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Rich and creamy vanilla Crème Brûlée
A delicious classic European dessert
Crème Brûlée recipes have been around since the 15th century with Spain, France and England all claiming to be the country of origin.
The name Crème Brûlée is French for burnt cream, therefore it’s often referred to as a French dessert.
Disagreement about the origin of this dessert doesn’t change the fact that it’s delicious, indulgent and incredibly easy to make. This make-ahead creamy custard is one you and your guests will absolutely adore!
This is also a dessert that can be easily served year-round. It’s great in summer as a cool and creamy treat but also terrific for holidays including New Year’s Eve.
Overview of ingredients:
For the custard:
- Heavy cream or heavy whipping cream
- Half a split fresh vanilla bean or 1 tablespoon of vanilla bean paste. In a pinch you can use 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract if desired.
- White or granulated sugar to sweeten the custard.
- Large egg yolks – no need for these to be at room temperature. Cold eggs are much easier to separate. If left to sit for long periods of time, egg yolks will form a film and be harder to blend. Refrigerate the egg whites for another use.
- A pinch of table salt
For the candy sugar crust:
- We use granulated or white sugar for the burnt sugar topping. You can also try coarse, Demerara or turbinado sugar if desired for a harder, crunchy layer.
Kitchen equipment you might need for this recipe
- First you’ll need three or four ramekins to bake the custards. These ramekins can hold from 5 to 8 ounces each. If dividing the mixture into three dishes they’ll need to be about 8 ounces each.
- The ramekins can be deep or shallow. However the baking time will need to be adjusted accordingly.
- For best results we recommend using a kitchen torch to create the candy crust. Also known as a culinary torch, this inexpensive tool will find many uses in your kitchen.
- If you don’t have a culinary torch you can brûlée the custard under a preheated broiler. Make sure you’re using broiler-proof ramekins.
- Another helpful kitchen tool is the instant-read digital thermometer. They are typically inexpensive and easy to find in any kitchen store.
Also, it’s a very useful tool to have when making anything from candy to custards and breads.
- Finally you’ll need a 13×9-inch baking pan with 2-inch high sides, and a clean kitchen towel for the hot water bath.
- It’s also helpful to have plastic wrap on hand for sealing the baked and cooled vanilla cream custards.
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Overview: How to make Creme Brulee
1. First make the custard:
Preheat oven to 300 degrees F.
Fold a clean kitchen towel in half and place in the bottom of a 13×9-inch baking pan. Set the ramekins on the towel and set aside.
Pour the cream into a medium saucepan. Add the vanilla bean and bring to a boil over medium heat. Remove from the heat, cover and steep for 15 minutes.
In the meantime place a kettle on to boil water. Once hot, remove from the heat and set aside.
Tempering the eggs:
Whisk the egg yolks in a medium mixing bowl. Slowly whisk in the sugar and salt. Once all sugar is added, whisk vigorously until the mixture starts to lighten and thickens slightly.
Remove the vanilla bean pod from the cream mixture leaving any vanilla bean seeds and pulp in the pan. Rinse the vanilla bean and save for other uses.
Slowly drizzle the hot cream into the eggs while whisking continuously.
Pour the custard through a fine mesh sieve set over a bowl with a spout. Discard any solids.
Finally, pour the custard into the prepared ramekins and transfer the pan to the oven rack.
Prepare the hot water bath and bake:
Carefully pour hot water into the pan until it reaches halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Take care not to splash water into the custard.
Bake until set but still jiggly, about 25 to 35 minutes depending on the size of the ramekins.
Cook the custard to about 170 degrees F. If using a variety of different sized ramekins, this is where an instant-read thermometer will really come in handy.
Remove the baked custards from the baking dish to a wire rack and cool to room temperature, about 2 hours.
Refrigerate until completely cooled, then cover with plastic wrap. Keep refrigerated for at least 4 hours or up to 3 days.
2. When ready to serve:
Remove the custards from the refrigerator and discard the plastic wrap.
Sprinkle the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar equally over each dessert. Tilt the dishes to disburse the sugar evenly over the entire top.
Using a kitchen culinary torch heat the topping until the sugar melts and then bubbles, and caramelizes to a deep golden brown.
Allow the dessert to cool for 5 minutes before serving so the sugar will have time to harden into a crust.
The desserts can be also be refrigerated for 30 minutes at this point, but no longer.
Serve topped with chopped nuts, if using, along with a few pieces of fresh fruit. We love raspberries or strawberries with this dessert.
A beautiful sophisticated dessert perfect for any occasion
What we love about this recipe
We love how easy it is to make the custard. There are a few steps but each is simple and easily mastered.
I love that this dessert can be baked days in advance making it perfect for stress-free entertaining.
Brûléeing the top of the custard is quick, easy and fascinating to watch. Your guests will love to see the sugar bubble and brown right before their eyes.
It’s fun to crack the hard caramelized sugar crust with the back of your spoon before digging in. The crunchy creamy combination is utterly fantastic.
Finally I love that you can make this in a variety of ramekins small baking dishes. Tall, shallow, big or small all work well. As long as the dish is oven-proof, you can use anything.
Our best Crème Brûlée recipe
This recipe has been my go-to favorite since early 2012. It’s always delicious and practically fool-proof.
We’ve also turned this basic recipe into a wonderful Pumpkin version perfect for Thanksgiving. If you love the flavor of pumpkin, you’ll love that custard!
For a completely decadent and rich, creamy custard, try this chocolate version by the Barefoot Contessa.
Finally, way back in 2011 we made a Crème Brûlée Pie that was utterly indulgent, unique and amazing. Hope you’ll give it a try too!
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- 3 or 4 (5 to 8 ounce) ramekins, an instant-read thermometer and a culinary kitchen torch
- 2 cups heavy cream (16 ounces)
- 1/2 vanilla bean split and scraped
- 1/2 cup granulated or white sugar (110g) divided
- 4 large egg yolks
- pinch of salt
- Adjust oven rack to the lower middle position and preheat to 300°F. Fold a clean kitchen towel in half and place in the bottom of a 13×9-inch baking pan. Set 3 or 4 (5 to 6 ounce) ramekins on the towel. Set aside.
- Put a tea kettle on to boil. Once hot remove from the heat and keep warm.
- Pour the cream into a medium saucepan. Add the split vanilla bean along with any seeds and pulp. Heat over medium-high until the mixture just starts to boil. Remove from the heat, cover and steep for 15 minutes. Remove the vanilla bean leaving any beans and pulp in the pan. Rinse the vanilla bean and save for other uses or discard.
- Whisk the egg yolks in a medium mixing bowl until blended. Slowly whisk in half the sugar (1/4 cup or 55g) and salt. Once all sugar is added, whisk vigorously until the mixture starts to lighten and thickens slightly.
- Slowly drizzle in the warm cream a little at a time while whisking continuously to temper the eggs. Keep whisking until all cream is incorporated.
- Pour the custard through a fine mesh sieve set over a bowl or container with a spout. Discard any solids.
- Carefully pour the custard mixture into the prepared ramekins. Set the pan and ramekins on the oven rack then slowly and carefully pour enough hot water into the pan to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Take care not to splash any hot water into the custards.
- Bake just until the custard is set but still jiggly (not sloshy) about 30 to 35 minutes for a shallow ramekin, and 35 to 40 minutes for deeper ramekins. The custard should reach 170°F on an instant-read thermometer.
- Remove the ramekins from the hot water bath and transfer to a wire rack to cool to room temperature, about 2 hours. Once cool cover each custard tightly with plastic wrap. Refrigerate on a small rimmed baking sheet until ready to serve. Chill for at least 4 hours and up to 3 days before serving.
- Remove the Crème Brûlée from the refrigerator and discard the plastic wrap. If condensation has collected on the custards gently dab with a paper towel to remove.
- Divide the remaining 1/4 cup sugar equally over the custards. Tilt the ramekins to distribute the sugar evenly over each custard.
- Using a culinary kitchen torch melt and caramelize the sugar to a golden brown candy topping. At this point the Crème Brûlée can be cooled for 5 minutes and served, or refrigerated for 30 minutes (but no longer) then served.
- Top with chopped nuts if desired and serve with fresh fruit.
Originally published January 2012, updated December 2021