Easy lemon brulée for A Taste of Yellow

EasyLemonBrulee © J Horak-Druiff 2010

In March, I was back home in South Africa for a holiday and to speak at the first South African Food Blogger Conference.  I’d been chatting via e-mail and Facebook with my friend Colleen (the powerhouse behind the conference) and in the course of our Facebook conversations, one of her friends (Robyn) recognised me as an old school friend.  Small world!

As a result of this chance meeting, Rob let me know that there was going to be a small gathering of schoolmates in Cape Town when I was there and invited me to join them for tea at Kirstenbosch Gardens.  I had been in touch with some of the girls fairly regularly over the years, and others I had seen only at school reunions, but we all fell into conversation as if we had last seen each other yesterday.  But the one jarring note was J arriving on crutches and with a stylish headscarf.

I had heard through the grapevine that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer a couple of years ago while still in her 30s, but that she had bravely stared down a mastectomy and chemo and was in remission.  But as I learned, the cancer had returned with even greater ferocity and she now had multiple lesions, including some in her bones, causing her great discomfort and making a crutch a necessity.  However, as you spoke to her, her demeanour betrayed no sense of the seriousness of the situation.  Her blue eyes still sparkled and her sense of humour was as naughty as ever.  We all said goodbye with some sadness as we did not know when we would meet up again, but it had been a lovely afternoon.


Less than 4 months later, I got word that J had been visiting friends out of town when she had suddenly taken a turn for the worse and had to return urgently to Cape Town for tests and treatment.  Sensing the tremendous concern for her from her old friends, she posted a message on our class Facebook page to say “Just want to let you know that I’m not at death’s door quite yet!”. Ten days later, in July this year, she passed away, aged 41 and leaving behind a devastated young daughter, husband and family.

It was maybe a month after that when I heard that another high school friend’s younger sister (let’s call her M) was in hospital for a double mastectomy.  She is not even 40 yet.  But when I asked when she had been diagnosed, I learnt that she did not have cancer.  However, her mom had died young of breast cancer and tests had revealed that M had an abnormal BRCA1 gene.  Women who inherit a defective BRCA1 (or BRCA2) gene have risks for breast and ovarian cancer that are so high that they often consider having healthy breasts removed in order to prevent the development and possible spread of cancer later in their lives.  This is exactly the terrible decision that M had been forced to make.  Having witnessed her mom’s death and having two small sons herself, she had finally taken the painful decision to have her two healthy breasts removed. 

I have heard people expressing doubt about the wisdom of a prophylactic mastectomy, removing healthy breasts “just in case”.  People can view it as an overreaction and point out that the surgery itself carries all sorts of risks.  But at that moment all I wondered was what my old school friend J would have said to M if she could just have had a few minutes to sit and talk to her.  But most of all I wondered when we will be able to live in a world where young, vital people are not snatched away from their familes in the prime of their lives, and where women like M will not be driven by fear of a disease to make such terrible choices. 

Today, 2 October 2010, has been designated LiveSTRONG Day 2010LiveSTRONG is a charity funded by cycling champion and cancer survivor Lance Armstrong to provide support for people affected by cancer and to fund research into cancer.  For a number of years now, my lovely friend Barbara (also a cancer survivor) has been hosting A Taste of Yellow to coincide with LiveSTRONG day and it is now an official LiveSTRONG Day event.  This year Barbara has asked us to submit yellow food once more… but with a twist.  Once a week this year, she has been posting a picture of a heart on her blog, and she has asked us to do the same, in yellow.  Here is my contribution, dear Barbara, dedicated to you, to the friends I have lost to cancer and to the friends who are cancer survivors.  Live well, live long, live happy – but most of all live strong.



Food purists, close your eyes!  This is not a classic custard recipe like a traditional creme brulée – it is the cheat’s method! The result is pretty good though, with a texture being a good approximation of the real thing – and it takes about 5 minutes to make.  Only one word of caution – don’t do what I did and casually sprinkle the top with whatever sugar happens to be in the sugar bowl (soft brown, in my case).  The sugar will clump together and make patches of caramel, rather than a lovely all-over crispy shell.  Trust me, use icing sugar.



280ml double (heavy) cream
140g lemon curd
icing sugar


Whip the cream until soft peaks form.  Fold in the lemon curd and mix well so that there are no lumps or streaks.  Spoon into oven-proof ramekins and refrigerate until needed.

Pre-heat a medium hot grill.  Sift icing sugar over the top of each ramekin so that the mixture is totally coated.  Place under the grill for 2-3 minutes until the sugar has caramelised (alternatively, caramelise it with a cook’s blowtorch).  Serve immediately.

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  1. says

    Jeanne this is such a moving post in honour of your friends. Such a sad ending for J at such a young age. What a difficult decision for M to make, but from experience I know her first thoughts would be with her partner and children and what’s best for them. I can understand why she would choose to have healthy breasts removed.
    Thank you for giving me your heart Jeanne.

  2. says

    Wow…you have have me speechless here. Lovely post. I can’t imaging being faced with the decision M had to make.
    The recipe? Fabulous. Love your “shortcut”. :) Cheating has such a negative connotation. lol

  3. says

    I am so sorry for your loss – having watched my mother lose two of her friends in recent years to cancer, these posts ring close to my heart. And at the risk of bathos… that creme brulee looks magnificent.

  4. says

    A beautifully written post – so personal and full of feeling. I found it very touching and was also very grateful for the information that you’ve provided for us too. Thank you.

  5. says

    I have lost my granny to cancer and it was aweful even though we had enough time to say our goodbye’s Well wriiten Jeanne and…
    You know easy recipes and me…..we go well together!!!

  6. says

    One of my best friend’s from high school has 2 sisters. One had breast cancer and I believe is in remission after many years of battling the disease. Their younger sister has decided to have a double mastectomy for preventive reasons. Terrible disease! This is such a sad, sad tragedy. I wish that our fabulous lemon desserts could save just a few. Thanks for sharing.
    Love this lemony brulée, faux or not, and the easier the better, I say! xo

  7. says

    Wonderful post Jeanne. Sadly our family has also lost loved ones to cancer – it’s never a pleasant experience. On a lighter note – your cheat’s brulee looks incredible – definitely bookmarking it to try at home.

  8. says

    Your post brought tears to my eyes – what a lovely tribute.
    This cheaty brulee looks absolutely divine – I actually prefer this sort to the ‘real thing’ and anything with lemon curd in it gets my vote!

  9. says

    That lemon brulee is a must-try, Jeanne. Luckily, I am not a food purist so I don’t care if it’s not the real mccoy. I’ll bet it’s excellent. The photograph is awesome, as usual, and I love the heart on the lemon.
    I am touched by your lovely tribute to your friend and I’m sorry I missed the day. I’ll remember it for next year. Any event that raises money to fight this vile disease is a good event. Thank you for this post!

  10. says

    What a terrible choice for your friend to make, I can’t imagine how terrifying it would be to be told how high your chances were of getting it too and what a position it would put you in, especially if as you say there are children to think about too.
    Lovely creme brulee, great tip about the icing sugar too.

  11. says

    What a moving post…worth waiting for if I may say so. I’m so sorry about your friend J. Life is incredibly cruel. I wonder how I would react with news of cancer? I pray I never find out. Thank you for the mention my friend. Hugs and love and Oh…welcome back from Spain xx

  12. says

    I love your photos with the lemon heart. Great post altogether. I can’t imagine having to leave behind young children – that would be worse than the illness itself. My belated thoughts and prayers to thier families.