From a very young age, one of Neven's favourite pastimes was to shadow his mother in the kitchen, watching her cook; his pastime soon became ...
8 egg yolks
150 g (5oz) caster sugar
1 vanilla pod, split in half and seeds scraped out
600 ml (1 pint) cream
300 ml (1/2 pint) milk
spun sugar, to decorate
300 ml (1/2 pint) freshly pressed apple juice
25 g (1oz) caster sugar
1 cinnamon stick
1 star anise
1/2 vanilla pod, split in half
2 bramley apples, cored and finely diced
1 tsp fresh tiny mint leaves
Preheat the oven to 115°C (240°F/gas mark 1/4).
To make the crème brûlée, place the egg yolks in a large bowl with 125g (4.5 oz) of the sugar and the vanilla seeds. Whisk for about 5 minutes, until pale and fluffy and the mixture holds a trail of the figure eight.
Meanwhile, place the cream and milk in a pan with the scraped out vanilla pod, then simmer gently until the mixture just comes to the boil. Remove the vanilla pod, then slowly pour the hot milk and cream into the yolk mixture, whisking continuously. Pass through a sieve into a clean bowl.
Using a ladle, divide the mixture into 6 x 120ml (4fl oz) small dishes or ramekins set in a baking tin filled with enough boiling water to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins (this is called a bain-marie). Cover tightly with foil and bake in the oven for 1 hour, until just set but still with a slight wobble in the middle. Remove from the oven and leave in the bain-marie, still covered with foil, for another 30 minutes before removing and allowing to cool completely. Transfer to the fridge and allow to set for at least 6 hours, or preferably overnight.
To prepare the poached apple compote, place the apple juice, sugar, cinnamon, star anise and vanilla pod in a pan and bring to the boil, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Reduce the heat and simmer for 2–3 minutes to allow the flavours to combine, then add the apples and cook for another 4–5 minutes, until the apples are tender but still holding their shape. Remove from the heat and leave to cool completely. Transfer to a rigid plastic container and chill until needed, allowing the apples to come back to room temperature before using.
To finish the brûlées, sprinkle the remaining 25g (1/2 oz) of the caster sugar over the baked custard in an even layer and use a blowtorch to melt and glaze the sugar until caramelised. Arrange on plates. Stir the mint into the poached apples, then divide among small dishes and place alongside the brûlées. Decorate with the spun sugar.
This can be made up to 2 days in advance and kept covered in the fridge until needed. The sugar for the brûlées just needs to be caramelised at the last minute.