How to Make Quick and Easy Crème Brûlée
Crème brûlée is a dessert consisting of a rich custard, topped with a shell of caramelized sugar. It often makes its appearance in the dessert choices of fine dining restaurants, although sometimes you might find it at more affordable venues, as well. It is the perfect dessert to go with a satisfying meal; its rich smoothness complementing almost any choice of food.
This is the recipe I use, adapted from my boss' recipe that we used in his restaurant. I use a few of my own methods as opposed to the more traditional ones. One of the biggest changes I make is that I choose not to scald the milk. Here is why:
Note on Scalding Milk: Scalding milk, or cream, accomplishes several things:
- It kills harmful bacteria in the milk of cream that may present a health risk.
- It removes enzymes that affect the manner in which the milk or cream performs.
- It raises the temperature of the milk to increase cooking time.
- It increases the rate at which flavorings diffuse into the milk or cream.
Modern-day pasteurization accomplishes the first two of these tasks before you even buy your cream. The third can be accomplished without heating the milk to scalding temperatures. The fourth task only applies when using real vanilla beans, and will only marginally affect the flavor in most cases. It can also be accomplished by substituting more time rather than more temperature. Because of this, I usually choose not to scald milk in the process of making this dessert, as it complicates the recipe unnecessarily in my opinion, and opens it up to complete failure.
As an aside, the photos in this recipe are ones I took myself. The quality will be somewhat poor, and my kitchen is so far from impressive that I can't even come up with a suitable metaphor or hyperbole befitting its status.
- 2 Cups Heavy Cream
- 1/3 Cup Granulated Sugar
- 4 Egg Yolks
- 1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
- (Optional) 1/2 Vanilla Bean, Substitute for Vanilla Extract
- Preheat your oven to 325°.
- Separate your four egg yolks from the whites, saving the yolks.
- Heat a pot of water to boiling.
Step One: Pour Cream and Mix in Extract
Add the cream into a saucepan. Mix in one teaspoon of vanilla extract, or one half of a vanilla bean with all the seeds.
Step Two: Heat Cream
Heat the cream on low heat to just above room temperature. This will speed the cooking time of the custard itself.
- Note: You may scald the milk if you choose. If you are using a vanilla bean, higher temperatures will imbue more of the flavor.
Step Three: Blanch Eggs with Sugar
Place the four egg yolks into a mixing bowl. Whisk in sugar until the mixture is a smooth, pale yellow.
Step Four: Combine Egg Mixture with Cream Mixture
Combine the cream with the eggs and sugar, stirring gently so as to cause as few air bubbles as possible. Use a torch to smooth out any bubbles that appear on the surface of the mixture. These can form bubbles inside the custard itself, changing its consistency.
- Important Note: If you scalded your milk, pour an ounce or so of the hot cream into the bowl, stirring immediately to prevent the cream from cooking the eggs. Slowly add in another ounce, still stirring, before pouring in the entire mixture. To give a visual cue, here is a video provided by Kenmore on YouTube, explaining the tempering of eggs.
Step Five: (Optional)
Pour the custard mix through a strainer. This will remove any unmixed clumps of sugar, seeds from the vanilla bean, and the vanilla bean itself.
Step Six: Pour Your Mixture
Pour the custard mixture into your ramekins, taking care to spread the mixture evenly between them. If there are any bubbles that have formed on top after pouring, smooth them out again with your torch.
Step Seven: Place Ramekins and Fill the Bath
Place your ramekins into the pan you have chosen for your bain-marie or "water bath." If you don't know what a bain-marie is, check out this article before continuing. Leave your last ramekin out of the pan, so that you can safely pour in the boiling water without risking contaminating your other ramekins with water. Once you have filled the pan up with water to roughly halfway up the ramekins, place the last one into the pan.
Step Eight: Cook
Now that you've mixed together your ingredients, and gotten them into your water bath, its time to put them into the oven for 40-45 minutes on 325°. If you used scalded milk, the time should be lower, around 30-35 minutes. You can determine if the crème brûlée is finished if it jiggles like jello when you tap the edge of the ramekin. Take care to insure that it is not too liquidy, and that it does not tear when you jiggle it to test its done-ness.
- Note: The cooking time will vary depending on the size and depth of the ramekins used.
Step Nine: Chilling
Once your crème brûlée is finished, and you've taken it out of the water bath, set it on a cooling rack, and let it cool down. Once its cooled enough, put it in the refrigerator, and let it set for several hours. Once it has chilled for several hours, it is ready for the final touches.
Finishing Touches: The Caramelized Sugar Shell
To finish off your crème brûlée, you will want to add the sugary crust to the top of it. You want to do this after it has chilled, at some time just before it will be served. If you caramelize sugar on top of it and then store it for a length of time in the refrigerator, the crust will absorb the moisture of the desert, and become soggy. To create the shell, follow these steps:
- Lightly sprinkle a half and half mixture of brown sugar and granulated sugar on top of the crème brûlée. Shake off the excess, and then run your fingers along the rim of the ramekin to remove any sugar, as it will caramelize on the rim if you don't making it harder to wash, and marring the presentation.
- With a torch, run the flame over the sugar, melting, and then caramelizing it. It will begin to lightly brown as it caramelizes.
- After there is a more or less evenly caramelized shell of sugar on top of the crème brûlée, torch a few spots just a little extra, blackening it slightly. This adds a hint of bitterness to the sweetness, enhancing the complexity of the dessert.
- (Optional) Dust the caramelized shell with a few dashes of confectioner's sugar, for both flavor and presentation. You may garnish it with a sprig of mint, or an appropriate decoration, if you wish.
- Your crème brûlée dessert should be ready. Serve, and devour.
Well, that is the gist of how I make my own crème brûlée. If you try it and enjoy it, let me know, and thanks for reading! If you didn't like it, I'd also appreciate your comments on what you think could be done differently to improve it.