Growing up, my favorite dessert to order at a restaurant was creme brulee. Who could resist shattering that burnt sugar topping just to find creamy custard underneath? I certainly couldn’t.
Creme Brulee in Paris
When I visited Paris for the first time, I told my best friend that we were going to have to go somewhere to eat this famous dessert. I mean, I can’t go to Paris and not eat creme brulee, right?
My best friend knew just the place. We visited a quaint bistro on the corner of Rue du Cherche-Midi and shared a big ramekin of creme brulee between the two of us.
It was absolutely perfect. Better than perfect. The custard layer was silky smooth, without a trace of scrambled egg.
The topping was burnt to perfection, producing a crisp shatter when poked at with my spoon. As I sat there licking my spoon in pure delight, I thought to myself that Paris suited me very well.
Making Creme Brulee At Home
Alas, reality swooped in and I had to come back home where perfect creme brulee was hard to come by. Instead, I decided to give it a try at home for another chance to have my senses enveloped by fragrant vanilla and sugar.
Making creme brulee at home is less intimidating than you might think. If you’ve made your own custard or pastry cream before, then you know the importance of tempering your eggs and whisking vigorously.
The batter is poured into individual ramekins, which are then placed in a bain-marie (a water bath) and baked at a low temperature for about 1 hour. The batter will look slightly set when it’s done, but should still have a good tremble when it’s given a shake.
Using the Broiler
Traditionally, the custard is cooled then covered in a sprinkling of sugar before it’s torched. A torch is handy in giving the creme brulee that burnt topping without really heating the rest of the previously chilled creme.
But there’s a workaround if you don’t have a torch. After cooling the custard and sprinkling sugar on top, you can simply place the ramekins directly under your oven broiler, and carefully watch the sugar burn and form that glorious topping.
Creme brulee is a wonderful dessert for a dinner party, as you can make it ahead (minus the last minute sugar topping). You could also cut this recipe in half and make it for you and your special someone for a birthday, anniversary, or Valentine’s Day. Nothing says I love you like a ramekin full of creme brulee.
Creamy vanilla custard baked until set, then topped with a caramelized sugar topping.
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 1 tsp vanilla bean paste
- 6 tbsp granulated sugar
- 4 egg yolks
- turbinado sugar or any kind of coarse sugar granules, for the top
Preheat the oven to 320°F. Bring a kettle full of water to a boil. Meanwhile, In a medium saucepan, warm the cream just until it's beginning to simmer along the edges of the pan. Don't let the cream boil! Stir in the vanilla bean paste once the cream is warm. Turn the heat off.
In a medium bowl, whisk the egg yolks and the granulated sugar together until thick and pale. Stream in 1/4 cup of the hot cream mixture, whisking vigorously as you do. Continue to stream in another 1/4 cup, again whisking the entire time. Pour in the rest of the hot cream and whisk until everything is blended together.
Use a ladle to distribute the batter among 5 (6 oz.) ramekins. Place the ramekins in a large casserole dish and place the dish in the oven. Use the kettle spout to pour the hot water into the casserole dish, pouring enough water so that the water almost reaches the top of the ramekins. Be careful not to get any water into the ramekins.
Bake the custard for 1 hour just until the centers are slightly wobbly. If needed, after 1 hour, raise the heat to 350°F and bake for another 10 minutes until you've achieved the desired doneness. Remove the ramekins from the casserole dish and let them cool to room temperature. Wrap the ramekins tightly in plastic wrap and freeze.
To brulee, sprinkle about 1 teaspoon of the turbinado sugar over each frozen creme brulee. Set the ramekins on a baking sheet under the oven broiler (500°F) for about 1 minute, constantly checking it and rotating the pan so that all of them are evenly bruleed. Let the burnt sugar topping set for a few minutes before serving.
If you decide to make this recipe for 2 people, divide the recipe in half and use 8 oz. ramekins.
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