Just four ingredients are standing between you and crème brûlée, the classic French dessert of silky smooth custard hidden under a layer of caramelized sugar. It's a lot easier than you think, so grab a blow torch and get "cracklin'"!
To say that crème brûlée is one of my absolute favorite desserts on the planet is HUGE. I have the biggest sweet tooth after all! And to boot, it's also naturally gluten free. Score!!
What is Crème Brûlée?
If you’ve never had crème brûlée, you really are missing out on one of life’s most incredible treasures. Crème brûlée is a baked silky smooth custard underneath a layer of caramelized sugar. It is a tradition in my family.
Crème brûlée is known for being intimidating. But I’m here to tell ya you can make it at home with no worries and no intimidation! You will be wowing everyone with your skills and no one has to know just how easy it is.
This is my brother-in-law's favorite dessert and even my sister, who isn't a baker, can make this recipe! There are a couple of techniques you need to know and a few tools to have on hand. Soon you will be on your way to crème brûlée bliss!
Equipment You'll Need
Making crème brûlée isn't hard at all, but you will need a few things to get started. Here's a list of the essential tools required for making it (and some alternatives):
- Ramekins--I like a deeper custard and less brûlée, so I like ramekins like these (affiliate link). However, the traditional crème brûlée ramekins are shallow to allow more caramelized sugar surface, like these (affiliate link). Just note, you'll need to change the baking time depending on the depth of your ramekins.
- Blow torch--to caramelize the sugar on top, you'll need a blow torch like this one here (affiliate link). Some professional chefs use large blow torches, but I find they can't be stored as well in a kitchen cabinet. These little guys are just as effective and easier to work with. You can make crème brûlée without a blow torch by putting it under the broiler. But if you're planning on making crème brûlée more than once, invest in a blow torch. Trust me, once you make this recipe you'll want to make it again and again!
- Bain marie--a bain marie is just a fancy French term for a water bath. This creates a gentle and uniform heat around the ramekins as the custards bake. Otherwise, you'll end up with scrambled eggs! I use an old roasting pan that I keep on hand just for making crème brûlée. It needs to be deep enough to allow the water to rise halfway up the sides of the ramekins.
A Unique Recipe
Most crème brûlée recipes start by first cooking a custard on the stovetop. This recipe is different, but in no way inferior. In fact, to me this is the ultimate crème brûlée recipe because it's SO much easier!
Begin in a large bowl/pitcher preferably with a spout, like this one (affiliate link). The spout makes it easier to pour directly from the bowl into the individual ramekins (and saves on doing dishes)!
Whisk together egg yolks and sugar until a thickened ribbon falls from the tines of the whisk. Slowly add the heavy cream and vanilla while whisking constantly. Pour the mixture into the individual ramekins set in a larger roasting pan with high sides.
The Gentle Baking Process
Baking this crème brûlée couldn't be easier! Here's a trick for getting them in the oven without spilling water in the ramekins AND your oven.
Fill a large pitcher with hot tap water (rinse out the very bowl/pitcher you used for mixing the custard). Carefully place the roasting pan with the filled ramekins on the middle rack that's been pulled out slightly. Remove one ramekin, pour the hot water in the pan where the ramekin was, and replace that ramekin. This will ensure you don't splash water all over!
Loosely cover the roasting pan with aluminum foil and carefully push the rack back into the oven. Bake the crème brûlée for 40 minutes.
At this point, open the oven door and carefully remove the foil. Very gentle shake the roasting pan. If the entire custard is jiggly, replace the foil and bake for another 10 minutes. Gently shake the pan again. If still quite jiggly, bake for another 10 minutes. You could reach over one hour of baking time, depending on the depth of your ramekins. When fully baked, the custards will still be slightly jiggly just in the center.
Allow them to cool in the water bath for another 10 minutes. Then place them in the refrigerator. They should set in the fridge for at least 3-4 hours or up to 2 days.
Torching the Custards
If you went with my recommendation and got a small kitchen blow torch, this is the fun part! Sprinkle a little granulated sugar over the top of the custard and slowly move the torch back and forth. If you don't have a blow torch, put the ramekins under the broiler for a few minutes (don't walk away or they may burn).
Once torched, crème brûlée must be eaten within an hour as the caramelized sugar will turn into liquid. If you're not planning on serving all the custards at once, don't torch them until you're ready to serve.
Place the un-torched custards in the refrigerator, uncovered, until ready to serve (up to two days). Sugar the tops and torch right before serving.
After making several different flavors of crème brûlée, I can honestly say my favorite is good 'ole vanilla bean. But there are some close seconds:
- Pumpkin spice--best for the fall and winter, I gave this flavor its very own post (here).
- Maple--reminiscent of a favorite dessert at Disney's Le Cellier, reduce the sugar to ¾ cup (150 g) and add ¼ cup of pure maple syrup to the custard. Yum, eh?
- Milk or dark chocolate--Add a few pieces of chocolate (chunks or chips) to the bottom of the ramekins. Pour the custard on top. You can also make the entire custard chocolate by melting chocolate and whisking it into the custard before filling the ramekins.
- Lemon berry--grate lemon zest and add the juice of one lemon to the custard. Place a few berries into the bottom of the ramekins and pour the custard in. The berries will bake into the custard.
- Chai--I love chai tea in all forms and this will be the flavor I make next. Heat the cream to just below simmering, remove from the heat and add 4 chai tea bags. Steep the tea in the cream for at least 30 minutes. Remove the tea bags and add the cream to the egg mixture.
Those were just a few flavor ideas, but use your own imagination to create your favorite crème brûlée flavor! Whatever flavor you choose, you'll be a rock star in your own kitchen 🤘
Easy Crème Brûlée
- 1 quart (4 cups or 960 ml) heavy cream
- 1 cup (200 g) granulated sugar
- 10 large egg yolks
- 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste (or 1 tablespoon vanilla extract or the seeds of one vanilla bean)
- granulated sugar for caramelizing
- sliced fresh berries for serving, if desired
- Preheat the oven to 350° F.
- Put the egg yolks in a large bowl, preferably with a spout like a pitcher). Add sugar and vanilla and whisk well until sugar is almost dissolved into egg yolks. Slowly add heavy cream, whisking continuously.
- Place ramekins in larger pan, such as a roasting pan. Pour the custard mixture evenly among the ramekins, adding other flavorings as desired (see post above).
- Open the oven door and slide out the middle rack. Place the roasting pan with the custards on the rack and remove one. Slowly and carefully add hot tap water to roasting pan in the spot where you removed the one ramekin. Replace that ramekin, cover the roasting pan lightly with foil, and carefully slide the rack back into the oven.
- Bake for 40 minutes. Give the pan a gentle shake. The center of each custard should still be jiggly. If you used shallow ramekins, most likely they will be done at this point. If your ramekins are deeper and the entire custard is jiggly, put them back in the oven for another 10 minutes. Keep checking at 10-minute intervals until only the centers jiggle. It's better to undercook crème brûlée than overcook it.
- Remove from the oven and let the custards cool in the water for 10 minutes. Remove them from the water and place in the refrigerator, uncovered, for at least 4 hours, but up to 2 days.
- To caramelize the tops, sprinkle evenly with granulated sugar and use a kitchen torch to caramelize. If you don't have a blow torch, place the ramekins under the broiler until golden brown.
- Leftover unbaked mixture will keep in the refrigerator for a couple days.
- Leftover baked custards will keep in the refrigerator for a few days. When ready to serve, add sugar and torch or broil until golden.
- Sliced fruit can be served on top of the custards or even baked into the custards. Slice fresh strawberries to place on top, or add a few raspberries or blackberries to the bottom of each ramekin prior to adding the cream mixture.