Creme brulee is a gloriously rich, velvety and deliciously decadent dessert which makes for a sweet finish to any special meal. With a thin and crisp caramelized sugar lid and a creamy interior flecked with vanilla bean, my creme brulee recipe makes preparing this sweet treat at home a genuine pleasure!
Creme Brulee, the Dessert That Only Tastes Fancy
The first time I prepared creme brulee was when I was a student in culinary school, many moons ago...
It was during our semester learning about all sorts of scrumptious desserts and pastries, and I remember being so excited to learn how to actually make this exquisitely delicious dessert typically only served on the menus of “foo-foo” French restaurants and upscale eateries.
Creme brulee had always seemed rather daunting, like it would be a real challenge to prepare with its extra smooth and rich creamy texture perfumed with vanilla, and that gloriously ultra-thin, crispy topping of caramelized sugar to be cracked with the back of a spoon.
So when I discovered that a creme brulee recipe was as simple as it turned out to be, basically just a “baked custard” with a bit of a fancy presentation and taste, I was so pleasantly surprised!
This recipe for creme brulee is my personal take on this beloved dessert, prepared with real vanilla bean, cream, egg yolks, sugar, and even a little touch of rum, as an optional warming note.
For me, it's the perfect sweet finisher to any meal, one that only looks and tastes fancy! 😉
How to Make Creme Brulee
As I mentioned above, creme brulee is considered a “baked custard”, and this means that one prepares a custard base by whisking together eggs, dairy, sugar, and flavoring, and then pours the custard mixture into a prepared dish and bakes until set.
Some baked custards use only milk, or a combination of milk and cream, and some use whole eggs, or only the yolks.
All of this depends upon how rich of a custard is being made. And because creme brulee is on the “rich” side, it uses all cream and only the yolks to create that extra luxurious texture that it's known for.
One of the things I love about creme brulee is that you can actually get quite creative when it comes to flavor.
For example, if you'd like to make a more holiday inspired version, then you could substitute eggnog for half of the cream. (I've done that with this recipe, and it's divine!)
Or, you can add orange or lemon zest to create a citrusy note, or steep some spiced chai or other flavored tea bags in the cream, to create a different flavor profile.
I'm offering a basic recipe here, with traditional flavors, that you can certainly experiment with and build upon.
Here's a glance at my creme brulee recipe: (or just jump to the full recipe further down...)
- To begin, I like to infuse my cream with a vanilla bean, so I add the scraped vanilla bean paste from the pod, as well as the pod itself, directly into my cream and bring it just to the boil; then, I turn off the heat and allow the vanilla to steep for 10-15 minutes.
- The cream is then strained and set aside while I whisk together my yolks with the sugar and a small pinch of salt until thick and pale.
- I slowly whisk in the hot cream into my yolk mixture to temper it, then gently whisk in the rum (optional) and a tiny pinch of nutmeg.
- The custard mixture is ladled or poured into ramekins that have been placed onto a large baking sheet with a rim, and then placed into the oven to bake; I add enough hot water to the baking sheet so that it comes about half-way up the ramekins (helps the custard to bake and stay moist), then bake for 35-40 minutes, until set yet slightly jiggly in the center.
- I allow the custards to cool at room temp for about a half an hour, then transfer them to the fridge and allow to cool completely for at least 2 hours or up to 3 days, if preparing ahead.
- To finish and serve, I sprinkle about 1-2 tablespoons of sugar on top of the cold creme brulee, then use a kitchen torch to caramelize the sugar and form a thin, candy-like lid, and serve with berries!
by Ingrid Beer
Yield: Makes 6 cremes brulees
Nutrition Info: 718 calories per serving
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 35 minutes
Total time: 55 minutes
- 4 cups heavy cream
- 1 vanilla bean
- 8 egg yolks
- 1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons sugar, plus extra for caramelizing
- Small pinch of salt
- Small pinch of nutmeg
- 1 tablespoon dark rum (optional)
- Berries for garnish (seasonal), if desired
- Preheat the oven to 325°, and place 6, 6 ounce ramekins into a roasting pan or a large, rimmed baking sheet or baking dish.
- Add the cream into a large saucepan or pot; split the vanilla bean down the middle, and scrape out the inner paste, and add both the paste and the scraped bean into the cream; place over medium heat, and bring the cream with the vanilla bean just to the boil, then turn off and allow to steep for 10-15 minutes.
- Strain the cream, and reserve the vanilla pod for another use, if desired; set the hot cream aside for a moment.
- In a large bowl, add the yolks, the sugar, and the pinch of salt, and whisk until pale and thickened; next, slowly add a ladle-full of the hot cream into the eggs, whisking all the while, to temper and warm the eggs so they don't scramble; then, slowly whisk in the remaining hot cream into the yolks/sugar, then add the rum along with the tiny pinch of nutmeg, and gently whisk to blend.
- Pour the custard base into the ramekins set in the roasting pan, and skim off any foam you may see on top; place the roasting pan into the oven, and then pour enough hot water into the roasting pan to come about half-way up the ramekins, and bake the custards for about 35-40 minutes, or until they're firm but still jiggle slightly in the center when moved.
- Allow the custards to cool at room temp for half an hour, then place into the fridge to completely cool for at least 3 hours, or even up to 3 days, uncovered.
- When ready to serve, sprinkle about 1-2 tablespoons of sugar on top of each, and using a kitchen torch, caramelize the sugar until browned, candied and shell-like, and once the top has cooled, enjoy. Also, when in season, you can garnish with fresh berries, if desired.
Tips & Tidbits for my Creme Brulee:
- Kitchen torch, a nifty little gadget: In order to really nicely caramelize the thin layer of sugar so that it cracks when tapped with a spoon, a small kitchen torch is your best bet. (These days you can find them on Amazon, or at places like Sur La Table, and in most kitchen accessory sections.) Caramelize with the torch in quick, even swipes or passes, not staying on any one area for too long. You want a slightly burned looking top, and don't want to melt/cook the custard underneath, so taking more shorter passes over the sugar will work best. (Unfortunately, the broiler would further cook your custard, so I don't advise using that.)
- Giving creme brulee some holiday flair: If you'd like to give this creme brulee a bit of an eggnog flavor for the holidays, then substitute half of the cream with eggnog (full fat, not low fat), and add a slightly heftier pinch of nutmeg.
- Other flavor options: For a citrusy note, add a bit of orange or lemon zest when steeping the cream with the vanilla; or, use Chai Spice or Earl Grey tea bags (or your favorite flavor) and steep those in the hot cream, then squeeze out thoroughly.
- Bake in a water bath: Once you've got your ramekins filled and place onto your baking sheet and in the oven, pour some hot water into the baking sheet so that it comes about halfway up the sides of the ramekins. This will ensure a moist and even baking environment for the creme brulee. (Once baked, remove from oven very carefully!)
- Prepare ahead and chill: A creme brulee recipe can be prepared several days before you'd like to finish and serve it, which makes it a terrific dessert when you've got other items to worry about. Simply bake the creme brulee as instructed, then keep in the fridge uncovered (to avoid steam/water droplets from forming), until ready to sprinkle with sugar, torch, and serve.
Cook's Note: This recipe was originally published in 2013, and has been updated with even more love!