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Classic Crème Brûlée

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Serves 4

Yields four 5-oz. custards.

  • by from Fine Cooking
    Issue 84

One of the greatest things about this impressive dessert is that you can make the custards—minus the burnt-sugar topping—a couple of days ahead. Of course, you can eat them on the day you make them, too; just be sure to chill the custards for at least 3 hours before topping them with sugar.

  • 1-3/4 cups heavy cream
  • 1 vanilla bean or 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • 4 large egg yolks (ideally cool or cold)
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 to 4 tsp. granulated sugar
  • Pinch kosher salt

Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 300°F. Fill a teakettle with water and bring to a boil. Put four 5- or 6-oz. ramekins (about 3 inches in diameter and 1-3/4 inches deep) in a baking dish that’s at least as deep as the ramekins.

Mix the custard base:

Pour the cream into a small saucepan. If using a vanilla bean, cut it in half lengthwise with the tip of a paring knife and, with the back of the blade, scrape out the sticky, black seeds. Add the seeds and scraped pod halves to the cream. Whisk briefly to disperse the seeds. (Don't over-whisk or you'll whip air into the cream.)

Classic Crème Brûlée Recipe

Bring the cream just to a simmer over medium heat. Remove the pan from the heat, cover, and let sit for about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a medium mixing bowl lightly whisk the egg yolks, 1/4 cup of the sugar, and a pinch of salt just to combine. Set aside.

With an instant-read or a candy thermometer, check the temperature of the cream; it should be no higher than 165°F. (If it is, let cool to 165°F before proceeding.)

Lightly whisk about 1/2 cup of the cream into the yolk mixture and stir for about 30 seconds; this tempers the yolks. Then gently whisk in the remaining cream, stirring for about 15 seconds to blend. Use a light hand—you don’t want to make the mixture frothy or the baked custards will have a foamy-looking surface. If using vanilla extract, stir it in now.

Set a fine sieve over a large Pyrex measuring cup or a heatproof bowl with a spout. Pour the custard base through the sieve to strain out any solids.

Classic Crème Brûlée Recipe
Bake the custards:

Divide the custard base evenly among the four ramekins in the baking pan. There should be a little more than an inch of custard in each ramekin; it should not come all the way to the rim. Slowly pour hot water from the teakettle into the baking pan (don’t get any water in the ramekins) until the water comes about two-thirds of the way up the sides of the ramekins.

Classic Crème Brûlée Recipe

Carefully transfer the baking pan to the center of the oven, taking care not to slosh hot water onto yourself or into the ramekins. Lay a sheet of aluminum foil over the pan. Bake the custards until the edges are set about 1/3 inch in from the sides of the ramekins and the center is slightly jiggly (like Jell-O), 40 to 55 minutes. To test for doneness, reach into the oven with tongs and give one of the ramekins a gentle shake or nudge. If the custard responds with a wavelike motion rather than a slight jiggle, it’s not firm enough; bake for another 5 minutes and check again. (If you’re not sure about the doneness, stick an instant-read thermometer into the center of a custard—don’t worry about making a hole; you’ll cover it with sugar later—it should register 150° to 155°F.) The custards should not brown or rise.

Carefully remove the baking pan from the oven and take the ramekins out of the water bath using rubber-band-wrapped tongs or a slotted spatula. Let the ramekins cool on a rack at room temperature for 30 minutes and then transfer, uncovered, to the refrigerator to cool completely. Once the custards are refrigerator-cold, wrap each ramekin with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 3 hours or up to 2 days before proceeding.

Classic Crème Brûlée Recipe
Caramelize the topping:
Tip:
To get great results, you need the right tool: a mini blowtorch. I’ve attempted to caramelize the sugar under the broiler, and although it can be done, I find the process annoying and the results disappointing—the custard tends to get warm, and its texture changes for the worse.

Just before serving, remove the ramekins from the fridge and set them on a work surface. Working with one custard at a time, sprinkle 1/2 to 1 tsp. of the remaining sugar over each one—the more sugar, the thicker the crust. You may need to tilt and tap the ramekin to even out the layer of sugar. Wipe any sugar off the rim of the ramekin. Hold the torch flame 2 to 3 inches from the top of the custard and slowly glide it back and forth over the surface until the sugar melts and turns a deep golden brown. Allow the sugar to cool and harden for a few minutes, and then serve immediately, before the sugar softens and gets sticky.

Classic Crème Brûlée Recipe
Variations

For variations, just infuse the cream with flavorings

Orange: Omit the vanilla bean and after the cream comes to a simmer, remove from the heat and immediately add 1 Tbs. Grand Marnier or Triple Sec, 2 tsp. (firmly packed) finely grated orange zest, and 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract. Cover and let sit for 10 minutes.

Ginger: Omit the vanilla bean (or extract), and instead add 1/2 Tbs. (firmly packed) finely grated fresh ginger to the cold cream before bringing it to a simmer.

Café au lait: Omit the vanilla bean (or extract), and right after the cream comes to a simmer, remove it from the heat and whisk in 1-1/2 tsp. Medaglia d'Oro instant espresso powder (available from GourmetSleuth.com) until dissolved. Cover and let sit for 10 minutes.

Earl Grey tea: Omit the vanilla bean (or extract), and after the cream comes to a simmer, remove from the heat and immediately add 5 tea bags (you may have to prod the bags with a spoon to submerge them). Cover and let sit for 10 minutes.

nutrition information (per serving):
Size : based on four servings; Calories (kcal): 470; Fat (g): fat g 43; Fat Calories (kcal): 390; Saturated Fat (g): sat fat g 26; Protein (g): protein g 5; Monounsaturated Fat (g): 13; Carbohydrates (g): carbs g 18; Polyunsaturated Fat (g): 2; Sodium (mg): sodium mg 85; Cholesterol (mg): cholesterol mg 345; Fiber (g): fiber g 0;

Photo: Scott Phillips

Creame brûlée is my ultimate favorite. It is a splurge on special occasions. Of course what's more special then a birthday. We celebrate 3 birthdays in one wk and cake upon cake, upon more cake gets old. This year I decided that u was going to make creame brûlée as my birthday treat. Found this recipe and knew it was THE one. Easy to follow instructions, classical ingredients,and best of all......a fabulously delicious and elegant dessert perfect for my birthday!

Easy, no fuss, follow recipe exactly, I doubled it for 8 guests, wow. I have used this for years now from the amazing Fine Cooking Magazine. Torch is important. Get one beforehand. 5 stars

This is AMAZING! I have never made creme brulee before and this recipe is perfect! Great, silky consistency with an amazing light vanilla flavor! I did add a broken up cinnamon stick in the cream with the vanilla extract. Follow this recipe and you will not be disappointed! Great recipe Kimberly!

This creme brulee is silky and delicious! The step by step instructions make it so easy to follow the recipe. I also like that it only serves 4. I usually cook for 2 adults plus a toddler, so with this recipe I don't end up with a ton of leftovers that I'm forced to eat for days. ;)

I received a crème brûlée kit for my birthday last week. Four ramekins and a blowtorch, but the accompanying recipe was for a chocolate version. I wanted to start with a classic crème brûlée and this was the recipe I chose. I did not have a thermometer to check the temperature of the cream, I just let it cool down for ten minutes and it worked out perfectly. The recipe is very easy to follow and resulted in smooth and creamy custards. Like another reviewer, I would also reduce the amount of sugar in the recipe, as I found it slightly too sweet with the final sugar topping. This will definitely become my go-to recipe for this dessert.

Flawless-- great texture. Makes the blowtorch purchase worthwhile. Double this recipe...you'll want more.

The best recipe for creme brulee out there! The only one you will need! I have tried so many through so many cookbooks and they never turn out as well, as creamy, as terrific as this one. So many variations can be done too! I have made a vanilla tea one that was out of this world!

This is my go-to recipe for crème brûlée and it has never failed me. I have made it numerous times over the years since I first saw it in the March 2007 issue and I always get compliments whenever I make it. I use smaller ramekins that make about 5-6 servings and I will often double or triple the recipe when I have more guests, although I tend to cut back on the amount of sugar the recipe calls for. A blow torch or propane torch is an absolute must, and I find that it is actually fun to include guests in the process of making the burnt sugar topping. I sometimes dress it up afterwards with a sprinkle of berries and confectioners sugar and it looks like a professional made it!

This is a very simple and easy recipe that makes delicious Creme Brûlée.

Wow, this was a delicious version of crème brûlée! The custard was sooo silky; and the instructions were very clear & easy to follow. Doubled the recipe & have orders for Canadian Thanksgiving, so will have to triple the recipe - my son said it was better than Delmonico's - tks Fine Cooking for excellence in instructions for the home cook...Merci!

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