Given the choice among the four wispy volumes of “40 Mouthwatering Recipes” – Crème Brûlée, Panini, Burgers or Pumpkin – no one should fault me for choosing dessert first.

In 63 glossy pages, this narrow volume on the classic French dessert (“Crème Brûlée: The World’s ‘Most Famous’ Dessert”) promised to positively reinvent the dish – a tall order, no doubt, but bountiful amounts of heavy cream are involved; hyperbole in the service of dairy-based custard is a forgivable sin.

While offering to reinvent a classic feels almost too easy to promise, interesting ideas abound. A Marsala baked-peach brûlée nearly had me rethink my water-bath scruples; a sweet Earl Grey tea brûlée sounded like a heavenly answer to a cold fall night; and for the truly technique-averse, a no-bake lemon brûlée offers the easiest of outs.

Other versions, however, felt contrived, leaning too heavily on an exotic or gimmicky ingredient such as saffron, or passion fruit to carry an otherwise ordinary custard. In one case, it was not what was to be cooked, but the tool it required. No, not a blow torch, we’re talking kitchen salamander, a round, metal disc that is heated with the torch and pressed onto the sugar, “the same way a branding iron is used.” Professional kitchens may come with those; I doubt most home kitchens do.

Savory brûlées make a brief appearance, too, some more enticing than others. A caramelized onion and Gruyère brûlée sounds like a perfect brunch addition, as did a goat cheese and sun-dried tomato version. The salmon and scallion brûlée, however, left me doubtful.

I chose one of the simplest of the brûlée recipes to test, a Champagne-infused raspberry version that did not require the tried-and-true but precarious method of baking the custard ramekins while partially submerged in water. (The thought of handling a sloshing pan of liquid above a red-hot electric oven coil is not the sort of Tuesday evening fun I usually seek.)

But since little in French cooking comes without a bit of work, this unusual no-bake brûlée required a test of wrist muscle endurance. The rich mixture of alcohol, sugar, egg yolks and cream is combined over a double boiler and whisked for 20 minutes, which, it turns out, is a long time to whisk anything.

It’s best to wrangle a friend and work in shifts, because the result is worth it.

After an hour or two to set up at room temperature, or in the refrigerator if prepared in the dead of summer like I did, the brûlée was ready for its piece de résistance, the carmelized layer of sugar. Blow torches are fun to use, but if you’re uncomfortable with handling a shooting flame, a brief broil does the trick, too.

The Champagne brought out a compelling zing that played well with the sweet and tart berries, and with enough ramekins, could easily become the winning end to any large dinner party or get-together. But happy as I was with the recipe, I was less so with the book itself. Short on theory and lacking much personality (there’s not even an author listed), “40 Mouthwatering Recipes: Crème Brûlée: The World’s ‘Most Famous’ Dessert” is a passable tour through mostly delicious territory.

— MATT BYRNE

Raspberry AND CHAMPAGNE Brûlée

You’ll need superfine sugar to make this recipe. If you don’t have a blow torch, you can broil the ramekins to caramelize them.

Serves 6

2 cups (about 8 ounces) fresh raspberries

6 egg yolks

2/3 cup superfine sugar

1/2 cup dry Champagne

1/2 cup heavy cream

3 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar, sifted, to finish

A few extra raspberries, dusted with confectioners’ sugar

Divide the raspberries among 6 ramekins or custard cups.

Put the egg yolks and sugar in a large bowl and set it over a saucepan of simmering water, making sure that the water does not touch the bottom of the bowl. Whisk the mixture until light and foamy, then gradually whisk in the Champagne and then the cream. Continue whisking for 20 minutes until the custard is very thick and bubbly.

Pour the custard over the raspberries in the ramekins and leave to cool at room temperature for about 1 hour.

Sprinkle the tops with the confectioners’ sugar and caramelize with a blowtorch.

Serve within 20-30 minutes, decorated with the extra sugar-dusted raspberries.


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