Crème Brûlée (pronounced krem broo-lay), which is French for “scorched cream,” is an exquisite dessert despite its unfortunate name.
This rich custard layered beneath a sugary crust has been around for hundreds of years.
And though it sounds like something only a seasoned chef could create, it can be really easy to make.
Although there are only five common ingredients in an easy chocolate version of this international treat (below), making it requires equipment and processes you may not use in your kitchen every day:
- Ramekins: These are three- to five-ounce (90 ml to 150 ml) ceramic cups that often have a decorative fluted exterior. Ramekins are the brûlée holder of choice since they can withstand high heat.
- Blowtorch: Okay, it’s not a blowtorch, but it looks like one! It’s actually called a kitchen torch, and it’s used to achieve the dessert’s thin, crunchy top.
- Bain-marie: Although this process doesn’t require unusual equipment (other than ramekins), it does require something most people don’t use very often. Bain-marie entails giving the brûlée a water bath while it cooks in the oven. This helps the contents of the ramekins cook more evenly and it can be done in most any roasting pan.
Like other traditional baked custards, scalding the cream is part of the process, yet many modern recipes skip this step and still swear by the results.
The modern and traditional recipes are incredibly similar, they just use a little different process. I’ve included two recipes for you to choose from, with and without the “brûlée”-ing.
First, without the scalding.
Preheat the oven to 300° F (150° C)
- 5 egg yolks
- ¼ c. (50 g) sugar
- 1 ¼ c. (375 ml) heavy cream
- 1 tsp. (5 ml) pure vanilla extract
- 1 tbsp. (7.4 g) cocoa powder
- 2 tbsp. (31g) sugar (for topping)
- In a large bowl, beat together egg yolks and sugar with a mixer or whisk until all the sugar is dissolved. The mixture will be a pale yellow.
- Add the cocoa powder and mix well.
- Then whipping cream and vanilla and mix on low until well blended.
- Put the ramekins into a roasting pan big enough for them to have some room around them.
- Remove the air bubbles in the mixture by pouring it gently through a sieve. You can do this directly into 4 four-ounce ramekins or into a large measuring cup and then into the ramekins.
- In a large roasting pan, bain-marie the ramekins. You do this by pouring enough hot water in the pan to reach between half and three-quarters of the way up the sides of the ramekins.
- Bake between 40 and 50 minutes. The center of the custard should still be slightly soft.
- When the ramekins are cool enough to remove from the bath, cover and put them in the refrigerator for at least two hours. Overnight is even better!
- Once they are thoroughly chilled, remove them from the oven and sprinkle each brûlée with about a teaspoon of sugar (more if you want more of a crust).
- Use a small kitchen torch to caramelize the sugar toppings by moving it back and forth above each surface (about three inches away).
- Let them cool again for several minutes, either on the counter or back in the fridge.
This recipe will serve four.
For those bakers who are more experienced (and more ambitious), substitute the first three steps above with the three below. Scalding means getting the cream mixture to a temperature of about 180° F (83°) or barely simmering.
This recipe requires a bit more cream and a small saucepan:
- 5 large egg yolks
- ¼ c. (50 g) and 3 tbsp. (47 g) sugar
- 2 c. (480 ml) heavy cream
- ½ c. (14 g) finely chopped bittersweet chocolate
- 2 tbsp. (31g) sugar (for topping)
- In the saucepan, heat the cream and ¼ c. sugar over a medium heat.
- With a whisk, stir until the sugar is dissolved and the cream is just scalded. Then whisk in the chopped chocolate until the mixture is smooth. Remove pan from heat.
- Whisk the egg yolks with three tablespoons of sugar in a medium-sized bowl. In small increments, add the cream mixture to the egg mixture and whisk together. This is called tempering.
- Follow steps 4 through 11 above.
A note of caution: Be sure to do the tempering slowly or the warm cream mixture may start to “cook” the egg mixture, and you’ll end up with scrambled Brûlée!
Ramekins are also not the only kind of dish that will work. Small mason jars can withstand the high heat of the torch or broiler as can mini ceramic tart or pie dishes.
However, stay away from putting your custards in metal pans, as it affects the taste and texture.
If you don’t have a kitchen torch, you can still make the signature crusty coating on top.
Instead of using a torch on the sprinkled sugar, use your oven’s preheated broiler for one to three minutes. Be sure to watch, however, that the coating doesn’t get too dark.
Whichever method you use—torch or broiler—do it relatively close to the time you’ll be serving dessert. The crust won’t stay hard for long, especially if you put it in the refrigerator. Three hours at tops.
This already-fabulous dessert has some variations that can really make it pop for those special occasions. Some recipes include a bit of chocolate liqueur, expresso granules, or just a hint of cayenne pepper.
If you want more on top than just the sweet crunchy crust, garnish with any number of items. Try dark chocolate shavings or a couple of semi-sweet chocolate chips. A chocolate mint would also be a fantastic addition.
If you’re going for contrast, try white chocolates shavings or chips. You can also top with a bright red raspberry, a bit of strawberry, a mint sprig or a dollop of cream to heighten this dessert’s delight!