Crème Brûlée: A Tutorial

Crème brûlée has a reputation that frankly, I think, is undeserved.

I would compare it to Cady Heron in Mean Girls. Crème brûlée started out as a nice, simple dessert, wanting only to please people and make friends. Somewhere along the way, though, its reputation became twisted, and it turned into an evil, conniving custard ready to torch home cooks with its difficulty (did you get that?).

The whole “this is a super smooth custard/where do I buy vanilla beans/omg how can I make a perfectly crackable sugary shell without a kitchen torch” setup is quite deceptive. But this is all a scam.

Crème brûlée requires only 4 ingredients: Heavy cream, egg yolks, sugar, and vanilla.

Certain recipes use vanilla beans, which honestly look very pretty in the custard and lend an intense vanilla flavor to the dessert. However, you can use vanilla extract to replace the beans – and I promise, the end product will still taste amazing. (Just by the by, if you do want to use real vanilla beans, I found mine at the ever lovely Costco!)

Without further ado, let’s make some crème brûlée!

Step 1: Preheat your oven. Just do it. 325 degrees F.

Step 2: Put heavy whipping cream in a pot over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Cream boils pretty fast so keep an eye on it! Then, remove from heat, cover, and allow it to sit while you’re whisking the egg yolks.

Step 3: Whisk the sugar, vanilla extract, and egg yolks until the egg yolks turn pale yellow.

Like this!

Step 4: Pour hot cream a little at a time into the yolk mixture. Be sure to whisk while pouring or you will have some lovely scrambled eggs. This process (called tempering) brings the temperature of the eggs up slowly while making sure that they do not cook.

Step 5: Pour the mixture into ramekins. Place ramekins into a baking pan, then pour enough hot water in to meet the level of custard inside the ramekins. The water creates a more stable cooking temperature for the custard and allows it to cook slowly.

Tip: If you don’t have ramekins, don’t panic. You can simply use a shallow oven-safe pan in place of the ramekins.

Step 6: Cover loosely with aluminum foil (I forgot to do this and the tops were a little browned whoops)! Bake until the custard is just set, but still jiggles in the center (about 40 minutes). Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 3 hours.

Step 7: Caramelizing the sugar.

*Warning! I’ve found this to be the hardest part of making the crème brûlée. *

Torch Method: If you have a kitchen torch, you are a lucky duck. Simply sprinkle 1-2 teaspoons of sugar on top of the custard, hold the torch about 4 inches from the top, and melt the sugar until a crispy top is formed. The sugar will continue to cook a bit after you stop torching, so stop just short of your desired crispiness.

Sometimes, I get so excited about kitchen torching that I set my crème brûlée on fire. Not that that occurred here.

Broiler Method: If you don’t have a torch, you can use your oven broiler. However, there are certain important rules to follow here so you don’t end up with crème brûlée soup.

  • Sprinkle only enough sugar to cover the top of the custard. If you sprinkle too much, it’ll take longer to caramelize, increasing the chances that the custard underneath will melt.

  • Ice bath! Pour water into a pan with the ramekins (just like before), but this time, add ice! This will stop the custard from melting in the heat of the oven. I know this may seem like an annoying step, but please please please do it. I still have nightmares of two Thanksgivings ago, when a fabulous crème brûlée dessert just minutes from caramelized sugar heaven turned into…liquid. I can’t even type about it without being sad. Also, I melted three more crème brûlées while making this for you. Agony.

We haven’t yet figured out our ice machine Our ice machine is broken, so I froze a bag of ice! I must really love you guys.

  • Place the pan on the top rack of the oven. This ensures maximum broiling power and minimizes time in the oven.

  • Make sure the oven is as cool as it can be before placing the pan in the oven. Turn the broiler on only after the pan goes in, so the entire oven doesn’t become too hot for the custard.

Ok, now you can broil them! It’ll take about 3 minutes for the sugar to melt and start caramelizing. Keep a close eye on them. Also, the sugar will continue cooking for a little while after removal from heat, so take it out just before they’re done. The top may not be completely crispy upon removal, but it should continue to caramelize.

Tip: If the custard underneath melted, refrigerate until solid and then serve. It’ll still be good, I promise. I just tend to get weepy/frustrated if it melts because I am an impatient, hungry person. Always.

Crack! (so satisfying) the top with a spoon and eat! Mmmm.

Yes, these are two different crème brûlées. I ate made a lot in my quest for perfection. Sometimes blogging life is hard.

P.S. Today (Saturday) is the last day to enter the drawing for cookie mail!

Crème brûlée (adapted from Creme Brulee ii)

Yield: 6 four ounce ramekins

Ingredients

  1. 2 cups heavy cream
  2. 1/4 cup & 6 teaspoons granulated sugar (for initial custard recipe, then melting)
  3. 1 teaspoon vanilla extract (To replace with vanilla beans, put half of the bean scrapings in the pot with the cream)
  4. 3 egg yolks
  5. 1 pot hot water

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 325 F.
  2. Set cream over medium-high heat and bring to boil. Remove from heat, cover, and allow to sit while whisking sugar.
  3. In medium bowl, whisk 1/4 cup white sugar, vanilla extract, and egg yolks until egg yolks turn pale yellow.
  4. Pour cream a little at a time into the yolk mixture, whisking all the while so the yolks don’t scramble (a technique called tempering).
  5. Pour liquid into ramekins (if you don’t have ramekins, any shallow oven-safe pan will work just fine). Place ramekins into baking pan, then pour enough hot water in to meet the level of the custard inside the ramekins. Cover loosely with aluminum foil.
  6. Bake until custard is just set, but still jiggles in the center (about 40 minutes). Remove ramekins and refrigerate for at least 3 hours.
  7. Before serving, sprinkle 1-2 teaspoons sugar over each custard. Use a kitchen torch or oven broiler to melt the sugar until the top is crispy and slightly brown.

To Broil:

  1. Sprinkle just enough sugar to cover the top of the custard.
  2. Place ramekins in pan, then pour enough water and ice to meet the level of the custard.
  3. Place the pan on the top rack of the oven.
  4. Turn oven to broil (after placing pan in oven – no preheating!).
  5. Broil until sugar starts to caramelize (about 3 minutes, and keep a close eye on it!).

Enjoy the fruits of your labor!

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