I’m going to let you in on a little secret—most pastry chefs hate making crème brûlée.
Aside from maybe chocolate cake, it’s the one dessert that always HAS to be on the menu because people love it so much and have come to expect it on menus. For some, it’s the perfect ending to a meal. Cracking through the caramelized sugar crust to reveal a chilled creamy custard underneath. That’s why it’s so important to have a great recipe, because trust me, you’ll be making it a lot.
Over the years I’ve come to appreciate the difference between making it on a large scale for 300 hungry guests (torching one at a time), and for making it for my wife at home (and eating the leftovers for breakfast).
It’s a versatile dessert in that you can flavor the base with almost anything. Maple, coconut, chocolate. All of which are delicious, but I have a soft spot for the simplest of them all, vanilla.
Note: Invest in a torch to get the job done. If you plan on making this recipe often, I would recommend investing in a good, heavy duty one from the hardware store. You need to use a torch—I’ve seen people try to caramelize the sugar under a broiler and it’s ALWAYS messy.
Makes 10-12 ramekins or teacups.
- 1L 35% Cream
- 1 cup sugar
- Pinch of salt
- 10 egg yolks
- Flavorings: I used 1 vanilla bean scraped and 1 tsp orange blossom water (I’m a sucker for that creamsicle flavor)
- Scald cream with ½ cup sugar, salt and flavorings. (you only need to scald this, if overheated, you will cook the egg yolks and you will wonder why you are trying to bake pastry cream)
- Combine egg yolks with remaining sugar JUST before adding the scalded cream.
- Temper the cream with the yolks and strain. (you always want to strain custards to remove those little bits of egg that don’t incorporate. This creates a much smoother mouth feel)
- Portion into ramekins and bake in a water bath, filling 1/3 of the way up the ramekin. (remember that if using different sizes, some will be done before others)
- Bake at 315°F for approx. 40-44 minutes, rotating the pan half way through (bake time is dependent on the size of the ramekin). Check below for tips on doneness.
- Let the brûlées come to room temperature on the counter before draining the water and chilling in the fridge overnight. (If by chance you’ve accidentally splashed some water into the ramekin now or before the bake, you can just pour it off once it’s chilled)
Useful tips on how to check for doneness (trust me, I’ve seen it all):
- Slightly shake the pan and if the custard looks set and only has a slight jiggle it is done.
- Dip your finger in the water surrounding the ramekins and touch the center of the custard, if it feels springy and doesn’t stick to your finger, it is set.
- If there are bubbles forming around the perimeter of the ramekin, it is over-baked.
- If it is browning on top, your oven is too hot.
- If it has souffle’d and puffed in the middle, you forgot the sugar.
How to brûlée:
- Start by spreading a thin layer of sugar on top of the chilled custard and lightly torch the top until it’s caramelized. You might need to repeat if you haven’t achieved that dark caramelized color the first round.
- Wait a couple of minutes before you crack it open!