Any restaurant worth it’s stars is likely to have this dessert on it’s menu. It’s a French dessert, and the name essentially means burnt cream. Truly, the cream is not burnt at all, it’s eggs and cream tempered and baked in a water bath, then dusted with granulated sugar- which is then burnt into a caramel colored, crackly topping for the baked custard.
This dessert holds a special place in my heart as it is one of my husband’s favorites and I remember him ordering it on our first date. I had heard of crème brûlée, but this was my first time having a bite of it. That first date was nearly two decades ago, and I still remember the little trio of crème brûlèes that ended the most significant meal of my life.
I remember my date, now husband, holding his spoon to attack the dessert and I wasn’t quite sure what he was doing. He was just preparing to crack the top to get to the custard. I now do the same thing whenever I enjoy this dessert. It’s super fun to hit the top with a spoon and hear the sharp crack. Every bite with a piece of the topping reminds me of ice cream with toffee bits. A perfect marriage of crunchy and creamy.
The recipe below is only slightly adapted from Art and the Kitchen’s recipe for Maple Syrup Creme Brulee. I have adjusted some of the directions and added notes for different flavorings. Crème brûlèe is something of a blank canvas, so don’t be afraid to have a little fun with the flavors if vanilla isn’t your heart’s desire.
Also, don’t be afraid to try this recipe if you don’t have crème brûlèe dishes or a kitchen torch. I have experimented with a variety of vessels as I also do not have crème brûlèe dishes myself and I have found that ramekins, small glass bowls, even lovely teacups work just fine. Shallow round or oval crème brûlèe ramekins would be a good choice if you’re in the market for proper dishes.
The teacups I used for the photos in this post were my grandmother’s. Using those fine teacups made me feel both nostalgic and pleased with myself for finding such a beautiful vessel to show off this delicate dessert. I think my grandma would be proud…..(right after she shouted at me for using the kitchen torch on prized German porcelain teacups).
The lack of a kitchen torch is no excuse either! The sugar topping can be made using the broiler in your oven. I would NOT use fine teacups for this application, but little pyrex glass bowls or ramekins will hold up to this application just fine- as will crème brûlèe dishes.
Crème BrûléeCourse: DessertCuisine: FrenchDifficulty: Medium
2 1/4 cup heavy cream
6 egg yolks
7 Tbsp pure maple syrup
1 vanilla bean pod, seeds scraped (or 1 tsp vanilla extract)
2 Tbsp granulated sugar for topping
4-6 cups of hot water for bain marie (hot water bath)
- Preheat oven to 325° F. Line a large baking dish with a tea towel and arrange crème brûlèe ramekins (or oven safe dish of choice) on top of the towel.
- Set a pot of water to heat on the stove for the bain marie.
- In a small saucepan, stir together the cream, maple syrup and vanilla bean pod with the scraped seeds. Heat the mixture over medium low to bring it to a simmer. Do not allow to boil.
- While the cream heats, whisk your egg yolks with an electric mixer until they turn pale in color.
- Once your cream is simmering, remove the vanilla bean pod. Pour the cream mixture into your egg yolks while continually whisking by hand. I like to add just a splash to start and then about 1/2 cup at a time to slowly temper the eggs. If you add too much hot liquid too fast, you’ll scramble your egg yolks.
- Ladle the custard into the ramekins.
- Place the large dish with ramekins in the oven and then fill the large dish with the hot water until the water level is 3/4 to the top of your custard ramekins. Do not splash water into your custard!
- Bake the custards for 30-35 minutes. You’ll know the custard is ready if it looks set around the edges and has a slight wobble in the center.
- Use tongs to remove the custards from the hot water and allow to cool on a wire rack for 30 minutes. Refrigerate a minimum of 3 hours before doing the top and serving.
- For the topping: Use a spoon to sprinkle granulated sugar evenly over the tops of the custards. If using a kitchen torch, slowly melt the sugar just until golden brown. This makes the hard, caramelized crust. Try to be patient as cooking the sugar to hot and too fast will cause it to blacken and that will take on a bitter taste.
If you do not have a kitchen torch, you can put the sugared dishes directly under the broiler in your oven for about 2 minutes. Do not walk away from it! If you use this option, you may want to pop them back in the refrigerator for a short time before serving.
- For Pumpkin Spice Crème Brûlèe: Add 2 Tbsp pumpkin puree to the cream mixture, replace vanilla bean with 1/2 tsp vanilla extract and 1/2 tsp pumpkin spice.
- For Orange Crème Brûlèe: Add 1/2 tsp vanilla extract pluse the zest of one orange to the cream mixture as well as 1 Tbsp orange liqueur in place of the vanilla bean. If you do not want the zest in your custard, just strain it out before adding the egg yolks.