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What Is Crème Brûlée?
Crème brûlée is a custard-based dessert with a creamy pudding-like texture and a crunchy, caramelized top made from hardened sugar. The brûlée of crème brûlée is the browned, crisp sugar topping of the cream. Also known as Trinity cream and burnt cream, this popular French dessert is composed of just a few simple ingredients: heavy cream, sugar, eggs, and vanilla extract, with a sugar topping.
How to Brûlée: Using a Blow Torch vs. a Broiler for the Perfect Burnt Sugar Topping
To achieve the perfectly crunchy top expected of a crème brûlée,use a direct and intense heat source. A blow torch is the preferred tool for brûléeing the custard tops, because using a direct flame quickly caramelizes the sugar and gives you more control.
However, if you don't own a kitchen torch it is possible to use the oven broiler to achieve the same effect, it will just require more care and a watchful eye. Simply heat the broiler to the highest setting and place an oven rack as close to it as possible. Then, place your fully set custard dusted on top with sugar directly under the broiler. Watch it closely, being sure to remove the dessert after the sugar browns but before it burns.
6 Tips for Making Crème Brûlée at Home
Making crème brûlée for the first time can be intimidating, but it doesn't have to be. Follow these tips for a perfectly set custard and caramelized top:
- Use room temperature eggs: Cold eggs taken directly from the fridge will likely result in scrambled or curdled eggs when introduced to heat. Instead, allow the eggs to warm to room temperature before whisking the ingredients together.
- Temper the eggs: To add an extra layer of protection against scrambled eggs, temper the yolks by whisking them together with a small portion of the warmed cream before introducing it to the rest of the ingredients, giving the temperature ample time to rise. The egg whites can be disposed of or used to make another recipe.
- Choose the right sugar topping: While many forms of sugar will work for the caramelized sugar topping, darker sugars like demerara sugar or brown sugar will give the dessert a richer flavor. Superfine sugar, like powdered sugar, isn’t suitable for this form of caramelization, because it burns easily.
- Don’t over whisk: Introducing too much air to the crème brûlée mixture can be detrimental to the final texture of the dessert. Just whisk the cream enough to fully incorporate the ingredients.
- Add a pinch of salt: While it might seem counterintuitive to add salt to a sweet dessert recipe, a pinch of salt helps draw out the flavors of the vanilla and act as a perfect contrast to the sugar.
- Use high-quality vanilla: Since vanilla is the primary flavor of this dessert, ditch cheap vanilla extract and opt for real vanilla bean seeds.
Can You Make Crème Brûlée in Advance?
Crème brûlée is the perfect dessert to make ahead of time for dinner parties and celebratory gatherings. Once prepared, the custard portion of the crème brûlée will keep well in the fridge for up to two days before serving. Simply cover the custard with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator. When it’s time to eat, add the sugar topping and brûlée the tops right before serving.
Perfect Crème Brûlée Recipe
Prep Time3 hr 15 min
Total Time3 hr 50 min
- 1½ cups heavy whipping cream
- 1 vanilla bean
- Pinch of salt
- 4 large egg yolks
- ¼ cup granulated sugar
- ¼ cup demerara sugar
- Preheat oven to 325°F, and bring a kettle of water to a boil. Place 4 4-ounce ramekins in a shallow baking pan, baking sheet, or roasting pan.
- Warm the heavy cream, vanilla bean, and salt in a medium saucepan set over medium heat. Meanwhile whisk the egg yolks and granulated sugar together in a mixing bowl.
- When the cream mixture reaches a simmer, remove the vanilla bean and slowly add ½ cup of the hot cream to the egg mixture, whisking the entire time to temper the eggs. Add the cream and yolk mixture to the saucepan and whisk together.
- Divide the mixture among the ramekins. Pour the boiling water from the kettle into the bottom of the baking dish until the hot water bath reaches halfway up the sides of the ramekins.
- Carefully move the baking pan to the oven, allowing the custard to cook for 30–35 minutes until almost fully set with a somewhat jiggly center.
- Remove the pan from the oven, and carefully transfer each ramekin to a wire rack to cool to room temperature, about 1 hour. Then cover the ramekins with plastic wrap and add them to the refrigerator for at least 3 hours and up to 2 days to chill thoroughly.
- When ready to serve, sprinkle a layer of demerara sugar over each custard and use a kitchen torch to caramelize the tops until deep brown and hard to the touch. Alternatively, place ramekins directly under a broiler until the sugar melts and caramelization occurs.
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