Crème brûlée, the fancy way of saying ‘burnt cream’, is a delicious dessert and surprisingly simple to make. (See my video here) Growing up I didn’t expand my dessert horizons much past chocolate chip cookies and brownies. My introduction to crème brûlée was while on my honeymoon when a friend of my brother-in-law hooked my wife and I up with dinner at his upscale restaurant. Dessert came with a few samples of some of the chef’s wares. I don’t remember what the other options were, but I remember the sweet, crunchy, creamy, silky YUM of the crème brûlée.
Every so often, I eat or experience something that changes my whole outlook on a particular idea or food group—that happened this time. Crème brûlée became a hobby and I began trying to recreate that perspective altering experience. After a few attempts, I decided that crème brûlée was a pain! As a young man without a blowtorch, I used a pizza oven and broiler to try and ‘brûlée’ the sugar (not recommended). I splashed and burned myself with water and steam on my improvised double boiler and the recipes I tried had complicated timing, cooking and mixing. Most of the time my crème brûlée tasted like eggs – blegh. Sometimes it was close. I bought a blow torch and some ramekins, tasted crème brûlée at other restaurants, but still was unsuccessful at recreating the taste I loved.
Years later, bitten by the brûlée bug again, I found a recipe by Marc Bauer of the French culinary institute – His recipe is awesome. The ingredients and methods are simple and it takes less than an hour to prepare – not including the wait-time in the fridge (about 3 hours) I learned the recipe from him on YouTube and had success the first time I tried it. I later found that Paula Dean also uses this same recipe – (it’s gotta be good if she’s fixin’ it up, ya’ll.) Looking around the web more (now knowing what to look for) I see folks using the same recipe everywhere, but with +/- 1 egg or +/- some sugar – the same essential idea though, it just depends on how much egg you want to taste in the end.
So, without further ado, here is the best recipe I have for crème brûlée today!
Step 1: Ingredients and materials
- 4 egg yolks – if you need help separating egg yolks from whites, check out this video
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 2 cups heavy cream
- Vanilla (either 1/2 a vanilla bean or about 1 tsp extract)
Vanilla beans are great, but a little expensive. As with most things, you can purchase them in bulk online to save a little $$$.
The supporting cast
- Blow torch
- Ramekins – I buy these at the dollar store…for a dollar each 😉 . Mine are a little deep – and I think they take a longer to cook that way. You can probably make the crème brûlée in any glass, pyrex, stone, etc…bakeware.
- Baking dish that the ramekins can sit in
- Hot water – you will put hot water around the ramekin when you bake it
- Oven for baking
- Towel (or paper towel) to line the baking dish – this just keeps the ramekins from sliding around.
- Sauce pan to heat the cream
- Thermometer (helpful, but optional)
Step 2: Beat the eggs and heat the cream
(Start the oven pre-heating to 325 degrees F and boil a pan of water)
First, mix the cream and vanilla in the saucepan and put it on the stove to start heating. You’ll heat it until it reaches about 135 degrees. If you don’t have a thermometer, just put your finger in the cream; if you can hold your finger in it, it’s not ready, but when it’s too hot to touch, it’s ready. Be careful not to boil your cream.
While the cream is heating, mix the 1/3 cup of sugar and the 4 egg yolks together. Mix until smooth – ish. It doesn’t take very long.
Step 3: Mix, bake and refrigerate
Once the cream is heated, pour just a little bit of cream into your egg/sugar mixture. If you pour in too much, you may cook your egg. I just slosh a little in and mix, then a little more and mix, then a little more, etc. When you have about ½ cup of the cream mixed in with the egg/sugar mix, then you can use a strainer and dump in the rest of the cream. Mix well.
Take this mixture and ladle it into your ramekins. Use a blowtorch to pop the bubbles on the top of the liquid in the ramekins. (The bubbles make your crème brûlée a little lumpy looking).
Place the ramekins in a baking dish (be sure to line the baking dish with a paper towel or something to keep the ramekins from sliding) and then fill the baking dish with boiling hot water to at least ½ the height of the ramekin. Be careful not to get water in your crème brûlée or you will have portions of cooked egg.
Bake for 30-40 minutes at 325 degrees F. The amount of time you bake it isn’t as critical as how ‘jiggily’ the crème brûlée is when it is cooked. Going into the oven, the filling wiggles like….cream, it is very liquidy. When cooked, the crème brûlée jiggles like jello/gelatin. Watch the video to see this.
When done, put the crème brûlée in the fridge to cool – about 3 hours or so. It can sit in there much longer (days even) so you could make this a couple days before a party and just have it ready to go. It will begin to dry out if left in the refrigerator too long.
Step 4: Brûlée and serve
Take the custard from the fridge and put sugar on it to coat the top. The excess sugar you can simply dump off; what sticks is what you need. Using your blowtorch, move back and forth slowly and evenly to melt and brown/burn the sugar. Experiment a little to see how ‘brûlée -ed’ you like it.
Grab a spoon, find a friend and share!