Many beginner bakers are SHOCKED at how easy creme brûlée is! There’s 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 and has always been a baking bucket list recipe for me, and for good reason.
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, especially for occasions like Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, anniversaries, etc.
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.
- 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 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.
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. 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.Print
Easy Crème Brûlée
- Prep Time: 15 minutes
- Cook Time: 35 minutes
- Total Time: 4 hours, 50 minutes
- Yield: serves 8
- Category: Dessert
- Method: Baking
- Cuisine: French
This is the BEST and creamiest crème brûlée recipe! Flecked with espresso and vanilla, you only need 6 simple ingredients and they’re ready to bake in only 15 minutes.
- 8 shallow 4-ounce oval ramekins
- 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. 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.
- 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 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.
- Special Tools (affiliate links): Ninja Food Processor | Glass Measuring Cup | Espresso Powder | Oval Ramekins | Kitchen Torch | Butane Fuel
- Heavy Cream: 3 cups of half-and-half may be substituted for heavy cream. The custard’s texture will be a little lighter.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Adapted from Allrecipes and Mark Bittman
Keywords: crème brûlée
Reader Comments & Reviews
I made this recipe for Super Bowl Sunday and it was a hit! It was handy to make it up ahead of time and keep refrigerated until ready to serve. Thanks for breaking down the steps so it was not intimidating. Will definitely make again!
Hi if I use a glass pan how would I serve it? Can it be cut into squares and served on a dessert plate? I’m also hoping that coconut creame will be a good substitute for heavy cream.
Hi Ronit, If you use a large pan you would be able to scoop it onto individual plates but it would not slice neatly into squares. We haven’t tested any non dairy substitutes but full fat canned coconut milk or cream would be the closest in terms of fat content and texture. Again, we haven’t tested it so we are unsure of the results. Let us know if you try anything!
hey, what will happen if I use 2 cups heavy cream?
Hi Nouf, we recommend sticking with the recipe as written for best results.
I loved this recipe so much!
I made this recipe for the first time, and my adult son absolutely loved it! He is a big coffee drinker, and he loved the hint of espresso in there. I didn’t have a kitchen torch to carmelize the sugar on top, so I put it under the broiler. Well, that didn’t work; it actually made the creme brulee very warm and mushy inside. Anyways, my son ate the rest of the creme brulees without the burnt topping. I’m going to invest in a kitchen torch before I make this again. The recipe was very easy to follow and well worth every second! Delicious! Thank you, Sally, for all of your fabulous recipes! Love the new website!
I tried to make the Creme brûlée. Sadly it did not set in the oven despite following the recipe. Based on the comments I read above, I did not let the cream get hot enough in the “bring to a simmer” portion of the recipe. It did not help even after refrigerating overnight either. However, I took the unset brûlée and made it into ice cream with my ice cream maker and it tasted delicious!
Wow this is such a great recipe. It’s easy to follow, has simple ingredients and the final result is incredible! My mother in law said it tastes better than anything shes had from a restaurant. I will definitely be using this recipe over and over again.
Way too milky tasting, ick. Not surprised now that I notice all other recipes call for significantly less cream. Explains why it didn’t set up very well either, even though I brought to a simmer as directed and baked until temp was 20 degrees higher than the recipe called for.
Hi M! Make sure to use heavy cream, not milk. Milk will be much too thin for this rich custard. Thanks for giving this recipe a try!
I did use heavy whipping cream, which of course tastes just as “milky” as milk. I will update my review slightly though, the dessert set up properly the next day, 4+ hours was simply not enough time in the fridge after baking.
How could it taste just as “milky as milk” when it’s not milk in the first place? Heavy cream should be creamy, not milky.
One trick that I learned at a restaurant in Geneva was that, instead of torching the sugar, pour an ounce of high proof alcohol, eg rum, whiskey, brandy or calvados over the sugar and flambé the crème Guests ooh and ahh appropriately, sugar caramelizes evenly, and the flavor is enhanced.
My daughter cannot have dairy. Was wondering if you could recommend replacing the heavy cream with either condensed coconut milk or regular canned coconut milk. Thank you.
Hi Danielle, We haven’t tested any non dairy substitutes but full fat canned coconut milk or cream would be the closest in terms of fat content and texture. Again, we haven’t tested it so I’m unsure of the results. Let us know if you try anything!
Possible to half this recipe? If so, how many egg yolks would be appropriate, 2 or 3?
Hi Prath, You can definitely halve this creme brûlée recipe. Our general rule for halving an egg is to crack it open, beat the yolk and white together with a fork, measure the volume (should be a few Tbsp), then use half.
Hi Trina – that wouldn’t work here because you have to separate out the yolks. I used 3 and it worked fine – but I did a ⅔ recipe not a ½.
Any thoughts on subbing in some egg nog for a Christmas dessert? 🙂
We haven’t tested that, but it sounds delicious!
I made this tonight. Comment…”This is the best creme brulee I’ve ever had.” Also, “This is the best dessert I’ve ever had.” Glowing moment. Thanks Sally!
Hi Susan, We are so glad everyone enjoyed this!
This is by far the best creme brûlée I’ve ever had! Including ones I’ve had at high end professional French restaurants. This recipe is easy to follow and makes a yummy treat. I used large ramekins which needed just over an hour to cook. Real vanilla extract is key!
If you’re looking for an impressive dessert to serve . . . this is it! I baked mine in shallow oval ramekins for 30 minutes and they were perfectly creamy and set. The espresso flavor was subtle, but worked perfectly with the burnt sugar. Once I gathered the equipment, I found the recipe to be much simpler than I had imagined.
Hi Sally! I made this recipe a while back and everyone LOVED it. Like, wandered away and came back to find people already tucking in, that’s how much they loved it. SO, for Thanksgiving I was thinking instead of a pumpkin pie, doing a pumpkin crème brûlée! And I’m hesitant to use another recipe because of how well this turned out on the first try. Do you have any thoughts on how to sub in the pumpkin? Maybe subbing in for some of the heavy cream, or incorporating as a syrup form in lieu of some of the sugar? Any thoughts are appreciated, and thank you again for the fantastic recipe!
We’re so thrilled to hear that you love this creme brûlée recipe! We haven’t tested a pumpkin version, but agree that reducing the cream and adding pumpkin puree would be a great place to start. Let us know if you give it a try!
I love Creme Brulee, but being lactose intolerant, it tears up my stomach. I have not seen any lactose free cream for sale, but there are lactose free milks. Is there any way I can adapt this or another recipe so that I can again enjoy this wonderful dessert?
Hi Lynn, We haven’t tested any non dairy substitutes but canned coconut milk or cream would be the closest in terms of fat content and texture. Again, we haven’t tested it so I’m unsure of the results. Let us know if you try anything!
Hi. Sally. I just made these creme brulees today. Beyond Yummy. Instructions so simple. Mine a bit soft. I read through comments after baking and I think I did not get cream hot enough and I let water cool just a bit. I cannot wait to make these again. Seriously so simple and flavor is perfect!!!
Thankyou once again Sally
I loved LOVED the creaminess of this brulee and now wonder why I haven’t been making it more often. Thank you, Sally!
Thank you so dearly for also using metric and Celsius ❤️. Will make this tonight! Using one bigger dish so fingers crossed I catch it on time!
Picture shows six ramekins but recipe serves 8. Please clarify. Also, what size ramekins are used for this recipe? Thank you.
Hi Donna! See recipe notes for details on ramekins – the yield will depend on the size ramekins you use. Enjoy!
I have the Nordic brain cakelet pan and was wondering if I could do this recipe in this pan.
Would the baked brulees be solid enough to turn the pan upside down and have the brains pop out? It would be such an awesome Halloween dessert
Do you think a flan would work better to pop out of this metal mold?
Or should I just stick to a cake?
If so, do you have a recommendation?
Hi Annette! We’ve never tested our crème brûlée in a mold before so can’t offer much advice. Flan may work! For a cake, we would stick with a more dense cake recipe to use with a cake mold – like one of our bundt cake recipes. This mini vanilla pound cakes recipe may be perfect! Let us know what you try.
Hello!! i need to make 12 of these, is it as simple as doubling the recipe? or do i make each batch on its own? Thanks!
Hi Christina, Yes you should be able to double this recipe for 12. Enjoy!
Sally, love your website. Have made many items. All delicious. I made Creme Brûlée for company this past week and they were over the top how good it was. It’s their favorite dessert and thought your recipe was better than restaurants,
Thanks so much!
Is there another substitute for espresso powder? Can I use instant coffee? Thank you! 🙂
Hi Helen, instead of espresso powder, you can use 2 teaspoons quality instant coffee.
I love this recipe! I add a cup of sugar to the heavy cream, and on top of using a vanilla bean I also use a half teaspoon of extract one it’s off the heat. Great recipe!
Made this for my sister’s birthday as it is one of our favourite desserts ever and this recipe was such a hit! Everyone raved about it so I know this recipe is a keeper. I have round ramekins, unlike the ones shown in the recipe, so I baked for 45 minutes and refrigerated overnight. There was a bit of a film on the top the next day, but once I hit it with the torch, it went away. Will DEFINITELY be remaking this one many many times.
Also the espresso powder takes this to a whole new level and in my opinion is a must use!
I don’t understand – I used 5 egg yolks , and three cups of heavy cream as the recipe suggested – aside from the other ingredients and it’s been in the over at 325 for 40 min and it’s still liquidy… the internal temp says 175- do I take it out? I don’t think it’s going to set. Other recipes say 3 egg yolks per 1 cup of liquid ????
Hi Dana, even though the mixture has reached its proper temperature, it’s possible that the egg yolk/cream mixture didn’t heat long enough prior to baking. Are you baking in the water bath? All recipes are different and I’m happy to look at your other recipes. Do you mind sending them and I can try to research!
I have made this twice. Delicious. But I have so much cream left over. I bought the six oval ramekins that you suggested but end up filling a deeper round ramekin that I have on hand. I could easily fill 3-4 more of the oval ones if I had them. Just wondering why I have so much left over. I do fill them almost to the top. Anyone else experiencing this?
Hi! I made this and the flavor is very nice, however, I had the same issue as Dana. I read through the recipe again to see if I had missed anything and realized that an important step is missing the recipe. It’s missing the instruction to cook the custard mixture on the stove until it thickens after pouring the egg mixture into the warm cream.
I would suspect the cream was insufficiently heated. Technically scalded milk is at 180 F, this “heat the cream until hot” scalded milk denatures the proteins, and it makes a HUGE difference in texture and the ability to become custard. I heat mine to about 172 F because I live at high altitude. Hmmm. Did you boil the water you put in the water bath? Important too, not just “hot water”. I use my kettle. So mine is done at 300 degrees for 35 minutes – perfect every time
I suspect your cream was too cool and water bath as well…
Followed recipe and it turned out more pudding than custard. Suspect the comments from Jim above with temperatures would help ensure a thicker consistency. And I too live at altitude so thank you for the temps/ notation because it absolutely makes a difference!
Thank you for this comment. It helped me figure out why mine didn’t set.
The mixture was fine when I put it in the ramekins, but once I put the hot water into the pan it in scrambled eggs.
Wow. I’ve been making this for 20 years and have never had that happen. Not sure how that could happen after you’ve added cream and sugar.
Amazed at how easy creme brulee is to make! I halved the recipe and used 3 medium sized eggs (they were on the small size of medium) and it worked out fine.
Also my oven is fan so put it on about 150 and they took just over 30 mins to cook.
Thanks for the recipe!
Can you use Silk non dairy alternative heavy whipping cream? It’s a fairly new product ( to me anyway). I would love to make this but need a non dairy alternative. Thank you. ♥️