Beyond the Basics

How to Make Crème Brûlée

By • December 2, 2013 • 8 Comments

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Once you've perfected basic techniques like frying an egg and cooking rice, it's time to move on to those things that may have initially scared you off. Every other Monday, chef and stylist Camille Becerra is going beyond the basics to help us tackle even the scariest cooking techniques.

Today: Grab your torches. We're making crème brûlée.

Crème Brûlée on Food52

The beauty of crème brûlée is in its contrasting elements: The cool crème against warm caramel, the smoothness of the custard against the crunch of caramelized sugar. Like with all custard desserts, the key to a velvety smooth finish is gentle heat and a bit of patience.

My general rule for crème brûlée is to use 1 egg yolk per 1/2 cup cream, plus 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar. If you are new to making crème brûlée, add 1/2 teaspoon cornstarch; this will help prevent curdling if the cream gets too hot and will help set the cream if it doesn't get hot enough. The ratio makes one serving; multiply it according to how many portions you want or how many ramekins you have.  

Crème Brûlée

Slowly warm the cream until it is just below a simmer, then add your flavorings. I find that cream loves not only vanilla but also aromatics like bay leaf, lavender, and lemon zest and hard spice like cinnamon, cardamon, or juniper. Check your pantry and use whatever inspires you. Add it to your cream, turn off the heat, and allow a good half hour for the flavors to infuse into the cream. Then strain out your aromatics and warm the cream back up to just under a simmer. 

Crème Brûlée

The following stages are the most temperamental. It is possible that you may break or curdle your cream, in which case you will need to start over. So do attempt the following techniques carefully, mindfully, and slowly.   

Crème Brûlée

Whisk together the yolks and sugar (and the cornstarch, if you're using it) until the yolks are pale and aerated. Slowly add the hot cream, a ladleful at a time, continuing to whisk. Once all the cream has been incorporated, strain the cream and egg mixture into a clean, heavy-bottomed pot.

Using a wooden spoon, stir continuously over low heat, making sure your spoon reaches the corners and bottom of the pot so that the custard cooks evenly. This process should take about 15 to 20 minutes. Remove your pot from the heat once it reaches a temperature of 170° F. Transfer into ramekins and chill for at least 4 hours.

Crème Brûlée

Sprinkle the cooled custards with 1 tablespoon each of sugar and torch. When doing so, move the fire continuously so that caramelization is uniform. I prefer a torch to the broiler, as it keeps the cream from getting too warm. Once the sugar is caramelized, serve immediately. 

Crème Brûlée

More: Now that you've perfected your technique, try your hand at Salted Pumpkin Caramel Crème Brûlée.

Photos by Emma Jane Kepley

Jump to Comments (8)

Tags: creme brulee, dessert, how-to & DIY, french desserts, cream, fire, torch, bruleed

Comments (8)

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9 months ago Sandssweet

Can you cook all creme brûlée recipes this way? Every other time I've made creme brûlée I've baked it in a hot water bath, but the cooking on the stovetop method seems like it'd be much less of a hassle

Stringio

9 months ago Cassandra Brecht

I've also only ever done a hot water bath for this, but always to a temperature of 170 degrees . . . since that's the temp. that's called for in the article, it should work fine. I plan on trying it soon!

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9 months ago katiej

What is the fern lookalike in the photos?

Stringio

9 months ago Cassandra Brecht

Those are lavender leaves, I believe.

Merrill

10 months ago Merrill Stubbs

Merrill is a co-founder of Food52.

Love the idea of infusing the cream with bay leaf!

Ozoz_profile

10 months ago Kitchen Butterfly

And you don't even have to have a blowtorch to be successful at it!

Thanks to Mensaque, on the food52 hotline, I learnt a new kitchen hack. And tested it too = use a heated ladle to 'brulee' the sugar - on point. Glass-crack bruleed top! http://www.kitchenbutterfly...

Bss-sun-150

9 months ago softenbrownsugar

Great idea! I read the article and loved it! Even though my husband is a plumber, using his blow torch just didn't seem right somehow! Thank you!

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10 months ago carswell

One of the nicest crème brûlées I've made was an infusion of rosemary and orange zest. The sprigs of rosemary are removed and the slivered orange zest stays in the mix and takes on a marmalade like quality in the finished product.