Classic creme brulee should be creamy and silky with a glass thin coating of caramelized sugar.
Creme brulee is one of those recipes that is so simple with such a short ingredient list that it seems like it would be fool proof. As is often true, sometimes the simplest recipes are hard to get just right.
With so few ingredients, the success of the dish depends on good technique. I’ve had some bad creme brulee over the years.
Generally, the two biggest problems are a curdled or spongy custard and/or an overly thick layer of caramel. There are a few key techniques to achieve a silky custard and glass thin layer of caramelized sugar.
Tips for making Classic Creme Brulee:
- Don’t incorporate too much air into the cream base when mixing.
- Strain the custard to remove strings from the eggs and any foam that has formed on the custard. Foam is made up of bubbles and you don’t want bubbles in the baked custard.
- Bake the custard in a Bain Marie, or water bath, to keep it from cooking too hot.
- Don’t over-bake the custard. It should be removed from the oven as soon as it jiggles as a mass. Otherwise, as it continues to cook it will puff up, causing unpleasant air bubbles in the final product (ask me how I know this will happen!).
- The key to a good caramel layer is to use a thin and even layer of granulated sugar. It might be tempting to add more sugar, thinking the more caramel the better. But you want a glass-like layer of caramel that will crack with the first stab of the spoon. The best tool for caramelizing the sugar is a propane torch. Personally, I don’t use those frou-frou torches made for creme brulee. Just go to the hardware store and get a basic torch.
Scroll through the process photos to see how to make perfectly creamy Creme Brulee:
Sauternes & Creme Brulee is a classic Pairing:
Sauternes is a world famous wine from Bordeaux. Sauternes are made from a mix of grapes that have been allowed to develop a fungus called Botrytis cinerea, aka, noble rot. Noble Rot causes some of the grapes to become raisined, which results in a concentrated and distinctively flavored wine.
The elegant french custard topped with a thin and crisp layer of caramelized sugar is the perfect texture and flavor match to the rich Sauternes.
How were the creme brulee and the Sauternes together? Well, there’s a reason it’s a classic pairing. The richness and body of the Sauternes matched nicely with the richness of the custard. The sweetness of the sugar topping was tamed by the bitter note of the caramel and it didn’t overwhelm the wine.
Now that you’ve made this recipe what should you do with all the extra egg whites? Check out this collection of recipes that use extra whites for some great ideas.
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- 4 cups (1 quart, 950 ml) heavy cream
- 1/2 fresh vanilla bean or 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 12 egg yolks
- pinch of salt
- 1 cup (8 oz, 224g) granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup (4 oz, 112g) granulated sugar for topping
- Arrange 12 4-oz or 8 6-oz ramekins in a large baking pan. Preheat the oven to 300°F, don't use the convection for this recipe.
- Pour the cream into a small saucepan. Split the vanilla bean and scrape out the seeds. Add the vanilla seeds and pod to the cream.
- Heat the cream until scalding hot. Do not allow it to boil.
- While the cream is heating, whisk together the yolks, salt and sugar. Slowly whisk the hot cream into the egg yolk mixture. Strain the custard through a fine sieve into a pitcher or large measuring cup with a pour spout.
- Divide the custard evenly between the ramekins. Pour water into the baking dish so that the level comes 1/2 way up the sides of the ramekins. I like to pour from a corner to avoid spilling into the ramekins.
- Carefully transfer the baking dish to the middle rack of the preheated oven. Bake just until the custard is set, about 30 minutes. The exact baking time will depend on the size and shape of the ramekins, check after 20 minutes and continue checking every five minutes until they're done.
- Carefully life the ramekins out of the water bath and set on a wire rack to cool. Refrigerate the custards until cold, at least 2-3 hours, can be made the day before.
- Sprinkle an even layer of granulated sugar over the surface of each custard, the exact amount will depend on the size and shape of the ramekins. The sugar should not be too thick or it won't caramelize evenly.
- Use a blow torch to caramelize the sugar by evenly waving the flame across the surface of the sugar. Do not hold the flame in one spot, keep the flame moving until the sugar is melted and nicely browned.
- You can brown the custards just before dinner and keep in the refrigerator until serving.