Crème brûlée is also known as “burnt cream”. It consists of a rich custard base topped with a texturally contrasting layer of hardened caramelized sugar. It is normally served slightly chilled- the heat from the caramelizing process tends to warm the custard producing a cool center. The custard base is traditionally flavored with vanilla.
Its roots are difficult to trace, especially since it is so decadent. In Spanish cuisine, crema catalana (“Catalan cream”) or crema cremada (“burnt cream”), is a dish that seems virtually identical to crème brûlée. The first known recipe for crema catalana appears in Spanish cookbooks in the 14th century, three centuries before the French “invented” crème brûlée.
The earliest known French recipe for crème brûlée appeared in a 1691 cookbook.The dish then vanished from French cookbooks until the 1980s, when it became a symbol of that decade’s self-indulgence and the darling of the restaurant boom. The dramatic blow torch used to caramelize the top didn’t hurt with its popularity.
Crème Brûlée- Custard with Burnt Sugar
- Stand Mixer (optional) or a whisk
- Ramekins or a oven-proof ceramic bowl
- Roasting pan with high sides
- 4 large Egg yolks
- 2 tbsp Granulated sugar for cooking
- 2 cups Light cream
- 1½ tsp Vanilla extract
- ⅓ tsp Salt
- ½ cup Granulated sugar for topping
- Preheat oven to 300°F (150°C). In stand mixer with the paddle attachment, beat the egg yolks and sugar together until light. Use a whisk and bowl if no stand mixer. Warm cream and the other tbsp of sugar in a saucepan, being careful not to boil. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla extract.
- Add ¼ cup of warmed cream into the beaten egg yolks and stir to combine with a wooden spoon. Pour the rest of the cream into the bowl. Stir.
- Bring a small pot of water to a boil. Pour custard into four 5-or-6 inch ramekins or a single oven proof serving dish. Place on the roasting pan and put in oven. Pour in enough of the boiling water into the pan to reach halfway up the sides of the ramekins or dish. This called a bain marie.
- Bake for 45-50 minutes until center barely sets. Remove from oven and let cool in its water for another 10 minutes. Remove from pan and allow to cool completely. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 3 hours and even up-to a few days.
- When ready to serve, remove from refrigerator and lightly pat down tops with a paper towel. Sprinkle 1-2 tsp of sugar evenly over the tops. Place in a broiler 2-3 inches from heat. Turn on broiler and broil until sugar melts and browns, about 5 minutes. The sugar should form a hard cover across the top of the soft custard. Burnt tops are fine as they offer a nice flavor and great surface to crack with a spoon to get to the creamy custard lying below. Serve immediately or within 2 hours.
- The classic recipe calls for scraping the insides of 1 vanilla bean into the cream before heating. Vanilla extract serves the same purpose and is way cheaper.
- It’s important to let the bowls of custard sit covered for at least 3 hours and preferably longer to set properly.
- Very hot tap water can be used in place of the boiling water in the Bain Marie.