Here is a classic Crème Brûlée with a silky, smooth and rich custard topped with a thin pane of crunchy toffee. This is French chic personified in a dessert – classy but not stuffy, and oh-so-effortless! It takes just 4 simple ingredients: cream, egg yolks, sugar and vanilla. It’s an excellent make-ahead dessert for an elegant dinner party, yet easy enough to whip up for dinner tonight.
And no, you don’t even need a blow torch to make the toffee topping!
I will never forget the first time I made Crème Brûlée because I was floored by how easy it was. I think I just assumed that something that looks and tastes so incredible, and appears on the menus of great restaurants would be really hard to make!
I think you too will be so surprised how easy Crème Brûlée is! No fancy gadgets needed (I’ll get to the toffee topping later :-)) and just 4 simple steps:
Infuse cream with vanilla (10 minute simmer, and stand for 1 hour);
Whisk egg yolks and sugar, then cream;
Pour into ramekins, bake, then chill;
Sprinkle with sugar and finally blast with blowtorch or stick it under a screaming hot grill to form the toffee topping.
“Wait, that’s it??”, I hear you exclaim incredulously. Yep. You barely need a recipe! 😂
(PS. How to pronounce Crème Brûlée: krem broo-lay. Bonus points if you can do the guttural French accent. I can’t – I can only say it with an awful Aussie drawl!)
What goes in Crème Brûlée
Here’s all you need to make Crème Brûlée:
Cream – Heavy / thickened or pure cream works just fine here. If you opt for low-fat cream, you will miss the rich mouthfeel but the recipe does still work;
Vanilla bean – While real vanilla beans will give the best and purest vanilla flavour, you can use vanilla bean paste instead. Vanilla bean paste still has the little black vanilla seeds in it, so it will look the same but the vanilla flavour is not quite as pure. Vanilla extract also works, though it’s another step down from the “real thing”, albeit an excellent economical option. I personally wouldn’t recommend making Crème Brûlée using imitation vanilla essence. It kind of defeats the purpose …
Sugar – Some for mixing into the custard, and a bit for sprinkling on the surface to make the paper-thin, shatteringly crispy topping!
Egg yolks – This gives Crème Brûlée its velvety mouthfeel as well as making the custard set. (What to do with the whites other than pavlova? Use them to make this Fluffy Soufflé’s Egg White Omelette!
How to make Crème Brûlée
A chic French baked custard dessert everybody knows and loves … yet it’s a walk in the park to make!
Scrape vanilla bean – To scrape the vanilla bean “caviar” (seeds) out, cut an incision down the length of the vanilla bean. Then use the back of a small knife held perpendicular against the vanilla bean and scrape it along the inside to scrape out the vanilla bean seeds. See demo in the recipe video below;
Infuse cream – Place vanilla seeds, empty vanilla bean pod and cream in a saucepan, and simmer over low heat for 10 minutes. Then leave to stand for 1 hour so the cream is infused with the vanilla flavour and cools (so it doesn’t cook the egg when we add it). I tend to do this with the lid off because I don’t like condensation dripping into my cream from the lid if you cover it. (I always think, “It’s diluting the cream!”, which actually makes absolutely no sense 😂.)
It does mean removing the skin that forms on the surface before mixing into the egg;
Make egg mixture – Whisk egg yolks with the sugar;
Add cream – Remove the vanilla bean from the cream (and have a giggle when you see what I use to remove it in the recipe video!) Use a slotted spoon or similar to remove any skin from the surface of the cream to ensure our custard is silky smooth;
Make custard – Pour the cream into the egg mixture then whisk until just combined. Don’t whisk more than necessary as this creates air bubbles. Though let’s be honest, it’s really not the end of the world if you have an air bubble or two in your custard! I’m just being a perfectionist here :-);
Fill ramekins – This recipe makes 500ml / 2 cups of custard, so that’s four servings of 125ml / ½ cup each. Small ramekins holding around 150ml / ⅔ cup are an ideal size – this is what I used.
Restaurants often serve Crème Brûlée in a flatter, larger dish so there’s more surface area and thus more toffee action. I applaud this clever move – we all love that toffee top, it’s the best part! – but regretfully I do not have such a dish;
Water bath – Place ramekins in a deep(-ish) roasting pan, then fill the pan with boiling water so it comes halfway up the side of the ramekins. Don’t go any higher than this otherwise the ramekins will float around in the water!
Bake 35 – 40 minutes or until the custard looks and feels set but still wobbles when you (gently!) shake the ramekin.
How set Crème Brûlée should be
Crème Brûlée is supposed to be a soft custard with a texture like a thick Greek yogurt. You should not be able to cut through it like cake! When you scoop some from the ramekin, the walls of the custard remaining in the ramekin should barely be holding upright, but shouldn’t run everywhere either. It should melt in your mouth like a rich, velvety cream. It shouldn’t even have the texture of soft jelly!
How to make the crisp toffee topping of Crème Brûlée
A blow torch makes short work of the crisp toffee topping. Just sprinkle with sugar and blast with the blow torch for around 6 to 10 seconds until the sugar melts and turns golden. It will then quickly harden as it cools.
However, if you don’t have a blow torch, just stick the ramekins under a screaming hot grill / broiler for around 45 seconds to 1 minute so the sugar melts. It works just fine, though my two little tips are: (1) the brûlée should be refrigerated overnight to ensure it is really cold to help prevent the custard from melting; and (2) after the sugar is melted, pop the Crème Brûlées back in the fridge for at least 20 minutes, and up to 1 hour. This is because the grill takes longer than a blow torch so the surface of the custard under the caramel will melt a little bit.
That moment when you crack through the caramel topping and are greeted with the sight of silky smooth custard … *faint* . Heaven in a ramekin!
What to serve with Crème Brûlée
As for what to serve Crème Brûlée with? So many options! It makes a very elegant ending to any dinner, but of course the obvious option is to round out a French menu with this impressive dessert. Here are some French menu ideas:
Steak or salmon with Béarnaise Sauce – a suitably upmarket main dish!
Hearty stews – Beef Bourguignon, Coq au Vin or down-home French country cooking with a Chicken in White Wine Sauce;
French Onion Soup – An excellent starter option though certainly suited as a main as well;
Fish with Lemon Beurre Noisette – Fish with a brown butter and lemon sauce (outrageously good);
Nicoise Salad – This Provencal tuna salad would make for a great lighter main course for a balmy summer’s day; and
Side salad suggestions – Try a classic French Bistro Salad, a (better!😉) French Carrot Salad or a Southern French-inspired Tomato Salad with Olive Tapenade. Or make your own with a French Vinaigrette.
Head here for even more French food ideas! → French recipe collection
Bon appétit! – Nagi x
Watch how to make it
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Crème Brûlée (French Vanilla Custard)
- 2 cups pure cream (Aus) / heavy cream (US) (Note 1)
- 1 vanilla pod OR 1 tsp vanilla bean paste (Note 2)
- 5 egg yolks (Note 3 for using leftover whites)
- 1/4 cup caster sugar (superfine sugar)
- 2 tsp caster sugar (superfine sugar)
- Vanilla bean: Split vanilla pod down the middle and scrape the seeds out using a small knife. Place into saucepan with cream and the empty vanilla pod.
- Infuse cream: Simmer uncovered over low heat for 10 minutes. Remove from stove and set aside to infuse for 1 hour with lid on (you can skip this step if using paste, just let it cool to lukewarm). Remove vanilla pod. Skim off any skin that has formed on the surface.
- Preparation: Preheat oven to 130°C/265°F (120°C fan). Place 4 x ⅔ cup / 150 ml empty ramekins in a baking pan with high enough sides that enough water can be poured in to come halfway up ramekins.
- Boil water: Boil a kettle of water.
- Whisk egg yolks and sugar: Whisk yolks and sugar until just well combined. Don't whisk too much, as this can create bubbles.
- Add cream: Pour cream into eggs and gently stir to combine. Divide mixture between ramekins with a soup ladle.
- Water bath: Pour in enough boiling water so it comes halfway up the sides of the ramekins. (If you have too much water, ramekins will float around – not good!)
- Bake: Bake for 35 – 40 minutes, or until the custard is set but there is still a slight wobble when you GENTLY give the ramekin a little shake.
- Chill: Remove ramekins from water. Leave to cool, then refrigerate for at least 6 hours and preferably overnight (up to 3 days is OK).
- Blow torch method: Sprinkle 1/2 tsp sugar over the surface of each crème brûlée. Use a blow torch to melt and caramelise the sugar. Serve immediately.
- Grill / broiler method: Crème brûlée should be first refrigerated overnight. Preheat grill to high. Place crème brûlée under grill for 1 minute or until sugar is melted and caramelised. Refrigerate afterwards for at least 20 minutes and up to 1 hour (to reset custard immediately under toffee), then serve.
- Crème brûlée perfect texture: The texture should be like a very thick yogurt, rather than set so it is sliceable like cake or even like a soft set jelly. When you take a scoop, the custard should barely hold together, but shouldn't be melting or running. When you take a bite the custard should literally just melt in your mouth.
- Australia: This recipe calls for pure cream. Thickened cream also works, but pure cream will give a cleaner, more refined mouthfeel (in my opinion). Light cream does work too but it lacks the richness;
- US: Use heavy cream.
Originally published in September 2016. Updated with brand new photos and long overdue recipe tutorial video! No change to recipe – it’s perfect as is!
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