Happy Brûlée / by Anne

creme-iiitouched-up1Have you ever tasted a perfect crème brûlée?  That one where you tap your spoon on a crispy-crackle sugarcrust to reveal pale velvet beneath? The contrasts of warm crisp and smooth cool swirl and mingle in a sweet bite, leaving a breath of rich vanilla behind.  Crème brûlée, which is French for “burnt cream,” is one of my favorite custard desserts, with its shiny sugar top.


Yesterday was my birthday, and oh, how I wanted to make a crème brûlée. This is a fine and festive idea, but maybe I should mention that this thought hit me right before bedtime.  Also, I didn’t have any cream.  So I settled for making ice cream brûlée (yes, I put sugar on vanilla ice cream and torched it), which was almost as fun, but not really.  At least I got to fire up my chef’s torch, set the sugar to bubbling, and observe the melting ice cream swell up like white-cold magma.  


Are you surprised to hear that the result was a bowl of soft, brown sugar islands floating in ice cream soup?  Well, there was one crispy part, and for that, I celebrated.  My one bite of dessert at least reminded me of happy crème brûlées, past and future.


I started anew today, happy to be a year older and armed with fresh cream. 


Short on time, I used this easy, classic crème brûlée recipe.  Soon I will also share a recipe for the vanilla bean-infused version, which requires a slightly different set of steps, including steeping the bean in hot milk and cream. Stay tuned for round two!  It might even come around in time for your birthday.


Crème Brûlée

Resources: Crème Brûlée by Randolph W. Mann and Joy of Cooking.


It helps to have a mixture of dried brown sugar mixed with white sugar to get a nice, caramelized finish.  You can make this mixture today while you wait for the opportunity to get some cream from the store.


For sugar topping:

1 cup brown sugar

1 cup white sugar


  1. Preheat oven to 200 degrees.
  2. On a cookie sheet spread out the brown sugar and warm it in the oven for about 35 minutes. 
  3. Brown sugar will be ready when it is dry and crumbly when you pick up a handful.  Cool to room temperature. 
  4. Run the brown sugar through a fine sieve, using a spoon or a pestle to stir and coax the sugar through.  You may not be able to sieve the entire amount if there are some stubborn lumps.    Discard lumps.
  5. Mix the brown sugar with the white sugar, and store in an airtight container. It will store indefinitely as long as it is kept dry. 
  6. This makes more than enough sugar topping for this recipe, and you’ll be able to use it again next time you want to make crème brûlée (tomorrow?). You will use about 8 teaspoons of this sugar per recipe.


For the crème:

1 c heavy cream

2 egg yolks

1/3 c sugar

1 pinch salt

½ t vanilla


  1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees.  Make sure the rack is one level below the middle level. 
  2. Fill a kettle with water and heat it on the stovetop.  You will need hot water for step #8.
  3. In a small saucepan, stir cream over medium heat, bringing it to a boiling point.
  4. In a small bowl combine the egg yolks, sugar, salt, and vanilla. Place the bowl on a dishtowel or another surface that stabilizes it—to prepare for next step.
  5. Pour a very small amount of the hot cream into the egg mixture while quickly stirring the mixture with a whisk.  Stir, don’t whisk.  You want to avoid making bubbles. Little by little, add more of the hot cream, all the while quickly stirring the mixture.  Combine entire amount completely.
  6. Strain this custard liquid by pouring it through a fine sieve into a liquid measuring cup or something else with a pouring spout.
  7. Place four ramekins into the shallow baking dish, and carefully pour the liquid evenly into the ramekins.
  8. Pour the hot water from the kettle into the baking dish until the water reaches halfway up the walls of the ramekins. Take care not to splash water into the liquid in the ramekins. Also, be careful when transferring the dish to the oven.  Bake for 35 minutes.
  9. Carefully remove pan, avoiding sloshing water, and let the ramekins cool until you can touch them and remove them.  Cover with foil or wrap and refrigerate for at least two hours, but at least eight hours is ideal.  They should remain in good condition for two days.
  10. When ready to serve, remove ramekins from refrigerator and unwrap. 
  11. Using a sieve, sprinkle about 2 t sugar on each crème so that you have a smooth and even coating of sugar overall. 
  12. Light a chef’s butane torch* and move it in small circular motions over the crème with the flame barely touching the sugar.  Melt and brown the sugar layer until it is evenly dark.
  13. Serve immediately.

*You can create the browned top with a broiler, but to have a truly crisp, delicate top, I have had the best luck with a butane torch.  These torches are inexpensive and can be found online or at cooking stores.