The Built-In Oven Feature for the Speediest Desserts

March 21, 2018

This article is part of Change The Way You Cook part 2, the next installment in our series to help anyone (yes, you!) become smarter, faster, and more freewheeling in the kitchen.

What was the last ingredient you broiled? Maybe steak, rubbed with chipotle and brown sugar. Or fish, glazed with honey, orange, and olive oil. Maybe you can't even remember because it was so long ago.

I hadn't thought about my own broiler much, or at all, until I lived in Scotland for a semester during college. I spent most of my time there with a couple English ladies and they broiled a lot of sausages. Or should I say, they grilled a lot of bangers. What is known as a broiler in the United States is a grill in the United Kingdom. Coincidence? Not quite. As The Joy of Cooking describes: "Whether you broil in an oven or grill over a hot fire, the principle is identical. The heat is radiant, direct, and intense, and...only one side of the food at a time is exposed to the heating source."

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This explains all the crossovers between ingredients that can be grilled or broiled, especially meats. But what about other ingredients, you know, beyond burgers and brats? What about juicy, halved apricots or pillowy marshmallows? By charring—even burning—desserts, you introduce much-needed bitterness to balance all that sweetness.

What’s more: The intense, hovering heat of a broiler can mimic a kitchen blowtorch, crucial to classics like crème brûlee—or anything brulee. In this way, broiling is the oven feature your desserts didn’t know they were missing. Here’s how to take advantage of it:

Get familiar

Not all broilers are created equal. Some ovens simply say “broil,” which you turn on or off—in this case, assume around 550° F—while others allow you to adjust the heat more specifically. Some need awhile to preheat, while others are ready to go almost instantly. Some need the door closed, while others don’t. All of which is to say: A broiler is not a broiler is not a broiler. Sacrifice a few pieces of toast to get to know the ins and outs of yours. From there forward, you’ll be like two peas in a pod.

Embrace the char

Though they’ll always hold two separate, special places in our hearts, broilers and grills often accomplish the same culinary feat: that dramatic, smoky char from direct heat. Only with a broiler you get to be inside! Rain? Snowstorm? No problem. Line a sheet tray with foil—not parchment, which can catch on fire. Spread whatever you’re cooking in an even layer, from marshmallows to figs, pineapple slabs to pound cake slices. Slip beneath the heat, and don’t walk away! The broiler waits for no one and the line between charred and trashed is slimmer than spaghetti. Top toasted cake with a big scoop of ice cream. Or turn blackened peaches into a minty, limey fruit salad.


The most iconic torched dessert is crème brûlee, or burnt cream. You sprinkle sugar—granulated, brown, or raw, no one can seem to agree—atop baked, chilled custard ramekins, slide under the broiler and cook until the sugar melts. Scooch and spin the dishes, as needed, to get the crispy, caramel top as even as possible. Some parts, inevitably, will be darker than others—but call this quaint and don’t worry about it. Cool completely before shattering with a spoon, then dig in. This delightful crispy vs. creamy, bitter vs. sweet composition goes beyond just crème. Treat halved mangos or oranges, any custardy pie, or even French toast the same way and reap the crispy, sugary, crackly rewards.

Or, try this mashup—fruit, sprinkled with brown sugar, swimming in cream. I opted for ripe bananas, which practically turn into pudding. It is equal parts cozy and quick, best eaten with a spoon and glass of bourbon closeby. You could also try berries. Or, season the cream with spices, like ground ginger or black pepper.

What are your favorite broiling recipes? Let us know in the comments!

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Emma was the food editor at Food52. She created the award-winning column, Big Little Recipes, and turned it into a cookbook in 2021. These days, she's a senior editor at Bon Appétit, leading digital cooking coverage. Say hello on Instagram at @emmalaperruque.