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.
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.
How to Make Crème Brûlée at Home
- 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.
- 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!)
- 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!
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. 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.
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.
Kitchen Torch or Oven Broiler?
For caramelizing, you need intense heat. A kitchen torch is magic! (I know many of you have one from the June Baking Challenge!) If not, look into purchasing one. 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.
- 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*
- Preheat oven to 325°F (163°C).
- 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.)
- 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.
- Place ramekins in a large baking pan. Divide custard between each, 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.)
Make ahead tip: Prepare the custard mixture through step 3. 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.
- See all my success tips written in the post above.
- 3 cups of half-and-half may be substituted for heavy cream. The custard's texture will be a little lighter.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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