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Crème Brûlée

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Crème brûlée features a cool creamy custard topped with a caramelized sugar topping. It’s surprisingly easy to make at home with just five basic ingredients.

close up of creme brulee in an oval ramekin with fresh berries and mint

What is crème brûlée? It is essentially a custard with a caramelized topping.

It originated in the middle ages in Europe. Literally meaning “burnt cream” in French, this tasty treat eventually found its way from Europe to the United States.

Thomas Jefferson reportedly served it in the White House. However, its true moment in the sun was the 1980s. Crème brûlée accented a decade of decadence in the US.

So how do you make crème brûlée? Well, it’s a similar process to most custards.

It is a combo of milk, heavy cream, eggs yolks, sugar and vanilla. Then, slow even heat is applied to create this dessert.


Why this recipe works

  • The ramekins in this crème brûlée recipe bake in a water bath, which ensures slow, even heat.
  • This recipe calls for removing the foam from the custard, which results in the sugar on top being caramelized properly.

You’ll love the simplicity of the crème brûlée recipe! The limited ingredients and easy preparation steps make it suitable for any baker.

angled view of a spoon cracked through the sugar layer on top of a ramekin of creme brulee

What you need

This is a short overview of the ingredients I used and why I chose them. The full recipe can be found at the bottom of the post!

Ingredients

  • Milk & Cream: These ingredients add richness to the flavor profile. If you prefer, you can omit the milk and use 2 cups of heavy cream.
  • Vanilla bean paste: Good-quality vanilla beans are expensive. You can use vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract without any issues.
  • Sugar: This adds a kick of sweetness and provides the material for creating a caramelized top.
  • Egg yolks: These help thicken the custard and provide color to the finished product.

Equipment

This is a list of tools I used to make the recipe.

  • Ramekins: These petite ramekins hold individual servings of the crème brûlée.
  • Torch: You’ll need a crème brûlée torch to caramelize the sugar on the tops of the custards.
overhead of three ramekins with creme brulee and fresh berries

How to make crème brûlée

1. Make the custard

Mix the five main ingredients to create the perfect crème brûlée.

egg yolks and sugar in glass measuring cup with whisk, pot full of milk and cream, custard mixture in a glass measuring cup, and ramekins filled with custard in a pink baking pan
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  2. Then, arrange six ramekins in a baking dish. Set aside.
  3. In a medium saucepan, combine milk, heavy cream and vanilla bean paste.
  4. Then, heat over medium-high heat. Continue until bubbles appear along the sides of the pan.
  5. In a medium bowl, quickly whisk the egg yolks and sugar together.
  6. Then, slowly pour the hot cream into the egg mix. Whisk continuously to combine.
  7. Strain the mix through a sieve into a pitcher or large liquid measuring cup.
  8. Pour the custard into the ramekins.
  9. Place the baking pan with filled ramekins inside the oven.
  10. Then, carefully fill the pan with enough hot water to fill ⅔ of the way up the sides of the ramekins.
  11. Bake for 30-35 minutes or just until set. Check the custard early. Bake times will vary.
  12. Remove the baking pan from the oven. Allow ramekins to cool in the water bath.
  13. Once they cool down to touch, remove them from the water bath, cover in plastic wrap, and store in the fridge for at least 4 hours.

It’s important to slowly pour the hot cream into the eggs. To make this easier, you can use a ladle and add 1 spoonful at a time while whisking. If you go too fast the eggs may scramble.

2. Torch the top to caramelize

crème brûlée is well-known for its caramelized sugar top.

a spoon spreading sugar over the top of baked custard in a ramekin and a torch caramelizing the sugar
  1. Immediately prior to serving, sprinkle the tops of the custard with an even layer of granulated sugar.
  2. Then, melt the sugar with a propane crème brûlée torch or broiler.
  3. Finally, these creamy custards are ready to serve!

Jen’s Best tips

  • How will I know it’s done? The custard is generally done when it jiggles uniformly across the dessert when shaken gently.
  • Why do I need the water bath? This helps the custard bake slowly and evenly. Be careful not to get any water in the custard.
  • Why do I need to remove foam? If the foam is baked on top of the custard, you may have a hard time getting the tops to caramelize later.
  • Can I use real vanilla beans? Sure! Add it to the cream, then scrape out the seeds and add them to the custard.
spoon taking out a bite of creme brulee

Storing & Freezing

To store: The crème brûlée must be refrigerated at least 4 hours prior to serving. However, they can be stored in the fridge for up to 2 days before serving.

To freeze: I would not recommend freezing this dessert.


More delightful desserts

Try out some of my other favorite creamy, delicious treats!


Watch how to make it

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overhead of three ramekins with creme brulee and fresh berries

Crème Brûlée

Yield: 6 servings
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 35 minutes
Total Time: 50 minutes

A simple dessert, crème brûlée is made with only milk, cream, egg yolks, sugar, and vanilla. The creamy custard is topped with caramelized sugar for a pleasant contrast in each bite.

Ingredients

  • ½ cup (120 ml) milk
  • 1 ½ cups (360 ml) heavy cream
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste, or vanilla extract
  • ½ cup (100 g) granulated sugar
  • 5 large egg yolks
  • granulated sugar for garnish
  • Fresh berries for garnish

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 325°F. Arrange six 4-ounce ramekins in a 2-inch deep baking dish. Set aside.
  2. Add milk, cream, and vanilla bean paste to a medium saucepan and heat over medium-high heat until bubbles appear along the sides of the pan.
  3. In a medium bowl, quickly whisk the sugar and egg yolks together.
  4. Slowly pour the hot cream into the yolk mixture while whisking continuously until well combined.
  5. Strain the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve into a pitcher or large liquid measuring cup.
  6. Pour the custard into the ramekins. Place the baking pan with filled ramekins inside the oven. Then, carefully fill the pan with enough hot water to come ⅔ of the way up the sides of the ramekins.
  7. Bake 25-30 minutes, just until set. Start checking the custard early. Bake time will vary depending on the thickness and depth of your ramekins. The custard should be set and not soupy with only a small area of jiggle in the center.
  8. Carefully remove the baking dish from the oven and allow the ramekins to cool in the water bath. Once the ramekins are cool enough to handle, remove them from the water, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or up to 2 days before serving.
  9. Just before serving, sprinkle the tops of the custard with an even layer of granulated sugar, then immediately caramelize the sugar with a propane torch or broiler.

Notes

Milk & Cream: You can use 2 cups of heavy cream if preferred. Omit the milk. This will give you a richer custard.

Vanilla: Traditional creme brulee uses vanilla bean that is steeped in the cream mixture. Currently, good-quality vanilla beans are expensive. If you have some on hand already, feel free to use one - Add it to the cream in step 2 then scrape the seeds out and add them to the custard in step 5. Otherwise vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract work perfectly.

Remove the foam: When stirring to get the ingredients combined, you will likely incorporate air into the custard. This in turn will create foam. In step 5, after straining the custard through a sieve, use a spoon to skim the foam off the top. If the foam is baked on top of the custard, it can inhibit the sugar from caramelizing properly.

Water bath: The water bath will help the custard bake slowly and evenly. Take extra care not to get water in the custard. This will ruin it.

Baking the custard: Timing can be tricky and will vary depending on the type of ramekin you use. I used shallow ramekins and they took about 25 minutes to bake. The custard is done when it jiggles uniformly from edge to edge when shaken gently. You can also test with a fingertip - press it lightly in the center and the custard should spring back will leaving your fingertip clean.

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Nutrition Information:
Yield: 6 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 364Total Fat: 27gSaturated Fat: 16gTrans Fat: 1gUnsaturated Fat: 9gCholesterol: 255mgSodium: 88mgCarbohydrates: 23gFiber: 1gSugar: 21gProtein: 8g

* Nutrition information is provided as a courtesy by an online nutrition calculator and is not guaranteed to be accurate. Always seek advice from a nutritionist or medical professional.

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