Infused with warm vanilla flavor, this creamy baked custard is topped with hardened caramelized sugar that needs to be cracked open to enjoy. Otherwise known as crème brûlée, this simple and elegant dessert can be made at home for all your special occasions!
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Easy & Elegant!
I don’t think I realized how easy it was to perfect crème brûlée at home until I started making it myself. I’ve had the same epiphany with other dessert recipes like classic cheesecake and homemade toffee!
It’s a satisfying accomplishment to be able to make a dessert that feels like a luxury, with its contrasting textures and simple elegance, and usually high price tag!
Crème brûlée recipes are usually reserved for special occasions at fancy French restaurants, but this recipe will rival anything you’ve ordered before!
What is Crème Brûlée?
The direct translation for crème brûlée is burnt cream, which doesn’t quite have the same ring to it!
Traditionally a recipe for crème brûlée comes in an individual serving of a luscious creamy custard covered by a thin layer of hardened melted sugar. The only way to get to the custard is to crack the sugar with the side of your spoon which allows you to have tiny bits of crunchy sweetness in every spoonful of cream.
Made with just a few simple ingredients and a torch, which is half the fun, I walk you through the process step by step, resulting in a showstopping, delightful dessert that will impress any crowd!
Why This Recipe Works
- Easier than it looks. There are a few moving parts, and it’s important to follow the directions, but as long as you do that you’ll end up with the most perfect crème brûlée.
- Suitable for all occasions. If ever you need a special dessert for Mother’s Day, Valentine’s Day, Christmas, Easter, or an anniversary, this is right up there with cheesecake mousse for the perfect choice.
- Cost-effective. It’s usually one of the pricier desserts just because it uses costly ingredients like egg yolks and cream, so making it at home is much more budget-friendly.
- Delicious! The creme is a cross between a creamy vanilla pudding and a custard along with a caramelized sugar topping, which is essentially candy! You can’t get much better than that.
Find the full printable recipe with specific measurements below.
- Heavy cream: You can also use half and half, but you’ll need enough fat in there to create a rich consistency.
- Pure vanilla extract: Since there are so few ingredients and this is a special dessert you want to make sure to use quality vanilla in here. This is where the flavor comes from! You can also use a split vanilla bean to infuse the cream instead.
- Fine sea salt: This helps to balance the sweetness and enhance the flavor of the custard.
- Large egg yolks: You’ll need 5! Custard is composed of egg yolks which is where it gets its richness from. Don’t discard the egg whites though, you can keep those for tomorrow’s breakfast.
- Granulated sugar: Used in both the custard and of course as the melted sugar topping.
The best crème brûlée recipe is a classic vanilla flavor but can also be adapted by making simple substitutes or additions.
Infuse the popular vanilla flavor with bright citrus flavors like orange, lemon, or lime.
You can turn it into a chocolate crème brûlée or, for a little extra surprise, add a bottom layer of macerated berries to the bottom of the ramekin just before adding the custard.
How to Make Crème Brûlée
- Combine cream and vanilla. Warm the cream and salt over low heat for about 2 minutes. You don’t want it to come to a simmer. Remove it from the heat and let it sit for 5 minutes. Stir in the vanilla and then remove 1/3 cup of the mixture.
- Beat the egg yolks. In a large bowl, beat the egg yolks and sugar on medium speed until light yellow and airy.
- Whisk. Very slowly whisk the reserved 1/3 hot cream mixture into the egg mixture. This will temper the eggs by introducing them to the increased temperature slowly so they don’t curdle.
- Add finished custard to ramekins. Slowly, pour the remaining cream mixture in and whisk constantly until well combined. Pour even amounts into each of the 4 ramekins and transfer them to a baking dish. Carefully add the boiling hot water to the baking dish so the water bath comes up to about halfway up the sides of the ramekins.
- Bake for 30-40 minutes. The top should have a glossy sheen to them, and there will be a slight jiggle. It will continue to set as it cools. Remove the baking pan from the oven and let the ramekins sit in the water for 5 minutes before transferring them to a wire rack to cool completely.
- Chill overnight. These need to be chilled in the fridge for at least 4 hours. If you’re making them in advance you can keep them stored covered in plastic wrap for up to 4 days. Then add the topping just before serving.
How to Caramelize the Sugar Topping
Sprinkle 1-2 Tablespoons of sugar evenly across the surface of the chilled custard. You should have an even layer on top and no sign of the custard. Covering it completely protects it from the heat.
Torch: Carefully turn on the kitchen torch and with even heat distribution, allow the intense heat to melt, caramelize, and “burn” the sugar. It will be deeply caramelized and a dark golden brown.
Broiler: If you don’t have a torch, you can place the ramekins 2-3 inches from the oven’s broiler and broil for 3-5 minutes, rotating as needed until the sugar is bubbling and caramelized.
- Temper the eggs. This is so important to get that smooth creamy consistency in your custard. If not, you’ll basically end up with scrambled egg yolks!
- Bake time. This will depend on the depth of your ramekins. Keep an eye on them and check at the 30-minute mark if yours are about 1″ deep.
- Maximum chill time. I recommend chilling the custard overnight. The flavor gets better the longer it sits.
- Add topping just before serving. Or at least within 2 hours. Any longer than that and the sugar topping will start to lose its crispy texture.
- If you’ve gone a bit too far with the burnt sugar (like, it’s really actually burnt), no problem! Scrape it off and start again.
Either way, you’ll end up with an amazing dessert, however, the kitchen torch does have a leg up. There is a concentrated direct heat that melts the sugar faster and it gives you a bit more control, so there’s less chance you’ll scorch it. Plus, it’s fun!
It’s served either cold or at room temperature.
If you want an accurate reading, use a kitchen thermometer. It’s ready once it reaches 170℉.
To know just by looking at it, you want the edges to be set and the center should jiggle like jello. If it’s still runny and moving more than jello it’s not quite ready yet.
This is a sign they’ve been overbaked your crème brûlée recipe to the point of no return! Then it’s up to you whether you want to eat it that way or toss it and start again.
Make Ahead and Storing
You can make this easy crème brûlée ahead and store them unbaked or baked before serving.
Once you’ve prepared the custard and added it to the ramekins, cover it with plastic wrap and keep it refrigerated for up to 2 days. Then, bake as directed.
To store baked custard, cover it and store it for up to 3 days in advance. Add the topping and broil it just before serving.
Once the topping has been made, it’s best enjoyed within the first 30 minutes to really get that crunchy topping. You can store it for up to 3 days in the fridge, if necessary!
More Classic Dessert Recipes
Creme Brulee Recipe
- 2 cups heavy cream , or half-and-half
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- ⅛ teaspoon fine sea salt
- 5 large egg yolks
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- 2 Tablespoons granulated sugar
- Preheat the oven to 325℉. Place 4 (8-ounce) ramekins in a baking dish. Boil enough water in a tea kettle to fill the baking dish up a few inches.
- In a medium saucepan, heat the cream and salt over low heat until warmed through (about 2 minutes). Do not let come to a simmer. Remove from heat and let sit 5 minutes. Stir in vanilla. Remove 1/3 cup.
- In a large bowl, beat eggs yolks and sugar together until light yellow and airy on medium speed with an electric mixer.
- Very slowly whisk 1/3 cup cream mixture into the eggs to temper the eggs and avoid curdling. Slowly pour the remaining cream mixture in and whisk constantly until well combined. Pour into ramekins and place in baking dish.
- Very carefully add boiling water to the baking dish until it reaches halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake 30 to 40 minutes, or until the tops are glossy and baked and it has a uniform jiggle (the custard will set up more when it chills). You know it's done when you lightly touch the center and it will spring back slightly. Let sit 5 minutes in the baking dish before transferring ramekins with tongs to a wire rack to cool completely. Chill in the refrigerator at least 4 hours but up to 2 days.
- When ready to serve, sprinkle 1 to 2 teaspoons sugar in a thin, even layer over each custard. Tilt the ramekins from side to side to evenly distribute and tap out any excess sugar.
- Turn on the flame on a handheld torch. Move the flame in a sweeping motion over the sugar topping from a few inches away. Little droplets will start to appear on the top of the sugar and it will start to smell like caramel. Move the flame further away if the sugar starts to brown too quickly in one spot. Turn the flame off when the sugar has caramelized into a glaze and turned light golden brown.
- Chill the crème brulees 10 minutes before serving.
- Unbaked custard can be covered and stored in the refrigerator up to 3 days before baking.
- Baked custard can be prepared up to 4 days in advance. Simply cover with plastic wrap once cooled completely and store in the refrigerator. Add the topping and broil right before serving.
Nutrition provided is an estimate. It will vary based on specific ingredients used.
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