Made of rich and creamy vanilla custard and crunchy caramelized topping, this classic recipe is easy to follow and tastes incredible. Here’s a full guide on how to make the perfect creme brulee!
What is creme brulee, anyway? Creme brulee is a classic French custard dessert that involves caramelizing a crunchy layer of sugar on top of the baked, creamy custard, creating awesome texture. And nothing beats cracking into that caramelized sugar with a spoon!
This recipe requires no special ingredients. And unlike my pumpkin creme brulee, which calls for pumpkin puree and added spices, the ingredients in this recipe are incredibly simple: heavy cream, egg yolks, sugar, and vanilla extract or vanilla beans.
That’s all you need!
How to make creme brulee
Here are the steps you’ll need to follow to make perfect creme brulee:
- Set up your space. Before you even start baking, place the ramekins in a large roasting pan, which will be used as your water bath. Set this aside for now. I also recommend placing a fine mesh strainer over a bowl so it’s ready for straining the custard as soon as you have cooked it on the stovetop. Finally, preheat the oven to 300°F/150°C.
- Combine the egg yolks and sugar. Whisk together in a medium-sized bowl and place next to the stovetop.
- Heat the cream. Pour the heavy cream into a medium saucepan with vanilla extract, vanilla pod, or vanilla paste. Heat on medium heat until the cream starts to lightly simmer. You don’t want it to get too hot, so don’t bring it to a full boil.
- Temper the cream with the egg yolks. Use one hand to whisk the egg yolk-sugar mixture, and the other to slowly pour half of the heavy cream into it (Note: This is a process called tempering, which is the best way to emulsify eggs and liquid together to prevent curdling).
- Return to the stovetop. Turn the heat on low and slowly pour the entire mixture back into the pot with the remaining cream. Use a whisk or rubber spatula to continuously move the cream mixture over the low flame. The goal here is to melt the sugar and emulsify the eggs, but not to cook the eggs completely.
- Strain the custard. Once the mixture has thickened slightly and the sugar is dissolved, turn off the heat. Strain the mixture through the strainer to remove any curdled egg.
- Bake in a water bath. Place the pan with the ramekins inside in the oven. With the door open, use a pitcher to pour hot to boiling water into the large pan to fill it enough that it hits the ramekins at the halfway point. Use a measuring cup or a pitcher with a spout to pour the custard into each ramekin, leaving a small lip of space at the top. Bake for 25-30 minutes until the custard appears set in the middle but is still wobbly when you give the dish or light pan a jolt.
- Remove from the oven. The water bath will be very hot. Gently remove the entire water bath from the oven, being careful not to splash the water. Allow the custard to cool until you can handle the ramekins and remove them from the hot water. Place on a wire rack to cool. Once they have come to room temperature, place in the refrigerator to chill and set for a minimum of 4 hours.
How to torch creme brulee
Only brulee your custards after they are completely chilled and you are ready to serve them. If you brulee them and place them back in the fridge, the crunchy topping will become soggy, so only do this immediately before serving.
- Sprinkle a thin layer of sugar over the top of each custard and shake it around to evenly disperse the sugar.
- Place the ramekin on the countertop or on a stainless steel sheet pan. Then, use a handheld torch on low to gently heat the sugar. Start from the outer edge and slowly move your way to the center, moving your hand in a circular motion around the top of the ramekin. The sugar will caramelize and turn golden brown. Do this to until all the sugar is caramelized. You can add more sugar to areas that may not have caramelized enough, if you wish.
- Serve immediately.
Note: If some of the sugar burns a bit (or a lot), it’s okay! It actually tastes amazing.
What kind of ramekins should I use?
I’ve tried using both classic ramekins and traditional shallow dishes. I liked the shallow ones better, but 4, 5, or 6-ounce ramekins can also be used. The shallow dishes are about 1 inch high and 4 inch in diameter. This recipe will produce 4-6 servings, depending on the size of the dish and how much you fill them.
Why is creme brulee cooked in a water bath?
Water baths help ensure that delicate custard desserts, like creme brulee and classic cheesecake, bake evenly and without curdling. When egg is hit with direct heat, it curdles (think about making scrambled eggs in a frying pan). However, a water bath creates a sort of barrier between the heat and the custard, so the heat distributes slower and more evenly. This produces an ultra creamy texture with no curdled egg or cracks on the top.
Tips for making creme brulee
- For a slightly lighter custard, substitute some whole milk for heavy cream. I personally prefer creme brulee made entirely with heavy cream, but you can substitute up to 2/3 cup of cream with whole milk.
- Add some liquor for extra flavor. If you want to enhance the flavor, add 2-3 teaspoons of either rum, brandy, or a flavored liqueur of your choice. Add it to the mixture after all other ingredients have been combine.
- Keep the heat low and slow. This is the key to perfectly light, smooth, and creamy creme brulee. Cooking on a low temperature, both on the stove top and in the oven, keeps the egg from curdling and creates a silky-smooth texture.
- Don’t boil the egg-cream mixture. Once you’ve tempered the heavy cream with the egg yolk-sugar mixture and pour it back into the pot, only heat it until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is slightly thickened. The cream will be steaming slightly, but you do not want to boil it.
- Constantly stir the egg-cream mixture while dissolving the sugar. Use a rubber spatula or whiisk to keep the mixture moving in the pot to help prevent curdling.
- The easiest way to create your water bath is by first placing the large pan with the ramekins in the oven, then pouring the hot water into it. This is also the safest way. Work as quickly as you can so that the oven temperature doesn’t drop due to the open door.
- Remove the ramekins from the hot water bath as soon as they are cool enough to handle. This will also help prevent the custard from overcooking and curdling. Then, place them in the fridge to chill for at least 4 hours.
- Brulee the custard immediately before serving. Do not torch the tops in advance, or the caramelized sugar will become soggy.
More of my favorite custard desserts
- Coffee Panna Cotta: Rich and creamy coffee flavored panna cotta is and amazing dessert pick-me-up.
- Classic Panna Cotta: Vanilla shines as the star flavor of this absolutely delicious classic panna cotta.
- Coconut Cream Pie: Made with a flaky, buttery crust and filled with heavenly coconut pastry cream.
- Chocolate Cheesecake: Indulgent triple chocolate cheesecake topped with smooth chocolate ganache.
- New York Cheesecake: Ultra rich and decadent cheesecake (no water bath required!).
Creamy, rich vanilla creme brulee topped with crunchy, caramelized sugar topping. This recipe requires very few ingredients and is simple to make!
- 2 cups (500 ml) heavy whipping cream
- 1 vanilla bean , split and seeded (or 1.5-2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract or paste)
- 4 large egg yolks
- 1/4 cup (50g) granulated sugar
- about 6 teaspoons demerara or granulated sugar , for the caramelized topping
Preheat oven to 300°F/150°C. Place a kitchen towel on the bottom of a large roasting pan or baking dish (to prepare the waterbath). Place 4 6-ounce ramekins, 6 4-ounce ramekins, or 4 shallow fluted dishes on top of the towel.
In a saucepan, heat cream, vanilla pod and seeds on medium heat until steamy. Do not boil. Meanwhile, whisk together eggs and sugar in a medium heatproof bowl until well blended, but not airy. Remove vanilla bean from the hot cream mixture, then pour the mixture slowly and gradually into the egg mixture while simultaneously whisking the egg mixture constantly to prevent curdling. Return mixture to the saucepan and use a spatula to continuously stir the mixture over a low flame until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture has very slightly thickened. Do not boil. Strain the mixture, then pour evenly among the dishes.
Place roasting pan in the oven and pour in boiling water until it reaches halfway up the ramekins. Bake for 25-30 minutes until the custard has set and is just slightly wobbly when gently shaked. Let ramekins cool on a wire rack to room temperature, then chill in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours, preferably longer, and up to 2 days.
To serve, sprinkle 1-2 teaspoons of sugar on each dish. Shake the ramekins gently from side to side until evenly coated. Using a torch, start caramelizing the top until nicely browned and bubbly. Preferably, let sit for a few minutes in the refrigerator, uncovered, to let the top harden and the custard get cold again; otherwise serve immediately.
ErezJuly 25, 2014 at 4:52 pm
Hey, I was an equal partner in the making of this dessert 🙂
ShiranJuly 28, 2014 at 12:27 pm
Of course you were 🙂
Angie (@angiesrecipess)July 27, 2014 at 11:02 am
I bought a torch years ago and it just sits somewhere in my cabinet…shame on me. Your creme brulee looks amazing!
ShiranJuly 28, 2014 at 8:47 am
So it’s time you make them! It’s really not that hard 🙂 And thank you!
BarbaraMarch 30, 2015 at 2:14 pm
Hi, Do you have to put a towel in the baking dish?
ShiranMarch 31, 2015 at 8:54 am
Hi Barbara 🙂 You don’t have to put a towel, but I like to do it so that the ramekins don’t touch the hot pan directly.
BernadetteJune 14, 2020 at 1:16 pm
Followed your recipe exactly but the vanilla beans cuz I only had the liquid extra but it turned out amazing!!! I’m a first timer to making creme brûlée but I’m so impressed and proud that it turned out so well I’m patting myself in the back haha! Thanks for your recipe!
TinlyApril 7, 2015 at 12:54 am
Hi, so I just made creme brulee and it turned out to rich and eggy. I used 8 egg yolks and 1/3 cup sugar. Would you suggest less egg?
ShiranApril 7, 2015 at 4:24 am
Hi Tinly, how much heavy cream do you use in your recipe? If it’s 2 cups like in my recipe, then 8 egg yolks is a lot, and the result will turn out too eggy. Read my post above, I talk about all the ingredients, including the number of egg yolks I recommend to use.
TinlyApril 7, 2015 at 10:33 am
I used 1 cup of cream and 1 cup of milk.
Chequita CowherdJune 10, 2019 at 8:22 pm
Hi tinly , I make this dessert all the time, mine is better than the restaurant so I’ve been told .I use 5 well beaten fresh egg yolks to 1 c sugar, 1 Tbsp of
Madagascar bourbon pure vanilla bean paste.
Bake 325 45 -50 min only, let set 5 hrs or overnt.
For topping I use sugar in the raw with torch rather than white sugar, trust me on this enjoy
Natalya GruntkovskiyNovember 2, 2019 at 1:58 pm
How much cream?
Evelyn FriedJune 2, 2020 at 10:00 am
Can I make it ussing only full fat milk?
ShiranJune 3, 2020 at 6:18 am
Hi Evelyn. I don’t recommend using milk. It will lack the flavor and texture of creme brulee.
JackieMay 4, 2015 at 2:26 pm
I followed your instructions exactly and they taste heavenly. My husband asked if I can make the creme brulee slightly more firm. How can I make it more firm by adjusting the ingredients?
ShiranMay 4, 2015 at 5:20 pm
Hi Jackie! I’m so glad you like the recipe 🙂 Since creme brulee is a custard, it’s not very firm. It shouldn’t be too liquid though. You might need to bake it for longer next time. If you still want to make it more firm, either reduce the amount of heavy cream or increase the amount of egg yolks.
AngelaFebruary 15, 2016 at 9:52 am
Hi Shiran!! That brulee just looks sensational!! How do you caramelise the top without using a torch?? Do you have any methods to suggest??
ShiranFebruary 16, 2016 at 5:44 am
Hi Angela 🙂 The one method I’d suggest if you don’t have a torch is the broiler. First, make sure the custard is completely cold. Place it in the fridge for a few hours. Heat the broiler so that it’s super hot and place a rack underneath it. Sprinkle custard with the sugar and place on the rack until caramelized. With this method you’ll get less caramelization than with the torch, but it works.
AngelaFebruary 19, 2016 at 6:09 am
Thanks a bunch, Shiran!! ? ??
TraceyJanuary 13, 2017 at 6:11 pm
What will happen if you whip the egg yolks and sugar too much? One recipe I saw said to whip them until pale
ShiranJanuary 14, 2017 at 4:46 pm
Hi Tracey, just whip the eggs and sugar until they’re blended well and the mixture is smooth, it should be enough.
ErinApril 22, 2017 at 10:56 am
I can’t say which restaurant but we would whip until it turned pale. The art is in the tempering without creating too many bubbles. I loved making these I just needed a home recipe with home ovens and not large batch recipe. Can’t wait to try it!
SteveNovember 13, 2017 at 11:16 pm
Just made these over the weekend. They turned out delicious, However, as you pointed out in an earlier response I probably should bake a little longer since the custard was a little runny after I had caramelized the sugar using a torch. We’ve eaten three and I’m going to try the other three this evening, This time I’ve put the ramekins back in the fridge to chill after the caramelization step. Let’s see if this helps with the “runny” custard at all, Great site by the way.
ShiranNovember 17, 2017 at 8:01 am
Thank you Steve! It should be soft but not runny. Try to cook it more next time, or give it enough time to chill, at least a few hours.
KyriacosDecember 10, 2017 at 3:06 pm
Hi Shiran! Your fame has reached Greece as well! Just found your website and I am impressed! I would like to bake this in a large pan for many people, let’s say 15. Could you please recommend how to adjust the ingredients and what size of pan should I use along with baking time? Thank you very much!
ShiranDecember 12, 2017 at 9:14 am
Hi Kyriacos! That’s sweet of you, thank you so much! 🙂 While you can make creme brulee in one large dish, I haven’t tried it myself. It’s a delicate dessert and heat sensitive, so, unfortunately, without testing it, I don’t know the exact baking temperature, baking time, or quantities.
BellaDecember 30, 2017 at 8:04 am
Hi Shiran, nice site and the creme brulee looks tempting. Can you recommend how many eggs for a litre of milk? We run out of cream thats why we substitute with milk. Thanks
ShiranDecember 31, 2017 at 10:07 am
Hi Bella, personally I don’t recommend using milk because the higher fat content of heavy cream makes it rich, stable and less likely to curdle. If you must, substitute up to 2/3 cup of the cream with milk at a 1:1 ratio.
sariAugust 31, 2018 at 9:46 am
fabulous Clear explanation. Question: Instead of baking, is it poss to continue cooking the mix over bain marie on sthe stove – would it set as a thick custard? Or does it HAVE to be baked? If I don’t have an oven is there some kind of stovetop method? תודה
ShiranSeptember 1, 2018 at 12:22 pm
Classic creme brulee is baked. If you don’t have an oven at all, you can cook the mixture like a custard. It will taste good, but the final result and texture won’t be the same.
zakirahDecember 31, 2018 at 7:07 am
hi, you can steam it for 15 min . just cover the top of the ramekins with foil so that the water droplets wont go in.
sariSeptember 6, 2018 at 2:51 pm
Ok, tnx. Next question: does this travel well? I’m doing a 3 hour drive and want to take one with me to family. If i pack it in a box on, say, bubble wrap…? some other idea? or will it completely come apart by the end of 3 hours on the road?
ShiranSeptember 8, 2018 at 11:59 am
You can keep it in a cool place in the car and it will be ok, but you’ll need to refrigerate it when you get there until it’s set. Then caramelize the top before serving.
sariSeptember 9, 2018 at 2:23 am
fabulous! tnx so much.
bobNovember 7, 2018 at 1:17 pm
love it so much I followed your exact recipe and it turned out delicious
DebbieDecember 10, 2018 at 10:03 pm
I made the crème Brulee over the weekend and I thought it was pretty good, the only thing I noticed was an aftertaste of the heavy cream. I’m not sure how to get around that.
LailaFebruary 14, 2019 at 3:08 am
The time has come. My friend bought me a cook’s blowtorch, so I can finally, FINALLY make this.
A little stupid question – I notice you’ve mentioned multiple baking options in terms of ramekins/fluted dishes. I was wondering if I could just make it in one dish? Like one pie dish or something? Just because I haven’t got ramekins and stuff…
AparnaSeptember 26, 2019 at 10:32 am
I’m a fan all the way from India. Your tiramisu is always a hit in my parties (also fool-proof).
I’m planning to try the creme brulee and wanted to know how and when to incorporate lemon grass and kaffir lime in the recipe.
ShiranSeptember 27, 2019 at 2:03 am
Thank you, Aparna! 🙂 Add the lime and lemongrass to the cream, and then bring to a boil. Turn off the heat, cover the pan and allow the flavous to infuse for 10 minutes. Then continue with the recipe. Also, when straining the mixture, discard the solids. Enjoy!
MegOctober 25, 2019 at 7:00 pm
This is a super easy and delicious recipe. I doubled it and it worked out perfectly. I used all heavy cream and then added one extra egg yolk (9 all together for a doubled batch) just for some extra custard-y goodness. It is absolutely DELICIOUS. Thank you!
carrie reillySeptember 5, 2022 at 3:10 pm
Hi, just wanted to say your sugar amount is perfect. For milk I use the sweetened almond milk, add 6 egg yolks to 2 cups of liquid. My mom made excellent creme brûlée she learned while living in France and never heated the milk and eggs. Just used room temp milk. Hence, I’ve never heated the milk then tempered it in with the eggs. I spent a summer in France while in college and this is exactly how the family I stayed with made it. I think people are put off by heating the milk and then tempering the egg yolks. You can end up with scrambled eggs!