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Cracking into Lemongrass Crme Brle with Mango Papaya and Red Jalapeno Salsa at UC San Diego
Cracking into Lemongrass Crème Brûlée with Mango, Papaya and Red Jalapeno Salsa at UC San Diego.

Chef Demo: Cali Crème Brûlée

Infusing flavors from Asia into a classic French dessert, Vaughn Vargus, CEC, CCA, of UC San Diego, creates something that's uniquely California.

Crème Brûlée is perfectly classic and also very much a creation from California when it's made by Vaughn Vargus, CEC, CCA, senior executive chef, Housing, Dining and Hospitality, University of California, San Diego.

"I like crème brûlée because of the tradition, the skill involved and the types of flavors that can be infused," Vargus says. "It's important to do something the way it's supposed to be done! And then you can have fun and play."

RECIPE: Lemongrass and Ginger Crème Brulee

His sense of play comes out in the form of infusion for Lemongrass and Ginger Crème Brûlée. Using fresh lemongrass, ginger and a kaffir lime leaf, Vargus infuses Asian flavor into the classic French dessert without letting fusion turn into confusion. As he adds the aromatics to simmering cream on the stove, the air turns sharp and somehow brighter as the fragrances merge together. Using a blow torch,

  it's key to "really watch the color of the sugar, to know when it's perfect," Vargus says.

Sitting down with the finished product, you crack a spoon onto the glassy golden surface and dip down into the custard, being sure to get some of the technicolor salsa, which has a whisper of heat from the red jalapeño. California at its best!

Step 1: Start with fresh ginger, lemongrass, lime leaf, eggs, cream and sugar.
Step 2: The spine of the kaffir lime leaf holds a lot of flavor. Use a knife on the spine to coax out the most flavor.









Step 3: After bringing cream to a simmer, add the lemongrass, lime leaf and ginger. Let the infusion of flavor begin!
Step 4: Whisk the sugar with egg yolks (save whites for another use). It gets paler and paler in color as sugar dissolves.









Step 5: After the cream has simmered with the aromatics for a few minutes, strain with a chinois to filter the solids out.
Step 6: After tempering in the egg mixture, pour into ramekins in a 1/2 size hotel pan of warm water. Into the oven for 45 min.








Step 7: Now it's time to sprinkle the sugar evenly on top of each creme brulee. Vargus uses a vanilla-infused sugar for this.
Step 8: The signature crackling surface is the result of using a blow torch to caramelize the sugar on the surface.









Step 9: Make a quenelle (football shape) of mango and red jalapeño salsa. Garnish with a sprig of fresh mint. So colorful.

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