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torch-ft-912_t.jpg“Why would you use such a baby flame when I have a plumber’s torch in the garage?”

“Because I don’t want to crack the antique crystal bowl with the blowtorch!”

Leave the plumbing tools in the bathroom and put a culinary torch in your favorite cook’s stocking. It’s easy to handle, the flame is just the right size for browning sugar on creme brulee, and — if it stays in the kitchen and not the garage — you can always find it!

Why do cooks desire a torch?

  • Browning the sugar crust on creme brulee
  • Browning the meringue on lemon meringue pie
  • Browning the meringue on baked Alaska
  • Roasting peppers
  • Glazing and melting the compound butter on a steak

If you have a torch in the kitchen, you will find lots of uses. One of my favorites is to brown the Italian meringue on top of a trifle (served in the glass trifle bowl) — a perfect holiday dessert!

Trifle

for the genoise cake:

  • 6 eggs, separated
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup cake flour
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup raspberry or other fruit jam

Whip the egg whites until stiff and add ¼ cup sugar and continue whipping for another minute until glossy. Whip the egg yolks with ½ cup sugar, salt, and vanilla until very thick and pale. Sift the flour on top of the whipped whites, pour in the yolk mixture, and – using a whisk – gently fold together all three mixtures. Spread onto a half-sheet (jelly roll) pan that has been lined with parchment paper. Bake at 350 for 10-12 minutes, or until the top springs back when touched. Spread with jam and roll up (lengthwise) tightly. Let cool completely, then slice into 1/2-inch rounds.

for the pastry cream:

  • 2 cups half-and-half 
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons potato starch
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla bean paste

Heat the cream. Whisk together the yolks, salt, and sugar until thick and ribbony. Fold in the starch. Pour a little of the hot cream into the yolk mixture to temper, whisking constantly. Pour the egg mixture into the saucepan with the cream and cook on medium-high heat until thickened. Remove from heat and whisk in the vanilla. Cool. 

for the Italian meringue:

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/2 cup egg whites (about 4)

Bring the water and sugar to a boil and cook until 248 degrees (use a candy thermometer). Meanwhile, whip the egg whites until foamy. Add the sugar syrup drop by drop and continue whisking until stiff and glossy. Cool. Put into a pastry bag with a star tip.

To assemble:

Line a glass trifle bowl with half of the slices of cake. Sprinkle with sherry or other liqueur. Spread with half of the pastry cream. If desired, line with seasonal fresh fruits. Place another layer of cake, moistened with sherry, fruit, and pastry cream. Pipe the meringue on top. Brown with a torch.