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.