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starts and finishes

Recipe: crème brûlée

Whew, that was a long hiatus. While the weekend was a miserable slog, I knew things were on an upswing yesterday when I began to contemplate what recipes to try next. That and the fact that I was checking the snow forecasts for the big mountains, anxiously counting down the days to when I could clean the house (14 days after the lunar new year!), and following the news again. I am hoping this is the start of a solid good 2 weeks for me. Thanks to all for your very sweet wishes.

But there is some unfinished business from dinner last week. I never got around to posting what we had for our Valentine’s Day dessert. Crème brûlée is, in my mind, one of the most elegant, simple, and delightful ways to finish a meal. And it’s really not that hard to make! As long as you are competent enough to implement a water bath and not burn your house down with a propane torch (or you could use a broiler, but where is the fun in that?) you’re good as gold.

egg yolks and sugar

The ingredients list is ridiculously short and easy: egg yolks, sugar, cream, and vanilla. For some reason I whisked this by hand instead of using my stand mixer. That was annoying, but doable. Use the mixer, you will be happier for it. I would have been.

add cream

Once I mixed in the cream and vanilla, I strained the entire liquid because I find little bits of cooked egg in my crème brûlée to be disconcerting.

ladle the strained liquid into ramekins

You don’t have to use ramekins. You can use cute little tea cups or bowls or glasses – whatever you like or have on hand that is ovenproof. I like to use my ramekins because I don’t want to screw around looking for dainty tea cups that I don’t own and because I have a not so secret fear of heating some nice dishware unevenly with my torch resulting in a huge crack down the side. Anyway, set the ramekins in a large baking pan so they aren’t touching. The important part here is to bake the crème brûlées in a water bath – gentle heat. I have found the best method is to boil water in a kettle and when the oven is ready, set the pan with the ramekins into the oven and then carefully pour the hot water into the pan (making sure not to get water into the ramekins).

when done cooking, let cool to room temperature

Do yourself a favor and don’t rush the cooling. I bake my crème brûlée to just barely done. It is still jiggling when I take it out of the oven. When it cools to room temp, it should be just set – this yields a most silky and creamy texture. Pop them in the refrigerator covered with plastic wrap.

before serving, sprinkle sugar on top and torch

I’ve tried sprinkling regular sugar, fine granulated sugar, and turbinado sugar on my crème brûlées. The turbinado lends the best caramelized crust for me, sort of holding its place. The finer grained sugars just run into a puddle in the center, which vexes me. If you must broil, go ahead, but the fun really is in the torching… not to mention it is always good to learn about phase changes and properties of sugar. Take care that the dish will be hot either way. Garnish with fruit or just dig in.

the satisfying snap of breaking through the sugar

Classic Crème Brûlée
[print recipe]
from Elegantly Easy Crème Brûlée and Other Custard Desserts by Debbie Puente

8 egg yolks
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 cups heavy cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup sugar (for the tops – I prefer turbinado)

Preheat oven to 300°F. Whisk egg yolks and sugar together in large bowl until sugar is dissolved and mixture is thick and pale yellow. Add cream and vanilla. Strain into a large bowl. Divide mixture into 6 ramekins or custard cups. Place in a water bath and bake until set around the edges, but still loose in the center, about 40 to 50 minutes (I needed 60 minutes). Remove from oven and leave in water bath until cooled. Remove cups from water bath and chill for at least 2 hours or up to 2 days. When ready to serve, sprinkle 2 teaspoons of sugar over each custard. Torch or broil the sugar until caramelized and serve.

38 nibbles at “starts and finishes”

  1. Michelle says:

    I *love* creme brulee… especially the *tink* that the sugar makes when you break it. Looks wonderful!

  2. peabody says:

    Mmm, classic creme brulee, my mother’s favorite of all time. I just love when you break through the top to the creamy goodness.

  3. Chris says:

    I am a huge fan of creme brulee! This looks perfect. Your pictures? Stunning!

  4. gwendomama says:

    was drawn to your blog this weekend as i as following a recipe for brown sugar brownies with french seasalt from familystyle food….anyone who labels their blog as ‘use real butter’ has to know what they are doing.
    nice. beautiful. impressive.
    you remind me of my skiing foodie blogging friend, figslavendercheese…she was so modest about it of course.
    anyway, glad you are back, breathlessly awaiting more drool-worthy photos.

  5. Gretchen Noelle says:

    Funny, I was just thinking today that it had been a while since you had posted. Good to see you here again. Lovely dish, one of my favorite. I never have made it, though. No torch and no broiler here, so I will have to wait to get the crunchy sugar layer I too love so much!

  6. Bridget says:

    Glad you’re feeling better!

    I love creme brulee, but I need to work on my technique. I always end up with spots of burnt sugar on top. I think I need to break down and buy turbinado sugar – I’ve seen it recommended before. But how many different types of sugar do I need in my tiny apartment kitchen?

  7. Susan at StickyGooeyCreamyChewy says:

    Jen- I’m glad you’re feeling better. The creme brulee was worth waiting for. The photos are gorgeous! It’s one of my favorite desserts, but I rarely ever make it. I’m scared of the blow torch!

  8. manggy says:

    Hey Jen! It’s nice to hear from you again! :)
    I love a well-done creme brulee… Unfortunately it means tons of yolks and heavy cream heh heh :) Yeah, torching is the best. The broiler, aside from being no fun, makes a clumpy, weak brulee. The best part is you can freeze the creme brulees! Instant dessert (well, after an overnight thaw).

    I can’t for the life of me figure out a good way to get the ramekins out of the water bath. I always end up with gross, wet oven mitts.

  9. amanda says:

    I don’t know if I trust myself to use a blowtorch. I literally could burn the house down. It’d just be me and my ramekins of creme brulee, because I’d obviously run in and save those!

  10. Judy says:

    Glad to see you’re back. I keep checking on you. : )

    When I did my restaurant internship, I made pumpkin creme brulees, among other desserts. Any kind is fine with me!

  11. Meeta says:

    Oh yeah creme brulee is always the best choice for a elegant dessert. I made some with berries in it last summer and that too was a great flavor explosion. But this is always a winner!

  12. Amy says:

    Hey what’s up vday creme brulee buddy! *hi 5* I made some for the big romantic dinner too. :D

  13. Joanna in the kitchen says:

    Looks delicious. This is one of my favourites :-D

  14. Steph F. says:

    Glad to see you back and to hear that you are feeling better. Crème brûlée is one of my huge weaknesses, and this post just made me melt. Now I might just have to go get a blowtorch of my own..

  15. Woolly says:

    I wanted you to know I made those Tarts on the weekend…. they turned out great… and no store bought crust… took your advice and it worked out! thanks

  16. Deborah says:

    My favorite dessert!!

  17. Bri says:

    Glad you’re feeling better Jen! I’ll add my kudos for your dessert choice to the crowd. Creme Brulee is my all time favorite dessert. I may have to make some tonight… Thanks for the inspiration!

  18. linda says:

    I love a good crème brûlée. Thanks for the step by step explanation. It’s still on my to do list. And the torch is still on my to buy list ;)

  19. Michelle says:

    Wow! That looks spectacular! I’ve always been too scared to try creme brulee. But this looks simple and easy to make. You did a fantastic job. :-)

  20. Denise says:

    Your story about Valentine’s inspired me to write about my MAN! Thank you! Your creme brulee looks fantastic. We have even figured how to take it on the road for camping – what started as a joke has become an annual thing on our camping trip, really funny because we are not fancy in that way at all!

    Love your inspiration, thank you!

  21. Kevin says:

    That looks so good! I really need to get around to trying Crème Brûlée. Bookmarked

  22. jenyu says:

    Michelle – I think that’s my favorite part too.

    Peabody – your mom is a woman after my own heart!

    Chris – thank you :)

    gwendomama – hey thanks. I visited Cindy’s site, she is a hoot and a half!

    Gretchen – that’s so sweet of you. You know, a propane torch is something like $15 a the local hardware store and I like them much better than those little kitchen torches :)

    Bridget – thank you! Oh, but I love the burnt sugar! Or do you mean it’s seriously burnt? I got little patches of that with plain sugar, which is why I think turbinado is better. I totally understand the space issue though – I lived in apartments for far too many years ;)

    Susan – don’t be scared, hon! :) The blow torch is *fun* when you get used to it. I can just imagine what amazing desserts will be marching out of your kitchen once you get a torch.

    Manggy – thanks love! I didn’t know you could freeze creme brulees! Good to know. As for the waterbath… Leave the ramekins in the waterbath until the water cools to room temp (a few hours). Then take them out. That residual heat helps to solidify the custard without making it dry. Silly boy ;)

    Amanda – lol!

    Judy – thanks, that’s sweet of you. Pumpkin sounds LOVELY!

    Meeta – yum, I’m sure if it came from your kitchen, it was *awesome*.

    Amy – w00t!! :) Great minds…

    Joanna – ditto!

    Steph – thanks! Yay! more blowtorches!

    Woolly – dude, you so rock! Good on ya :)

    Deborah – me too!

    Bri – so much creme brulee love, it’s great! Hope they came out perfectly for ya.

    Linda – this is one recipe you won’t regret having in your arsenal. It’s really easy and a huge crowd pleaser.

    Michelle – thanks, I hope you’ll give it a try!

    Denise – oh, that’s so sweet! and I love Yosemite – the Sierra Nevada is one of my favorite places on Earth. Looks awesome and I’m glad you had a great time.

    Kevin – man, you cook up more new stuff than anyone I know of. You will be the master of us all soon!

  23. Hillary says:

    I have a sort of creme brulee making fetish. I’m not sure why, but all I have to say is: your way is much simpler! Great job.

  24. Tartelette says:

    That crackling of the sugar is the best feeling and sound in the world! This is one of my favorite dessert to make and eat!

  25. Jesse says:

    Oh my god, that picture screams SILK to me. I can practically feel the texture of the cracked sugar and the soft cream underneath that. *Scrambles to the kitchen to make some creme brulee of my own*

  26. Annemarie says:

    fabulous first picture you have – part whisking, part stillness. I don’t think I could manage that picture in years and years of trying…

  27. Rosa says:

    Beautiful! Those Crème Brûlées look gorgeously delicious!



  28. Irene says:

    I love Creme Brulee. My favorite is to make it with banana. And using the blow torch….. FUN! I never let my husband have it. :) What amazing pictures of the eggs!! Exactly what eggs should look like – sunny.

  29. jenyu says:

    Hillary – I’ve never made it any other way, do you have a recipe too?

    Tartelette – me too!!

    Jesse – I know exactly what you mean. It is one of the few sweets that I actually crave.

    Annemarie – one word, sweetie: tripod :)

    Rosa – thanks!

    Irene – fighting over a blow torch?! That’s great! More people should fight over blow torches, I love mine!

  30. Pandanus Crème Brûlée - Kem Nướng Lá Dứa « Hot.Sour.Salty.Sweet. And Umami says:

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  31. val Ost says:

    Creme brulee,

    The best way to make the dark golden crust on top , without a blow-torch, is so easy ! Take a small heavy based pan and set over medium heat. Shake into pan a cupful of ordinary , granulated sugar ( NOTHING ELSE) and continue to heat gently for about 6-8 minutes, shaking often to make sure it is not sticking or burning on bottom of pan. You must stand by this and watch constantly…. don’t leave it unattended! Do this slowly the first time, until you are familiar with the method. If it looks as though it might burn, remove from heat and and stir it around a LITTLE. Put back on heat and continue cooking gently until all sugar has melted and turned a beautiful darkish golden brown colour. Remove from heat, cool for a few seconds, then pour a thin layer over the tops of your cold brulees. Leave in fridge to set and chill.
    Fill pan with cold water and leave to soak……the solid ‘glass’ will all dissolve !
    I find this method MUCH better than using a torch, which tends to heat up the egg mixture and cause it to bubble like scrambled egg….ugh !
    I hope this solves the problem!

    Don’t be tempted to put too thick a layer of the sugar syrup on the brulees……..I greedily poured 6mm on, and it was almost impossible to break through !!.(…but very delicious, despite having to use a sledge-hammer!!!)

  32. jenyu says:

    Val – I’ve never really encountered problems using my blow torch and it is much easier to cleanup too.

  33. Laura says:

    I have leftover chocolate creme brulee–(Cream, half and half, egg yolks and lots of chocolate). Do you think I can freeze it? It doesn’t have the sugar carmelized on it yet.

  34. jenyu says:

    Laura – I’m pretty sure you can freeze it, but not sure if the texture will be true when you defrost. Ummmm… wait a sec, I know I’ve seen frozen creme brulee at Trader Joes, so it must be doable. And we froze creme brulee as an insert in a recent Daring Bakers challenge, which was delicious frozen. So I’ll hazard a yes on your question.

  35. Meg says:

    I just made this for my parents, and we all found it delicious. Although it was rather a bit annoying when they “saved” their creme brulee from “overtorching”.

  36. jenyu says:

    Meg – ha ha, well, I guess some of us like our sugar burnt more than others :)

  37. How to Make Chocolate Creme Brulee (video) says:

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  38. Anonymous says:

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