This is the first year that Daniel Wong will be a small-business owner in Chinatown when the Lunar New Year parade takes place. The event on Sunday (February 22) features performers, politicians, and lion dancers along East Pender, Gore, and Keefer streets and is expected to draw thousands of spectators. While Wong’s café, Crackle Crème (245 Union Street), isn’t on the parade route, he—like many of Chinatown’s shopkeepers and restaurateurs—looks forward to the excitement of the crowds.
“It’s an important time of year because it brings everyone together,” Wong tells the Georgia Straight during an interview at Crackle Crème. This year, people who observe the Lunar New Year will welcome the Year of the Sheep (also known as the Year of the Ram or Goat).
Wong was born in Hong Kong and moved to Canada with his family when he was seven years old. They spent a few years in Saskatchewan before settling in Vancouver in 1997. His parents ran a Chinese bakery in East Vancouver, and even though Lunar New Year was a busy time for their business, Wong’s family always managed to sit down together for a feast on New Year’s Eve.
After graduating from Richmond Christian School, Wong worked as an automotive painter for nine years before deciding to make a career change. In 2013, he enrolled in the yearlong culinary arts program at Vancouver Community College, where he learned all the basics, including how to make desserts. By the time he graduated in spring 2014, he had signed a lease on a small Chinatown space and chosen to open a café and dessert bar specializing in Liège waffles and crème brûlée.
“I picked crème brûlée because it was something that could be kept refrigerated until serving,” Wong says, explaining that he makes the custards the day before and caramelizes the tops to order using a small torch. Different flavours—such as salted caramel, honey lavender, and Ferrero Rocher—keep things interesting. For Lunar New Year, Wong plans on adding a red-bean-flavoured crème brûlée to the menu.
For families celebrating at home, Wong offers a recipe for black sesame crème brûlée below. Black sesame seeds can be purchased at most grocery stores, and Wong toasts them to deepen the aroma and add a mild smokiness to the custard.
Wong says that crème brûlée is best made for large gatherings because one recipe yields a dozen desserts. He suggests making them a day ahead and refrigerating until serving. Pair the dessert with a pot of pu erh or jasmine tea.
Daniel Wong’s black sesame crème brûlée
⅓ cup (90 mL) black sesame seeds
2 cups (500 mL) whole milk, divided
2 cups (500 mL) whipping cream
⅓ cup (90 mL) + ¼ cup (60 mL) granulated sugar, divided
12 large egg yolks
- Preheat oven to 300 ° F (150 ° C).
- Place 12 5-ounce ramekins in a roasting pan.
- In a nonstick pan over low heat, toast sesame seeds for about 5 minutes, stirring often, until seeds pop and smoke slightly. Transfer seeds to a blender, add 1 cup (250 mL) of the milk, and blend until smooth.
- Heat remaining 1 cup (250 mL) of milk and whipping cream in a heavy saucepan over medium heat for about 5 minutes; remove from heat just before mixture comes to a boil. Pour sesame milk into cream mixture and stir to combine. Set aside for 10 minutes to allow sesame flavour to infuse. Once cool, pour mixture through a fine-mesh strainer into a large mixing bowl. Discard sesame solids.
- In a separate mixing bowl, whisk ⅓ cup (90 mL) of the sugar and egg yolks together until pale and frothy. Incorporate sesame mixture slowly, whisking continuously to prevent eggs from curdling. Divide evenly between prepared ramekins.
- Carefully pour boiling water into roasting pan until water level reaches three-quarters of the way up sides of ramekins. (Be careful not to splash the custard.) Bake for 40 minutes or until custard is set, jiggling slightly in the middle. Turn off oven and allow custards to sit for 10 minutes with oven door open before removing ramekins from the roasting tray and cooling completely on the counter. Once cool, refrigerate for at least 5 hours.
- To serve, divide remaining ¼ cup (60 mL) of sugar between ramekins, sprinkling about 1 tsp (5 mL) over each. Carefully use a blowtorch to melt the sugar. Alternatively, place ramekins in the oven on the broiler setting several inches below the heat source, and watch carefully for sugar to melt and brown but not burn.
Yield: 12 crème brûlées.
Recipe has not been tested by the Georgia Straight.