This creamy custard dessert with a caramelized sugar topping looks like a fancy french dessert but is very easy to make. It’s a perfect dessert for entertaining since it must set for several hours before serving.
My french cooking side has been coming out more and more lately with some recent dishes I have made for my family like The Perfect French Crêpe Recipe. Growing up the daughter of a french chef has really made an impression on me and I want to make many of these recipes for my family just like Dad did for us.
Another favorite dessert of Dad’s was his Crème Brûlée. The dessert looks hard to make but in reality, it only involves a few ingredients but the right tools and techniques are necessary to make this dessert the way it should be made…like the French would prepare. You can find American versions of the dessert using deep ramekin dishes and broiling the Crème Brûlée in the oven…but the French would never prepare it like that, a blow torch is a necessity for this dish.
In addition, the right ingredients are paramount in making this dessert the best it can be…yes substitutes can be made in a pinch, but I recommend using a vanilla bean instead of an extract and fine granulated sugar instead of brown or raw sugar.
To make this dish you will need the following ingredients:
- 3 cups heavy cream
- 1 vanilla bean or substitute 1 1/2 teaspoons PURE vanilla extract but I recommend the vanilla bean
- 6 large organic egg yolks
- 1/3 cup granulated white sugar
- Pinch of sea salt
- 3 tablespoons extra fine white granulated sugar, regular granulated can be used as a substitute
Put a rack in the middle of oven and preheat oven to 325°F.
Cut the vanilla bean down the center. Using tip of a knife, scrape seeds from vanilla bean into a bowl.
Pour cream into a 2-quart heavy saucepan. Add pod (not seeds) to cream (if using vanilla extract, do not add it yet). Heat cream over moderate heat until hot but not boiling.
Remove from heat and discard pod. Set aside as you prepare the filling.
Separate the eggs yolks and egg white. Whisk together yolks, granulated sugar, and salt in a medium bowl until well combined.
Tip: the pudding portion of Crème Brûlée should be trembling and tender, but still rich and creamy, that’s why egg yolks, rather than whole eggs, are used. Whites help set pudding, giving it a firmer texture. For this dish, use only the yolks and save the whites for another recipe, like meringue or an egg white omelette. I also like to use organic eggs which tend to have yolks that are more yellow, giving the dessert a perfect color.
Add hot cream in a slow stream, whisking constantly until combined. Pour custard through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl and whisk in vanilla extract, if using.
Ladle custard into ramekins. Arrange ramekins in a roasting pan and add enough boiling water to pan to reach halfway up sides of ramekins.
Tip: Crème Brûlée is traditionally baked in a wide shallow 5 ounce ramekin HERE. The deeper 4 – 6 ounce pots used for most other puddings and pots de crème are not an adequate substitution. Because they’re deeper, the pudding takes longer to bake, meaning your Crème Brûlée base will be overcooked at the edges and undercooked in the center. Most importantly, the whole point of this dessert is the expansive caramelized crust of sugar. The wide and shallow ramekin allows for optimal sugar-to-pudding radio, and a more impressive top crust.
Bake until custards are just set, approximately 30 minutes.
Tip: Puddings are baked in a hot water bath to retain its silky-smooth texture (the water conducts heat, baking them more gently and evenly). But a hot water batch is a danger zone for pudding, getting water in the mix will ruin the texture, giving it a pebbled surface and soggy interior. You can avoid this problem by wrapping the bottoms and sides of your ramekins with aluminum foil that reaches up higher than the ramekin. This “fence” helps guard against any splashes as you transport the water bath. Another idea is to wait until the ramekins are in a pan in the oven before pouring boiling water into the pan. This minimizes any potential for spilling.
With tongs or a spatula, transfer custards to a cooling rack, then refrigerate, uncovered, for at least 4 hours.
Tip: The longer it sets in the refrigerator, the better it will taste. If you can plan to have it rest overnight – that would be optimal.
Just before serving, sprinkle 1 teaspoon fine granulated sugar evenly over each custard. Move blowtorch flame evenly back and forth close to sugar until sugar is caramelized. Let stand until sugar is hardened, 3 to 5 minutes.
Tip: I tested both granulated sugar and turbinado (raw sugar), caramelizing 2 of each. I found that the white granulated sugar works far better than the turbinado sugar. The small white granules caramelize quickly, meaning the sugar won’t get overly burnt and the pudding won’t melt. The white crystals provide a visual cue as you’re torching it. As soon as the white sugar turns a golden brown, you know you’re close. The crystals of raw sugar are already brown, making it harder to know if you’re overshooting the mark, then you risk cooking the custard. The ones with turbinado sugar were way softer on the interior than the ones with granulated sugar because of the inaccuracy of knowing when the top was caramelized.
Tip: You absolutely need a kitchen torch HERE for this task. I would not recommend trying to replicate the effect under a broiler. No matter how hawk-eyed you are, it’s very difficult to get the perfect amount of color without burning it to a crisp. Besides, you’ll never get as evenly cooked a crust as you will with a torch and could risk overcooking the custard.
Here is a slight variation for coffee lovers:
Coffee Crème Brûlée:
Stir 1 1/2 tablespoons instant espresso powder into the hot cream and proceed as directed.
Tip: the custards can be refrigerated for up to 2 days (cover after the first 4 hours). Pat the tops gently with paper towels before sprinkling with white granulated sugar and caramelizing.
In my opinion, this Crème Brûlée Recipe is perfect! Using real vanilla beans, shallow bowls, a blow torch, and granulated sugar made all the difference!
Bon Appétit mes Amis!
If you try this recipe, let me know..I’d love to hear from you!
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