Crème brûlée is widely known for its upscale luxury, a staple on fancy menus around the globe. French for “burned cream,” this decadent dessert is sweet and creamy, flecked with tiny vanilla bean dots and covered in caramelized sugar. From Paris to Disneyland Paris to just plain Disneyland, you can find crème brûlée nearly anywhere these days. It may be increasingly common, but its popularity doesn’t make it any less grand.
Traditionally served in tiny round ramekins, crème brûlée’s impressive presentation comes primarily from its crusty exterior, the sugary outer layer contrasting with its creamy center and creating a perfect blend of opposite textures. And who can resist the show?! Burning the outer layer of your dessert with a torch never fails to impress – dessert doesn’t get much more exciting than that!
I have a few circular ramekins, but I’m kind of partial to these heart-shaped ones. They’re fun and different and they somehow seem to make this dessert even more special.
Despite its unique textures and cooking methods, crème brûlée is surprisingly easy to pull together. Seriously! I know it may seem intimidating, but anyone can master this classic French dessert.
You’ll just need a few ingredients – heavy cream, eggs, sugar, and some nice vanilla beans. Don’t freak out about the vanilla beans (or their price) – they’re super simple to work with! I order mine in bulk on Amazon rather than shelling out $15+ for one pod at my favorite grocery store.
The easiest way to remove the little flecks from their woody frame is to first slice the pod in half lengthwise with a sharp knife. Once you’ve split it in two, use a spoon to scoop out the tiny black flecks from both pieces, running the spoon up and down every crevice to get as much flavor as possible. Sure, it’s a bit more work than measuring out a tablespoon of vanilla, but it’s totally worth the effort! Nothing compares to using real vanilla beans. If you’ve made my favorite cupcakes, you already know this. :)
If you’re planning to serve crème brûlée for a special event, be sure to plan ahead. It’s not difficult to make, but it does take some planning! You may be surprised to learn that crème brûlée is typically served cool or at room temperature. That might seem unlikely for a dish that requires a flame, but it’s the French way! C’est magnifique!
You first mix your custard ingredients together and let the flavors meld together for a few minutes or up to an hour. You then pour the custard mixture into your ramekins and let them bake for at least 30 minutes, cool them, and refrigerate them for an hour. Finally, when you’re ready to serve, you sprinkle the custards with sugar and burn them with a torch or broiler.
If you want to be really authentic, you return the finished crème brûlées to the fridge to let them cool again…but let’s be real. I never wait that long. Once I’ve caught a whiff of that burnt brown sugar, I’m hopeless! I need me some of that creamy custard ASAP.
I’ve tried many different types of crème brûlée in my lifetime, but this one is my favorite recipe to date. It comes from an authentic French cookbook from Williams-Sonoma that I was given as a high school graduation gift, and it definitely delivers the the traditional French flavor that comes to mind when I think crème brûlée. Très bon – very good!
If you’ve never made crème brûlée from scratch, give it a whirl this week. It’s easy as pie…or, I might argue, even easier!
- 1 large egg
- 7 large egg yolks
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 3 1/2 cups heavy cream
- 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
- 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
- In a small bowl, whisk egg, egg yolks, and sugar until well-combined. Set aside.
- In a medium saucepan, stir cream and split vanilla bean (woody part and all) together. Cook over medium heat until bubbles form at the edge of the pan, about 5-10 minutes. Remove from heat immediately so that the mixture does not boil.
- Transfer the vanilla bean pieces to a plate with a slotted spoon or fork. Use a spoon to scrape all the seeds out of the pod and add to cream. Discard woody portions.
- Gradually whisk hot cream mixture into prepared egg mixture, mixing slowly so as not to cook the eggs. Once combined, let stand at room temperature for 15 minutes to 1 hour. The longer you have, the more the flavors will blend.
- Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Pour custard evenly into ramekins.
- Place filled ramekins in a baking pan with sides, and pour a little hot water into the pan around the ramekins. The water should reach about halfway up the sides of each ramekin.
- Carefully move baking pan to preheated oven and bake until custards are sturdy at the edges but wiggle slightly in the center when shaken. This typically takes anywhere from 20 minutes to 1 hour, depending on the size of your ramekins.
- Remove baking pan from the oven, and remove custards from pan. Let cool.
- Once custards have cooled, place in the refrigerator at least 1 hour or overnight.
- Once custards are cold, sprinkle each one evenly with sugar. Move a kitchen torch back and forth over each custard until sugar melts, bubbles, and darkens. It will take a few seconds for each one.
- Alternatively, preheat your broiler to high and place chilled ramekins underneath the heat for 1-2 minutes each, or until the sugar has melted and caramelized.
- Serve immediately or chill in the fridge for 5-10 more minutes for cold custards.
- Keep ramekins covered in plastic wrap in the fridge for up to 1 week.
I use small ramekins that I picked up at Williams-Sonoma years ago, but you can use just about any small oven-safe dishes! Depending on the size of your ramekins, you may get more or less than 8 servings. I often make one large crème brûlée along with a few smaller ones. Just adjust the bake time accordingly, and you'll be all set!