Literally translated, Crème Brûlée means Burnt Cream, but the way the French say it is much more romantic. A rich, creamy vanilla custard topped with a layer of hard caramel, that is simply scorched sugar.
What better way to bring romance to the table than to break out the blow torch and burn a little sugar?!
Cream Is Love
This is a dessert we often share, each of us coveting the bits of bitter-sweet caramel crunch, competing for the last scoop of sweet custard. Enjoying each creamy mouthful; the cool custard, the hot caramel the contrast, the sexy smoothness.
First, start with real cream, the 35% stuff don’t try to skinny-up this recipe by using half and half, it contains too much water and that will make your custard break. Go full fat, then add good quality vanilla; either a vanilla bean or a real vanilla bean paste.
You want to SEE the gains of vanilla, it should tint the cream to a hue of soft beige, speckled with dark, rich vanilla bean.
Technique is Key
Next, cream the egg yokes with sugar, lightly whisking until it is a creamy, buttery yellow, then set the whisk aside.
Bubbles are the mortal enemy of Crème Brûlée, as you add the warm cream to the cold egg mixture, don’t whisk. Instead gently stir with a spatula or wooden spoon as you combine the custard to a smooth, even texture
There is a fine line between cooked custard and sweetened scrambled eggs, so add the cream slowly to the yokes so you don’t COOK them. If you notice a curdy texture, you’re hooped. A couple of fine curds you can remove by passing through a fine sieve, but big chunky curds… you’ve got breakfast, not dessert.
“Chunky” is not an adjective that applies to any Crème Brûlée recipe, if the custard is rough, you go back to square one and start again. Go slow, don’t rush the custard. Think… foreplay.
Watch For Bubbles
As you pour your custard into the baking dishes, you may notice a few bubbles on the top. To eliminate them, grab your barbecue lighter and gently fan the flame across the top, this will burst the bubbles and leave the surface smooth.
Bubbles Are NOT Your Friend
The other area where you want to avoid bubbling is in the oven, you do not want to bring the custard to a boil, because it will separate and break the custard giving you, once again; scrambled eggs. Instead, lower your temperature (to 280*F) and cook longer. You know they’re done when the top is springy to the touch and the center is still slightly jiggly.
Once it’s baked, smooth and cooled sufficiently in the fridge, apply a coat of sugar on the top. Spread it with your fingertips so that the distribution of sugar is even.
Now is time for the fun part, a little flame to the top of the sugar to melt and caramelize it so it colours to a sweet amber and forms a hard candy shell on the top. Crème Brûlée purists would insist that some portion of the middle be coloured a deeper, mahogany; burning the sugar for that slight bitterness that creates the greatest contrast of flavour and gives the dish its name.
No need for the oxy-acetylene fellas, a hand torch will do… it’s burnt, not incinerated. Burnt can be a good thing.
A French Classic. Crème Brûlée, literally translated, means Burnt Cream. Rich, creamy vanilla custard topped with hard caramel that is simply, scorched sugar and soooooo goooood!
3cups heavy cream (35% milk fat) 1 vanilla bean, split and scraped (or 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste) 1/2cup sugar 6 large egg yolks plus 1/4cup of sugar to finish your caramel
Preheat the oven to 280°f (138°c)
Start with the cream, vanilla bean, and its pulp into a medium saucepan, over medium-high heat, bring to a low boil. Remove from cream from heat, cover, and allow to sit for 15 minutes. Remove vanilla bean.
In a medium bowl, whisk together 1/2 cup sugar and the egg yolks until well blended and it should be a creamy yellow. Add the warm cream, a little at a time, stirring constantly, with a spoon or spatula.
Pour the liquid into 6 (7 to 8-ounce) ramekins. Place the ramekins in a large cake pan or roasting pan, deep enough to accommodate hot water halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Pour boiling water, carefully around the ramekins. Bake just until the Crème Brûlée is set, but still trembles in the center when moved slightly, approximately 45 – 60 minutes (or until it’s done).
Remove the ramekins from the roasting pan and refrigerate for at least 2 hours and up to 3 days.
Remove Crème Brûlée from the refrigerator and allow to stand at room temperature for 15 to 30 minutes. Add approximately 1 tablespoon of sugar to the top of the cold custard, spread evenly with a fingertip. Using a torch, melt the sugar and form a crispy top of amber-brown caramel, scorched slightly. Allow to rest 2 to 3 minutes before serving.
French tradition states that the caramel should be so firmly set that the spoon will stand erect in the dish as it’s presented at the table. Goals.
Fearlessly cooking in her home kitchen just outside Ottawa, Canada; Cori Horton is a food photographer, food marketing consultant, recipe developer and sustainability advocate. A Cordon Bleu trained chef, Cori spent five years as the owner of Nova Scotia's Dragonfly Inn and now shares all things delicious - right here.