Crème Brûlée is a classic dessert with a custard filling and caramelized sugar topping. Follow our step-by-step guide to make it yourself.
Crème Brûlée is one of those recipes that you’re used to seeing on fancy restaurant menus but may never have made yourself. However, restaurant-quality Creme Brulee is easier to accomplish than you might think. The creamy custard is quick to make with simple ingredients like milk, heavy cream, granulated sugar, and egg yolks. After preparing the custard, all you have to do is make the crackly sugar crust.
The caramelized crunchy topping over the custard is the part of this dessert that makes it so distinct. If you have a Creme Brulee torch, it’s quite easy to accomplish. But, we’ve also included oven directions to make the sugar surface in the oven if you don’t have the kitchen torch.
After torching or broiling the top, you’ll have a sweet, slightly burnt-flavored topping with the creamy vanilla custard underneath. Use a small spoon to break open the bruleed sugar crust and dig into the rich custard center. This decadent dessert is perfect for a dinner party or date night. If you want to add something extra, you can top the dish with fresh fruit and Whipped Cream before serving.
What is Creme Brulee?
While the exact origins are debated, Creme Brulee is a classic French dessert that consists of a rich custard base, usually vanilla flavored, that is baked and has a caramelized sugar crust. The crispy sugar shell on the finished custard is really what sets it apart from other custard recipes. Once the custard base has set, it gets a thick sugar surface with either white sugar or brown sugar. Traditionally a blow torch is held over it until the sugar granules melt and turn golden brown. It’s typically made and served in individual ramekins so each person gets to crack that crispy sugar crust and enjoy the rich, cool creamy vanilla custard underneath.
How to Make
- Prep cream: Add heavy cream, whole milk, and vanilla bean to a heavy-bottomed pot. Mix the cream with milk and bring it to a low simmer. Turn off the heat and let it sit for 20 minutes. If using vanilla bean, remove it from the warm cream mixture. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.
- Custard mixture: Add ⅓ cup granulated sugar and egg yolks to your stand mixer. Beat at medium for 3 minutes into a smooth texture before increasing the mixer speed to high. Beat for another 3 minutes until the eggs lighten in color. Reduce the mixer speed to low, and add the cream mixture in a slow stream.
- Cooking time: Place four Crème Brûlée ramekins on a baking dish. Divide the heavy cream mixture evenly into each shallow ramekin. Put the baking dish into the preheated oven. Carefully pour water into the baking pan without letting it get into the ramekins. Continue to fill the water bath until it comes halfway up the side of the ramekins. Bake Crème Brûlée for 35-40 minutes until the center is just set. They should still jiggle slightly after the baking time.
- Cool: Carefully remove the bowls from the baking pan, being careful not to get any hot water in them. Let the custard cool completely, then put them in the fridge to chill for 4 hours.
- Caramelized topping: Take the custards out of the fridge 30 minutes before serving so that they can warm to room temperature. Sprinkle the remaining sugar evenly over the ramekins. Use a kitchen torch to cook the sugar surface. Move the torch in a zig-zag or circular pattern until the sugar crisps up into a dark caramel color.
- Serve: Serve immediately after torching the caramelized sugar topping. Use a small spoon to crack the top and enjoy.
You want to remove the baked custard from the oven before the center has a chance to set completely. When you shake the ramekins, the Crème Brûlée should still jiggle slightly with a similar consistency to just baked cheesecake. It will set slightly more in the fridge but will still be creamy.
Although using a kitchen torch is the best and easiest technique to make this dish, you can still make it without one. Instead of using the torch, you can use your oven broiler. Let the custard chill as usual. Then turn on the oven broiler. Place the ramekins on a baking sheet and put them on the top oven rack as close to the broiler as possible. Keep your eye on them in the oven as you broil for 5-10 minutes or until the sugar caramelizes.
This dessert is traditionally served chilled. The top will be slightly warm, thanks to the torch. However, if you prefer it to be completely chilled, you can pop the dish back in the fridge for about 20 minutes. Any longer than that and the sugar crystals will start to soften.
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- Vanilla: To give the custard a rich vanilla flavor, you can either use vanilla bean pods or vanilla bean seed paste. If you use the vanilla bean pods, cut them in half lengthwise, then add the bits of vanilla bean to the milk mixture. You’ll want to remove the bean pods before adding the mixture to the eggs. Otherwise, the vanilla flavor will turn out too strong. You can also use vanilla extract if that is more convenient.
- Cream: Most Creme Brulee recipes use both whole milk and heavy cream. You want both dairy options because the heavy cream makes the dish rich and creamy. Meanwhile, the milk lightens it slightly instead of making it solely with heavy whipping cream.
- Egg yolks: Egg yolks are a key ingredient in making the rich, custard filling. They thicken the ingredients, give the dish its yellow color, and hold everything together. It’s important to use egg yolks without the egg whites since the whites would thin out the dessert.
- Sugar: Divide the regular sugar into two parts. The first half is to sweeten the custard filling. The second portion of granulated sugar is used to sprinkle over the baked dish. When you heat the sugar topping, it caramelizes and gives the dessert its classic sweet, toasted crust.
Can Creme Brulee be made ahead of time?
Yes, you can definitely make Creme Brulee ahead of time, plus you will need to give the custard time to set, at least a couple hours. Wait until just before serving to caramelize the sugar on Creme Brulee so it doesn’t soften or dissolve. You can also make the sugar, cream and egg yolk mixture the night before and then follow the cooking and baking instructions as usual from that point on.
- Toppings: There are plenty of delicious toppings that you can use to finish this classic dessert. Try adding fruit like freshly sliced strawberries, fresh blueberries, blackberries, or raspberries. You can also sprinkle on coarse sugar crystals, cocoa powder, or brown sugar. For a crunch, you can add sliced almonds, pecans, or walnuts. You could also add a dollop of whipped cream to finish it all.
- Coffee Crème Brûlée: To add a toasted coffee flavor to this recipe, you can mix 2 teaspoons of espresso powder into the custard filling. This is an excellent option if you like the combination of bitter and sweet flavors and want to play that up even more.
How to Store
- Serve: You want to serve Crème Brûlée right after torching the top. Otherwise, the sugar topping will soften.
- Store: If you want to make this recipe in advance, you can cover the ramekins and store them in the fridge for a couple of days. Just wait to torch the top until right before you serve this classic dessert.
- Freeze: You can also cover the cooled custard and freeze it for up to 1 month. The custard keeps well, but the caramelized topping doesn’t, so you still want to wait to torch it until right before serving.
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 1 cup whole milk
- 1 vanilla bean , cut in half lengthwise (or 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste)
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 6 egg yolks
- 1/2 cup sugar
- kitchen torch
- In a heavy bottomed pot add the heavy cream, whole milk and vanilla bean.
- Bring to barely a simmer, then turn off the heat and let sit for 20 minutes (if using vanilla bean, remove the bean).
- Heat oven to 300 degrees.
- To your stand mixer add the ⅓ cup sugar and egg yolks.
- Beat on medium for 3 minutes, raise to high speed.
- Beat for 3 minutes until eggs have lightened in color and create a ribbon.
- Add in the heavy cream mixture while beating on low speed in a very slow stream.
- Add the cream mixture to four Crème Brûlée ramekins.
- Place the dishes in a shallow pan, add the pan to the oven.
- Carefully pour water in the pan (make sure water doesn’t splash into the ramekins) until the water comes up about halfway the side of the ramekins.
- Cook for 35-40 minutes until the center is just set (it should jiggle similar to the center of a cheesecake).
- Carefully remove the ramekins from the pan avoiding getting water in them.
- Let cool completely, then refrigerate for four hours.
- Thirty minutes before serving, let ramekins warm to room temperature.
- Sprinkle on the remaining ½ cup sugar (2 tablespoons per ramekin) evenly.
- Using a kitchen blow torch carefully torch the top of the sugar (the flame should be barely touching the top of the Crème Brûlée) in either a zig zag or circular pattern.
- Serve immediately with a small spoon, if it sits the sugar will soften again preventing the cracking effect.