Where there’s smoke, there doesn’t have to be fire – not when, with a few drops of liquid smoke, you can have smoky ribs that didn’t take hours to prepare. Liquid smoke is a flavouring fluid that provides the smokiness produced by hot or cold smoking methods, without actually requiring you to smoke anything. But what exactly is it made of? Wet hickory-, beech- or apple wood chips are placed in a large oven. The wood is heated to a slow smoulder, and the smoke it releases is condensed and rapidly cooled to form a liquid. This smoky water is collected and the impurities are filtered out. The result is an extremely concentrated ingredient that can add smoky flavour to just about anything. Use it sparingly though, as a little goes a very long way!
Smoked vanilla crème brûlée tartlets
- 250g cake flour
- 60g icing sugar, sifted
- 120g salted butter, roughly chopped
- 3 egg yolks
- 185ml fresh cream
- 1 vanilla pod, split + seeds scraped and reserved
- 2 egg yolks
- 40g castor sugar + extra, to brûlée
- 5 – 8 drops liquid smoke
For the pastry, blitz the cake flour and icing sugar in a food processor to incorporate, then add the butter and continue blitzing until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add the 3 egg yolks and blitz until just combined. Tip out the pastry onto a clean, lightly flour-dusted work surface and bring the pastry together with your hands to form a ball. Wrap in cling film and refrigerate, 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 180˚C. Roll out the pastry on a clean, lightly flour-dusted work surface to 0,5cm thickness and line 4 greased fluted, loose-bottomed tart tins (10cm in diameter) with the pastry. Trim the pastry's edges with a sharp knife and refrigerate to rest, 1 hour.
Once the pastry cases have chilled, line with baking paper, fill with baking beans or pulses and blind-bake in the preheated oven until crisp and light brown, about 8 – 10 minutes. Remove from oven, take out the baking beans and discard the baking paper used for blind baking. Return the pastry cases to the oven to bake, a further 8 – 10 minutes. Allow to cool on a wire rack.
For the filling, decrease the oven temperature to 140˚C. In a small saucepan, heat the fresh cream along with the split vanilla pod and seeds to just below boiling point. Cream the 2 egg yolks and castor sugar together in a medium bowl. In a steady stream, pour the warm vanilla cream into the egg mixture, while whisking continuously. Whisk in the liquid smoke and strain the mixture through a sieve, discard the bits and divide the filling among the baked pastry cases.
Bake, 40 – 45 minutes, until set and the centre wobbles slightly. Remove the tartlets from their tins and allow to cool down to room temperature. Store the tartlets in the fridge until needed. They can keep for 2 days in the fridge.
Sprinkle a layer of castor sugar over each tartlet and brulee them, using a kitchen blowtorch.