This creme brûlée has a creamy silky custard with a crunchy caramelized sugar crust on top and only requires a few simple ingredients.
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Creme brûlée tastes like it is a fancy complicated dessert that can only be made by a trained chef in a fancy restaurant. Even my computer thinks so. It insists the word brûlée is spelled wrong unless I add the accents above the letters.
Creme brûlée is actually a really simple dessert that uses a couple common ingredients and just a little technique, which I can teach you.
What is creme brûlée?
The creme part of creme brulee is a custard that has a pudding like consistency. It is often made with heavy cream, eggs, sugar, and vanilla.
The brûlée portion of creme brûlée is a burnt/melted sugar crust, which is slightly warm in contrast to the chilled custard.
You can experiment and make creme brûlée your own by adding caramel, chocolate, fruit, or other flavorings to the custard.
Because there are so few ingredients, now is the time to spring for the best quality ingredients you can afford.
Heavy Whipping Cream: Some recipes use a combination of both heavy whipping cream and milk to make the custard lighter. In my opinion, creme brûlée is meant to be rich so this recipe uses only heavy whipping cream.
If you want to substitute milk for some of the heavy whipping cream I would stick with a 1:1 ratio. Use one cup of heavy whipping cream and one cup of milk.
Egg Yolks: For creme brûlée you want to use just the egg yolks. Egg whites would set too firmly giving the creme brûlée a rubbery texture.
If you have never separated eggs before, check out this post from Sugar Hero where she shares four methods for separating eggs.
Save the egg whites for another recipe. My favorite way to use egg whites is in this Angel Food Cake from Alton Brown.
Vanilla Extract: Use pure vanilla extract not imitation vanilla. It may be a little more expensive but the flavor is so much better.
Kosher Salt: As always salt is included to enhance the flavor of the other ingredients.
The best sugar for creme brulee
Wow there are so many sugar options sold in stores. From your basic brown and white sugar to more exotic sugars like coconut and monk fruit sugar.
For creme brûlée, the best sugar to use is regular granulated white sugar. Its small granules easily melt into the custard perfectly balancing the bitterness of the burnt sugar crust.
Speaking of the crust we will use granulated white sugar for the topping as well. Granulated sugar works best because the granules are small and caramelize quickly, which is important. We don’t want the custard to melt while we are brûléeing the sugar.
Another benefit to using white sugar is it is easy to tell when the sugar has caramelized because it will turn from white to golden brown.
Creme brûlée does require a couple of pieces of specialized equipment.
Large Measuring Cup: I like to strain my custard into a large measuring cup to make pouring the custard into the ramekins easier. If you are planning to wait to bake your creme brûlée, you can use this large glass measuring cup that comes with a lid for easy storage.
Ramekins: These wide shallow ramekins work best. Deeper ramekins take longer to bake, allowing the edges to overcooked before the center has set.
The wider ramekins also allow for a higher ratio of crunchy sugar crust to creamy custard.
Cake Pan: Like most cheesecakes creme brûlée is baked in a bain-marie or water bath. Surrounding the creme brûlées with water allows them to cook gently and will help keep them from cracking.
Kitchen Torch: Butane torches have a number of uses in the kitchen. They can char peppers, toast meringue, melt cheese, and brown bread crumbs. The kitchen torches from EurKitchen and Sondiko have consistently rated high in top kitchen torch lists.
Prepare the oven. Move an oven rack to the middle position and preheat the oven to 325ºF.
Heat the cream. In a medium-sized saucepan heat the cream over medium-high heat until it begins to simmer. Remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in the vanilla.
Whisk the egg yolks, sugar, and salt together. In a medium-sized bowl whisk together the egg yolks, sugar, and salt until smooth and the egg yolks start to lighten in color.
Temper the eggs with the cream. When adding the hot cream to the eggs, you need to do so slowly to prevent the eggs from curdling. This is called tempering.
To do this, continuously whisk the yolks while you slowly pour in the warm cream. If the mixture starts to look like scrambled eggs, the hot cream has started to cook the eggs. Unfortunately you will need to start over.
For more information about tempering eggs and why it is necessary for some recipes, watch this video from Serious Eats.
Strain the custard. I like to strain my custard into a large measuring cup to make pouring the custard into the ramekins easier. Place a fine-mesh strainer over a large measuring cup and carefully pour the custard through. Straining the custard removes any eggy bits and creates a smooth texture.
Quick Tip: Immediately rinse the strainer with cold water to remove any egg particles before they become stuck.
For perfectly smooth custard use a spoon to skim off any foam.
Cook the custard. Creme brulee needs to cook slowly and gently. Which is why we will use a bain-marie or water bath.
The size of pan you use will depend upon the size of ramekins you have. I have used cake pans, roasting pans, and jelly roll pans. No need to purchase a special pan just use whatever you already own.
Lay a towel across the bottom of the pan and arrange your ramekins on top. The towel will keep the ramekins from sliding around.
Pour the custard into the ramekins. If you want perfectly smooth creme brulee, use a spoon to skim off any bubbles from the top or don’t worry about it any imperfections will be covered by the burnt sugar crust.
Place the pan in the oven and then pour hot water into the pan being careful to not splash water into the ramekins. The water should come about halfway up the ramekins.
Bake for 20 to 30 minutes until the edges are set but the centers are still slightly jiggly. The baking time will vary widely depending upon the size and shape of your ramekins.
Cool the custard. Remove the baking dish from the oven and allow the custards to cool for approximately 15 minutes until you can safely pick up the ramekins and remove them from the water. Allow the custards to cool on the counter for an additional 15 minutes.
Cover each ramekin with plastic wrap and chill them in the refrigerator for at least four hours and up to four days.
Brûlée the sugar topping. Remove the custards from the refrigerator and evenly sprinkle each custard with 1 teaspoon of granulated sugar.
Ignite your torch and hold the flame about 4 inches from the surface of the custard. Using a circular motion heat the sugar until it browns and forms a crust.
If you want a really thick crust sprinkle a second teaspoon of sugar evenly across each custard and brûlée a second time.
The longer you brulee the sugar, the darker, more caramelized, and bitter it will become. The bitterness contrasts nicely with the sweetness of the custard.
How to caramelize sugar for creme brulee
One of the easiest ways to caramelize the sugar on top of creme brulee is using a kitchen torch. They are inexpensive, easy to use and are readily available from Amazon to Target, and Walmart, as well as kitchen supply stores and hardware stores.
When brûléeing the sugar use a sweeping motion across the top of the creme brûlée. To avoid burning the sugar, don’t hold the flame too long over any one place. When you have finished using the torch, store it out of reach of children and in an upright position to keep the butane from leaking.
How to make creme brulee without a blowtorch
If you don’t have a kitchen torch you can still make creme brûlée. You have a few options for brûléeing the sugar.
Stick Lighter: A lighter can be used to melt the sugar but it will take a really long time.
Heated Spoon: Carefully heat an old spoon (it will discolor) in the flame of your stove until it turns red. Remove the spoon from the flame and immediately place it on top of the creme brulee to caramelize the sugar. Repeat the process until all of the sugar has been caramelized.
Broiler: You can also caramelize the sugar under a broiler. Move the oven rack to the top position and place the ramekins in the oven. turn on the broiler and closely monitor to avoid burning the sugar.
This can be tricky because you want the sugar to caramelize without heating the custard. Alton Brown suggests putting the ramekins in a cold oven, then turning on the broiler to help keep the custard cool while getting the top crisp.
How to eat creme brûlée?
Use the side of your spoon to crack through the crisp sugar crust and scoop out the creamy custard beneath. You should get a little crunch topping with each bite of custard.
Frequently asked questions
There are a couple of points in the creme brûlée making process that it may curdle.
The first is when you are tempering the eggs. If the cream is too hot or you add it too quickly the eggs will begin to cook and curdle.
Cooking the custards without using a water bath will allow them to heat up more quickly a potentially over cook curdling the eggs.
Cooking them in the oven for too long will also cause them to over cook and become rubbery.
Creme brûlée is properly cooked with the edges are just set and the centers still have a slight wobble. The color should be smooth and glossy without any brown spots.
Yes. Uncooked custard can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. It can either be stored all together in a storage container like this lidded measuring cup or you can divide it into individual ramekins and cover them with plastic wrap.
You can also cover the cooked and cooled creme brûlées with plastic wrap and refrigerate them for up to 4 days.
More dessert recipes
- Condensed Milk Brownies
- Fresh Apple Cake
- Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Caramel Cookies
- Hazelnut Creme Brulee
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