by dance and breath. Ahhhh.

    PS: Like a little kid who wonders where superheroes go to the bathroom, my first thought is: are you serving your guests little capsules of chef-breath?

  32. Tink Martin says:

    I can’t WAIT to try this recipe! I *am* a glass blower and a (very) amateur chef, so how could I not love the concept?

    I use molten glass to blow similar bubble in varying sizes, and I use high-temp, military grade stainless steel tubing for this size bubble. In fact, I offer them for sale in my Etsy shop.

    Thank you for the inspiration!

  33. Anna says:

    Absolutely beautiful and inspiring!

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