How to Make Crème Brûlée
Making this classic creamy dessert is simpler than you think.
Crème Brûlée is a classic dessert of rich creamy custard topped with its characteristic layer of hardened caramelized sugar. Many think of Crème Brûlée as complicated to make. But when it comes right down to it, Crème Brûlée is truly a very simple dish made from four very simple ingredients: Egg yolks, sugar, whipping cream, and vanilla.
Generously butter the insides of six individual 4-ounce or 6-ounce ramekins. Line the bottom of a 9x13-inch glass baking dish with a paper towel and place ramekins on top. The paper towel keeps the ramekins from sliding around in the baking dish once the water bath is added.
Prepare Custard Mixture
In a mixing bowl, whisk 6 egg yolks until slightly thickened. Add 6 tablespoons of granulated sugar and whisk until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture changes to pale yellow in color. Whisk in 1 1/2 cups of whipping cream and 1/2 a teaspoon of vanilla extract.
Use whipping cream to achieve the smoothest, creamiest texture. Half-and-half produces a thinner, watery custard, whereas heavy cream creates a custard that is a bit rich and dense. Also, be sure to whisk until the sugar is fully dissolved to prevent graininess.
Divide the custard mixture evenly between the six prepared ramekins.
Bake in a Water Bath
Place the baking dish with the filled ramekins in a preheated 275 degree oven. Create a water bath by carefully pouring hot tap water into the baking dish until water reaches halfway up the sides of the ramekins. The water bath ensures the temperature of the custard rises slowly and therefore thickens gradually, creating a creamy smooth texture. Bake, uncovered, for 45 to 65 minutes until custard is set around the edges and jiggles just slightly in the center. Remove baking pan from the oven and leave ramekins in the water bath to cool to room temperature. Once cooled, remove ramekins from the water bath, cover each with plastic wrap, and chill for at least 2 hours (and up to 2 days).
Baking time varies based on the shape of the ramekins. Custard in deeper ramekins takes longer to bake than in flatter, shallower ones. When done, the custard should be set around the edges and just barely jiggle in the center. Begin checking for doneness after 45 minutes of baking, then check in 5-minute increments thereafter until done.
Sprinkle with Sugar
When ready to serve, sprinkle 2 teaspoons of granulated sugar evenly over the top of each custard.
Brown sugar can also be used. Due to moisture content in brown sugar, it's recommended to pre-dry it before using it to top your Crème Brûlée. To dry, spread a thin layer of brown sugar on a baking sheet. Bake it at 250 degrees for about five minutes. Cool and break up any lumps. Store in an airtight container until ready to use.
Use a kitchen torch to melt the sugar. If you don’t have a torch, place the chilled custards on a baking sheet and broil, watching constantly, for 2 to 3 minutes or until thesugar is melted and brittle. Rechill the custards for about 15 minutes before serving.
The brûléed sugar topping deteriorates fairly quickly. Brûlée the sugar no more than 45 minutes to an hour before serving.