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Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Creme Brulee

I don't remember exactly when I discovered creme brulee; I am absolutely sure I didn't run into it as a child and likely didn't learn of it until I moved overseas in my early thirties. I've adored it since the beginning of my acquaintance with the dessert. Fortunately I have found it isn't too hard to make and it works here at my high altitude. This is much like making homemade ice cream except there are no worries about curdling the eggs with hot cream. However, it helps to feel comfortable using a torch to melt the sugar.


Creme Brulee

Yield: 8 (I always end up with an extra; maybe my ramekins are just a bit small)

4 c chilled heavy cream
2/3 c granulated sugar
pinch table salt
1 vanilla bean, halved lengthwise
12 large egg yolks (the left over whites are great for a homemade angel food cake)
8-12 teas sugar, granulated, turbinado, or Demerara

Preheat your oven to 300F after placing rack to the lower-middle position.

Combine half the cream, salt and sugar in a saucepan. Slit the vanilla bean and scrape the seeds into the mixture as well as the pod. Over medium heat, bring the mixture to a boil, stirring from time to time so the sugar dissolves. Remove pan from heat and let the mixture steep so that the flavors infuse, at least 15 minutes.

Place a kitchen towel in the bottom of a large baking dish, cake pan, or roasting pan. Place the 4- to 5-ounce ramekins into the pan and arrange so they all fit. As you get close to the end of the infusing time, heat a kettle or so it will be ready to make the water bath (bain-marie). I think for my roasting pan I used at least 3 quarts of water so I had an electric kettle heating water as well as some in a pitcher heating in the microwave. It's better to have too much than too little.

After the cream mixture has infused, stir in the remaining cream which will cool the mixture. In a large bowl whisk the egg yolks until they are combined. Add approximately 1 cup of the cream mixture into the yolks and stir until combined; repeat with a second cup. Add the rest of the infused cream mixture and stir until thoroughly combined. It will have a uniform color and no streaks of egg yolk. Using a fine strainer, strain into something you can pour from--a large (at least 2 quart measuring cup) or a pitcher. Pour the cream mixture into the ramekins. You can also use a ladle if pouring is difficult.

Carefully place the baking dish on the oven rack. Even more carefully, pour the near-boiling water into the baking dish, making sure you don't splash the water into the cream in the ramekins. This can be tricky; just go slowly and pour close to an edge of the pan. As you pour enough water in, the water will move into areas that are farther away from you. Water should reach about 2/3 the height of the ramekins.

Shut the oven door and bake until the centers of the custards are just barely set about 30 to 35 minutes. Knowing when creme brulee is done can be a bit difficult, too. Test by gently shaking one of the ramekins with a pair of tongs (again avoid splashing). If the liquid is sloshy and  moves around a bit like a wave, it is still not done. If it moves more like jello (especially jello that is piled in a bowl) then they are done. You can also use an instant-read thermometer placed in the middle of one of the ramekins (don't touch the bottom). It should be at 170F. Begin checking the custards at the 25 minute stage to be sure you don't overcook them.

Remove the custards from the oven. This is easiest one by one but it is best to use rubber tipped tongs so you don't have slippage. (If you are a home-canner you likely have a bottle lifter that would work, too.) Alton Brown makes his own rubber tipped tongs by wrapping the ends with rubber bands. I also have a towel or hot pad in my left hand to support each ramekin as I remove them from the water bath. Place each custard on a cooling rack and cool to room temperature (about 2 hours). Cover with plastic and refrigerate until cold which will take 4 hours (custards can last in the refrigerator for 4 days, if someone doesn't eat them). I usually cover each ramekin separately but you can place them on a rimmed baking sheet and cover all together. It is usually easier for me to find room in my fridge for individual ramekins rather than a cookie sheet full.

Before serving, take custards from the refrigerator and remove plastic. If there is liquid from condensation on top of the custards soak it up with clean paper towels. Sprinkle with about 1 teas of sugar and, if needed, you can even things out by tilting and shaking the ramekins. Ignite your torch and in a safe place and on a safe surface caramelize the sugar. I use a regular shop torch because I find it easier to keep a supply of fuel, but I find I need to dial it down so the flame doesn't blow the sugar off the ramekin. You may return the ramekins to the refrigerator to return to a chilled state but don't allow them to remain for longer than 30-45 minutes. You may also just go ahead and eat them.


The last time I made this I infused this with espresso and cinnamon.  I lightly crushed 1/4 c espresso beans and 3 cinnamon sticks (in a zipper bag) and put them in the cream with the vanilla. It was fantastic combination.

Other flavors can be infused as well. I've eaten (but haven't cooked) lavender infused brulee and I've read about infusing it with cardamom. Maybe that is the next test.


  1. or maybe, Unfortunatley!?
    Mmm, I know first hand!

    1. No, it's fortunate! Maybe the next time I come to your house, I should make some for you....does G. have a torch?