Easy Crème Brûlée

Many beginner bakers are SHOCKED at how easy creme brûlée is! Only 6 ingredients required and if you follow my success tips, you’ll be gifted with the smoothest, creamiest dessert ever.

crème brûlée with a raspberry on top

Flecked with espresso and flavored with pure vanilla, this is my favorite crème brûlée recipe. The brilliantly creamy custard can only be reached by cracking through a crisp caramelized sugar ceiling. The textural difference between the two layers is unbelievable and separates this dessert from every other. Simply put, crème brûlée tastes like luxury.

The GREAT news is that you don’t need to dine at a fancy restaurant for the best crème brûlée experience. Not many realize how easy it is to make at home, not to mention several dollars cheaper than the $12 price tag you pay at a restaurant.

Homemade creme brûlée with a spoon

Overview: How to Make Crème Brûlée at Home

The full printable recipe is available below, but let me walk you through the process so you can understand the steps before beginning.

  1. Start with kitchen staples: heavy cream, sugar, egg yolks, salt, vanilla. I like adding a little espresso powder for added flavor. What a difference it makes! I know many may not have espresso powder at the ready, so it’s an optional ingredient. But trust me when I say that espresso powder makes a good crème brûlée the best crème brûlée.
  2. Cook: Heat the heavy cream + salt on the stove. Off heat, add vanilla to flavor. Whisk the egg yolks and sugar together. Temper the egg yolk mixture by slowly whisking in some of the warm heavy cream. Pour into ramekins and bake. Let them cool down, then chill for at least 4 hours or even overnight. (Overnight makes crème brûlée an AWESOME make ahead dessert and your guests will be entertained when you whip out that kitchen torch for the topping!)
  3. Top with: sugar, then caramelize it under the broiler or with a kitchen torch.

That’s it, you’re done. Yes, it really is this easy.

Egg yolks and sugar in a large glass measuring cup

Heavy cream and espresso powder in a saucepan

Crème Brûlée Success Tips

  • Best ratio: Heavy cream and egg yolks are the key ingredients in crème brûlée. It took a little bit of testing to figure out the best ratio, but I loved 5 egg yolks with 3 cups of heavy cream the most. This produces a VERY creamy and lush crème brûlée. Save the leftover egg whites and add them to omelets and scrambled eggs the next few mornings.
  • Temper egg yolks: If you’ve never done it before, tempering egg yolks is nothing to fear– all you’re doing is slowly raising the temperature of the egg yolks so they don’t scramble. Whisk *some* of the warm heavy cream into the egg yolks + sugar, then whisk it all into the pot of warm heavy cream. You can watch me temper the egg yolks in the video tutorial.
  • Should I strain it? Straining the custard before cooking it is, in my opinion, optional. If you notice the custard is thick with any lumps, definitely use your sieve to strain it before baking.
  • Shallow ramekins: Serve crème brûlée in individual ramekins. The small ramekins ensure the custard cooks evenly, though you could use a large wide ceramic dish instead. See my recipe note below. I love using individual wide, shallow ramekins so there is more surface area for the caramelized sugar! I suggest these oval ramekins or these circle ramekins. (This recipe yields about 8-10 crème brûlées so you’ll need 2 sets of the oval ramekins OR you can bake the extra custard in other ramekins you may have.)
  • Water bath: Place the ramekins in a large baking dish (I used a 9×13-inch baking pan), pour the custard in each, then fill the pan with hot water. The water bath creates a moist and humid environment for the crème brûlée, which is imperative for their texture. (Same story for lemon pudding cakes.) A regular hot oven typically produces rubber-y tasting crème brûlée with cracked surfaces.
  • Best bake time: You will likely over-bake the crème brûlée your first time. That’s what my friend told me before I began my crème brûlée adventures. They key, he said, is to look for a jiggly center. The edges will be set, the centers will jiggle like jello. (Anyone ever watch My Best Friend’s Wedding with Julia Roberts? Crème brûlée can never be jell-o. YOU could never be jell-o.) For a more accurate answer, use an instant read thermometer. They’re done when the thermometer registers 170°F (77°C).

By the way… my friend was right, I over-baked them my first try. The next few tries, pictured in this post, are texture perfection. You want that creamy custard. Learn from my mistake and take those custards out of the oven early.

ramekins of creme brulee before baking in a water bath

Burnt Sugar Topping

Crème = cream. Brûlée = burnt. Burnt cream. So as many times as I say “caramelized sugar” it’s really burnt sugar. It’s the CRUNCH on the CREAM and it’s so so tasty!

After the custards bake, cool, and chill, it’s time for that special finishing touch. All we’re doing here is sprinkling the surface with granulated sugar. Some recipes insist on superfine sugar for the topping and some recipes call for coarse sugar. I tested the recipe with both, but ended up just using regular granulated sugar– the same sugar we’ll use in the custard themselves. It produced a thick and sturdy caramelized sugar topping, just the kind we want! One important note: Cover the entire surface with a thin layer of granulated sugar. No exposed custard. When applied to heat, the cooled custard will curdle.

2 images of sugar on creme brulee and using a torch to create a burnt sugar topping

Kitchen Torch or Oven Broiler?

For caramelizing, you need intense heat. A kitchen torch is magic. Kitchen torches are surprisingly inexpensive and the couple times a year that I need it, I’m glad I have one. It really makes a difference. Other recipes where I use my kitchen torch:

See my recipe notes for using the oven broiler instead.

Burnt sugar on creamy custard = simple beauty and decadence. Doesn’t this make you feel fancy? We should be wearing pearls and eating our crème brûlées with crystal spoons while sitting on our gold thrones calling each other on our diamond encrusted phones talking about how fancy we are.

zoomed in image of burnt sugar topping on creme brulee

Print
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crème brûlée with a raspberry on top

Easy Crème Brûlée

  • Author: Sally
  • Prep Time: 15 minutes
  • Cook Time: 35 minutes
  • Total Time: 4 hours, 50 minutes
  • Yield: serves 8
  • Category: Dessert
  • Method: Baking
  • Cuisine: French

Description

This is the BEST and creamiest crème brûlée recipe! Flecked with espresso and vanilla, you only 6 simple ingredients and they’re ready to bake in only 15 minutes.


Ingredients

  • 5 large egg yolks
  • 3/4 cup (150g) granulated sugar, divided
  • 3 cups (720ml) heavy cream or heavy whipping cream*
  • 1/2 teaspoon espresso powder (optional but recommended)*
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract*

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 325°F (163°C).
  2. Whisk the egg yolks and 1/2 cup (100g) of granulated sugar together. Set aside. (At this point or before you temper the egg yolks in the next step, bring a small kettle or pot of water to a boil. You’ll need hot water to pour into the baking sheet for the water bath.)
  3. Heat the heavy cream, espresso powder, and salt together in a medium saucepan over medium heat. As soon as it begins to simmer, remove from heat. Stir in the vanilla extract. Remove about 1/2 cup of warm heavy cream and, in a slow and steady stream, whisk into the egg yolks. Keep those egg yolks moving so they don’t scramble. In a slow and steady stream, pour and whisk the egg yolk mixture into the warm heavy cream.
  4. Place ramekins in a large baking pan. If you don’t have 1 pan large enough, bake them in a couple pans. Divide custard between each ramekin, filling to the top. Carefully fill the pan with about a 1/2 inch of the hot water. The baking pan will be hot so use an oven mitt to carefully transfer the pan to the oven.
  5. Bake until the edges are set and centers are a little jiggly. The time depends on the depth of your ramekins. My ramekins are 1-inch and the custard takes 35 minutes. Begin checking them at 30 minutes. For a more accurate sign, they’re done when an instant read thermometer registers 170°F (77°C).
  6. Remove pan from the oven and, using an oven mitt, remove the ramekins from the pan. Place on a wire rack to cool for at least 1 hour. Place in the refrigerator, loosely covered, and chill for at least 4 hours and up to 2 days before topping.
  7. Using the remaining granulated sugar, sprinkle a thin layer all over the surface of the chilled custards. Caramelize the sugar with a kitchen torch and serve immediately or store in the refrigerator for up to 1 hour before serving. (Caramelized topping is best enjoyed right away.)

Notes

  1. Make Ahead Instructions: Prepare the custard mixture through step 4. Cover tightly and refrigerate for up to 1 day before baking. You can bake the custard up to 2 days ahead of time. See step 6.
  2. Special Tools: Ninja Food Processor | Glass Measuring CupEspresso PowderOval Ramekins | Kitchen Torch | Butane Fuel
  3. Heavy Cream: 3 cups of half-and-half may be substituted for heavy cream. The custard’s texture will be a little lighter.
  4. Espresso Powder: I know many may not have espresso powder at the ready, so it’s an optional ingredient. But trust me when I say that espresso powder makes a good crème brûlée the best crème brûlée. Leaves great flavor, but the custard doesn’t necessarily taste like coffee. Rather, it’s hinted with espresso flavor. Instead of espresso powder, you can use 2 teaspoons quality instant coffee.
  5. Pure Vanilla Extract: Pure vanilla extract is stirred into the heavy cream after it’s heated. You can use the seeds scraped from 1/2 a vanilla bean or 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste instead. Either can be whisked into the heavy cream when you add the salt and espresso powder.
  6. Ramekins: Small ramekins ensure the custard cooks evenly, though you could use a large wide ceramic dish instead. I love using individual wide and shallow ramekins so there is more surface area for the caramelized sugar. I suggest these oval ramekins or these circle ramekins. If you don’t have ramekins, use a large wide ceramic or glass dish. Do not use metal. The bake time will increase with a larger size pan.
  7. Oven Broiler Directions: If you don’t have a kitchen torch, use the oven broiler to caramelize the sugar in step 7. After the custard has chilled as directed in step 6, dust the tops with reserved granulated sugar, then place them on a baking sheet on an oven rack directly under the broiler. Broil on high until caramelized. Keep a close eye on it.
  8. See all my success tips written in the post above.

Adapted from Allrecipes and Mark Bittman

ramekins of creme brûlée

161 Comments

  1. So, this is the first time I’m making Creme Brulee. I followed the directions, BTW the coffee was very nice, I baked then in 3″ high ramekins and went by the temperature. They were in the oven about 45 minutes. I took them out of the ovenand let them sit for about an hour.
    Cut to 4 hours later, I used the broiler to crystalize the sugar. At the moment of truth they turned out to be still completely liquid. Not even the edge had set. I’m completely flummoxed. Although the flavor was excellent, I ended up drinking it. Obviously, I undercooked them, even though I went by the temperature. You had said if the thermometer reaches 170F then they’re done. Maybe you shed some light as to what went wrong, aside from not cooked long enough. So… can these be saved by baking them again in the oven or perhaps in a water bath?
    Thank you kindly,
    Louie

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Louie, It sounds like they were simply not baked long enough. Our ramekins are 1-inch and the custard takes 35 minutes, so I would imagine 3 inch high ramekins would take longer than 45 minutes. If you try again, you can try not filling your ramekins as full and keep an eye on them and don’t take them out until the edges appear set.

  2. Since this makes 8-10 ramekins, do you bake them all at the same time (using 2 9×13 pans with separate water baths), or do you make just one batch at a time?

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Genevieve, If your oven is large enough to fit 2 pans side by side then you can bake them all at once. If not, baking in batches should be fine!

      1. They baked side-by-side perfectly. The espresso powder you recommended really brought these to a whole new level. Delicious and easy recipe!

  3. Stephanie, thank you for the quick response. In retrospect, they should have baked longer. What confused me was that the outside edge wasn’t even set.
    Can I tebake the ones remaining again in the oven or do water bath.
    Thanks again,
    Louie

  4. Good recipe if you want coffee flavored eggs. I’m not impressed by this recipe at all. Spent a lot of time making this creme brûlée and followed the recipe to the T and it tasted horrible!

  5. Simply delicious and easy to make. I finally made my first Creme brûlée by following this recipe and my guests were super impressed. It had a smooth creamy texture with a hint of coffee, topped by a crunchy caramel layer. Because my ramekin dishes were thicker than they should have been, I extended the time in the oven.

  6. it’s in the oven now, in a water bath! going to check the temperature at 45 min to see where it’s at. love the combo of ingredients, it was super easy and fun to put together. was craving creme brulee all day! sooooo excited to torch it tomorrow, i read somewhere to do half brown and half white sugar, so will see how that goes. Thanks for the 5 yolks-to-3 cups heavy cream ratio–the batter smelled like the authentic custard that i love!

  7. Delicious! I have tried this several times now. Each time my brûlée came out perfect. Your caution on the bake time was well taken. Thank you. I added some civilized coffee espresso powder and it was perfect. I would never have thought of that on my own. It was a great add.

  8. I have made this several times now. It’s delicious! I have a kitchen torch and have guests torch their own dessert. Very fun.

  9. Constance Lee says:

    I have a question — and don’t kill me for asking it — Can I make this Keto with monk sugar? Will it brown the same?

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