Classic Crème Brulee

Creme Brulee

If I can ensure that one other person (just one!) living on the face of this earth doesn’t wait as long as I did before making crème brulee, my life will be complete.

I spent years being completely intimidated by this dessert.

I don’t know, maybe it was the torching.

Or the special dishes.

Or the fact that the name is super-duper shmancy-pants fancy (not that I would ever pronounce it creem brooleee, no, not me).

After finally making it, I spent the next five years ashamed I didn’t recognize how truly simple it really was. I felt I had cheated myself.

Hence the reason we enjoy crème brulee at least once a month and I’m not even kidding. I have to make up for lost time. And if I’m being completely honest, even my chocolate loving soul would ditch chocolate any day for a dish of this. It’s definitely in my top 5 favorite desserts of all time.

The good news is that there’s nothing to be afraid of: crème brulee is simply a tempered cream and egg mixture that is baked in a water bath (kind of like some cheesecake recipes), cooled and then torched.

The resulting baked cream is so ethereally rich and silky that it is irresistible. Plus, my favorite aspect of this dessert is that it can be prepared up to three days in advance.

Creme Brulee

Here’s the totally rad thing, though, it completely justifies getting a kitchen torch, which

a) will make you feel like a total rock star in the kitchen and

b) is just plain fun (think: s’mores in seconds). And if you are opposed to buying more kitchen gadgets, go talk to your neighbor/favorite foodie friend and split the cost, dividing custody of the torch between your two houses. Just don’t hog it, ok? You gotta share the love when it comes to torching things.

Let’s talk dishes for a second. Like I mentioned above, crème brulee is classically made in ramekins for individual servings.

I have a conglomeration of mismatched ramekins as you can see below. Any of these types of ramkeins will work great.

The flatter, wider dishes are my favorite for crème brulee – I like a bit more caramelized sugar to cream ratio but my kids far prefer the deeper ramekins because the luscious, thick cream is their favorite part (and Brian, he’s just in it for some crème brulee and could care less how it shows up in front of him).

So I usually use a combination of sizes, which works wonderfully because I don’t have enough of one style for the whole batch, even though each of these ramekins came in sets of six to being with.

I’m sure that has nothing to do with children who unload the dishwasher and try to win the world record for balancing the most number of plates on top of each other, or ramekins in this case, whilst dodging their brother’s elbow on the way to the cabinet.

Creme Brulee

The biggest concern I had years ago about crème brulee was the torching. Ay-yay-yay. Kind of scary! Except not.

It takes a bit of practice (more reason to make crème brulee daily until you perfect it) but once you get the hang of it, it’s the easiest part of the whole process.

I have had several kitchen torches (this is one) but the one I love best and which I own now is the Iwatani. Downfalls? You can only use the Iwatani brand of butane with the torch. Slightly annoying.

High points? It works amazingly better than the other two torches I’ve had and a canister of the fuel lasts quite a while. It burns hotter and faster and my crème brulee has turned out picture perfect after buying this baby.

I highly, highly recommend (PS: I’m not getting paid to say so). My brother has one, too, and alerted me to its merits.

I use regular granulated sugar for caramelizing the tops.

I’ve tried brown sugar, superfine sugar, turbinado/raw sugar and a combination of all three and always come back to plain ol’ granulated. As long as it is spread in an even layer, not too thick, it crisps beautifully.

You can see in the picture below how the torch first lightly melts the sugar and then as the liquified sugar gets more heat, it begins to turn golden and caramelized.

Creme Brulee

The goal is to get an even layer of glassy, browned sugar that literally cracks (complete with a real, live cracking sound), plunging the spoon into the depths of the rich cream.

The level of burning, so to speak, is up to you. I don’t like it overly dark. Burnt sugar is delicious in small doses but not when it overwhelms the entire dish with a charred flavor. So I tend to go a bit light on the torching.

Update: Here’s a quick video tip on caramelizing the top of the crème brulee!

Creme Brulee

That shard of browned sugar sticking up right there? Down there. In that picture below?

That shard of torched sugar spooned with a cloud of vanilla-infused, decadent cream is absolutely the most heavenly thing on the face of the planet.

Creme Brulee

So go. Make some crème brulee! If you are an experienced crème brulee-maker, may the force continue to be with you.

If you are a novice, ride on the coattails of my experience and don’t wait a second longer before making this. You’ll feel like a total rock star but probably won’t have time to let me know because you’ll be too busy cranking out crème brulee to make up for lost time. Been there, done that.

Update: Sorry I didn’t include this information earlier; I’ve had a lot of questions about where I buy my vanilla beans. I touched on it in my Vanilla Bean Mousse Cheesecake but here’s a recap: I love the ones from Penzey’s spices. But they are much pricier than buying them in bulk and there isn’t a Penzey’s anywhere near me (and their shipping costs are pretty high). So the other place I’ve bought them with great success is Amazon. I’ve bought this brand and they are fresh, plump and keep very well stored in a cool, dark spot. In the comments section of the cheesecake post, readers suggested these resources (I have not bought from these places; they come recommended from other people): Olive Nation, Costco, beanilla.com.

Oh, PS: I put together a little 2-minute video on scraping the seeds from the vanilla bean. Not rocket science, but I have heard from a few of you that vanilla beans are intimidating, so here you go.

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Classic Crème Brulee

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Ingredients:

  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 3 cups heavy cream
  • 1 cup milk (1%, 2% or whole)
  • 8 egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar plus 2 tablespoons

Topping:

  • About 6 tablespoons sugar

Directions:

  1. Gently slice through the skin of the vanilla bean and with the flat edge of the knife, scrape out the seeds (see how-to video below).
  2. In a medium saucepan (about 2- or 3-quart), combine the vanilla bean seeds, scraped vanilla bean pods, heavy cream, and milk. Bring the mixture just to a simmer. Remove the pot from the heat, cover and let the mixture sit for 10-15 minutes. Remove the vanilla bean pods.
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk the egg yolks and sugar together until well combined.
  4. Slowly ladle the hot cream mixture into the egg mixture while whisking constantly and quickly so the eggs don’t cook and form hard little bits. Adding it slowly tempers the eggs so they don’t cook too quickly.
  5. Pour the mixture into 6 ramekins (about 7- to 8-ounce). If you are using flatter ramekins (4- to 5-ounce), you’ll probably get about 8 ramekins-full out of this recipe.
  6. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Warm about 3-4 quarts hot water (depends on how big your roasting pan is) until hot but not boiling.
  7. Place a kitchen towel in the bottom of a large roasting pan. Place the filled ramekins on top of the towel and set the roasting pan on an oven rack in the center of the oven.
  8. Carefully pour the hot water into the roasting pan, avoiding splashing any water into the ramekins. Bake the creme brulee for 40-45 minutes until set but still slightly jiggly in the center (if the edges are still jiggling, bake it a few minutes longer).
  9. Using a large, flat spatula, immediately and carefully remove the ramekins from the hot water. Let them cool completely and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate until completely cold, 6 hours or up to 3 days.
  10. About 30 minutes before serving, remove the ramekins from the refrigerator, blot the tops dry with a paper towel. Lightly sprinkle about 2 teaspoons or so of granulated sugar evenly across the top of the creme brulee (lifting the ramekin and tipping it from side to side will help the sugar spread evenly).
  11. Using a kitchen torch, quickly melt the sugar until it forms a golden, crispy top. Refrigerate until ready to serve (no longer than 30 minutes once the top is caramelized or it can turn a bit mushy). The creme brulee inevitably warms up a bit after the top gets browned so refrigerating for at least 10 minutes will allow it to chill slightly again.

Notes:

If you don’t have vanilla beans, you can substitute 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract or 1 tablespoon of the vanilla bean paste…but promise me you’ll eventually try it with real, live vanilla beans. Also, if using vanilla bean seeds or paste, you can strain the mixture before adding it to the egg yolk mixture. Because the little vanilla bean seeds tend to settle after baking, straining gets rid of the excess amount. I never do this. I’m too lazy and I don’t mind the vanilla bean seeds floating in the luxurious cream mixture. You can certainly use all 4 cups of heavy cream instead of subbing in the 1 cup milk but for some reason, I love this ratio of heavy cream and milk (I usually use 1%). It’s still very rich and creamy. Last thing, I promise, if you have vanilla sugar laying around (empty vanilla bean pods set in granulated sugar and covered make amazing vanilla sugar), sub it in for the granulated sugar in the cream mixture and also for the topping to be caramelized. Amazing.

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Recipe Source: from Mel’s Kitchen Cafe (after years of experimenting on classic recipes like Alton Brown’s, for one)