This vanilla creme brulee with fresh fruit has a creamy silky custard with a crunchy caramelized sugar crust.
The only thing that could make this dessert better is topping it with fresh fruit.
Creme brulee may seem like an elegant dessert available only at a fancy restaurant but it is actually really simple to make and will quickly become your favorite dessert.
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Why You Will Love This Recipe
- Creme brulee is a simple dessert with a big flavor.
- This dessert uses just 5 common ingredients that are probably already in your pantry.
- Using a blow torch to caramelize sugar is fun and looks pretty impressive.
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 brulee portion of creme brulee is a burnt/melted sugar crust, which is slightly warm in contrast to the chilled custard.
You can experiment and customize creme brulee by adding caramel, chocolate, fruit, or other flavorings to the custard.
Creme brulee is made with only a few simple ingredients.
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 must 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 brulee, you want to use just the egg yolks. Egg whites would set too firmly giving the creme brulee 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.
Salt: I add at least a pinch of salt to all of my recipes. Salt complements and intensifies the other flavors. For all of my recipes, I use Morton Kosher Salt which is saltier than Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt. If you are using Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt you will want to double the amount of salt you add.
What is 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 a golden brown.
Creme brulee 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 brulee, 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 be overcooked before the center has set.
The wider ramekins also allow for a higher ratio of crunchy sugar crust to creamy custard.
The exact baking time will depend upon the size of ramekin.
Cake Pan or Baking Pan: Like most cheesecakes creme brûlée is baked in a bain-marie or water bath. Surrounding the creme brulees 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 on 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 cream over medium 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 egg yolk mixture with the hot cream mixture. When adding the hot cream to the egg mixture, 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 the custard mixture 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. This is why we will use a bain-marie or water bath.
The size of the pan you use will depend upon the size of the 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 mixture 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 on 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 until they reach room temperature.
Cover each ramekin with plastic wrap and chill them in the refrigerator for at least four hours and up to four days.
Brulee the sugar topping. Remove the custards from the refrigerator and sprinkle with an even layer of sugar. You will want to use about 1 teaspoon of sugar per custard.
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 on top of the 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.
Top with fresh fruit before serving.
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 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 Torch
If you don't have a kitchen torch you can still make creme brulee. You have a few options for bruleeing 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 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 it 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 Brulee
Use the side of your spoon to crack through the crisp sugar crust and scoop out the creamy vanilla 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 brulee-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 and potentially overcook curdling the eggs.
Cooking them in the oven for too long will also cause them to overcook and become rubbery.
Creme brulee is properly cooked when 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 brulees with plastic wrap and refrigerate them for up to 4 days. Wait to brulee the sugar until just before serving.
- Be careful to not overheat the cream. Bring it just to a simmer, not necessarily a full boil.
- Slowly pour the hot cream into the egg and sugar mixture while whisking constantly. Adding the cream too quickly will cause the eggs to curdle turning them into scrambled eggs.
- Use a water bath when baking the creme brulees. The water helps to insulate the custard to prevent the outside from cooking too quickly before the centers have had time to set.
- Chill for at least 4 hours in the refrigerator before serving. Creme brulee is meant to be served chilled with a warm topping.
- Serve immediately after caramelizing the sugar. If allowed to sit the sugar topping will become soggy instead of crunchy.
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