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Crème brûlée

This crème brûlée recipe is shockingly easy to make at home – but it can be our little secret. Crème brûlée radiates elegance, indulgence and luxury, characterized by the crisp caramelized sugar shell giving way to the lusciously creamy custard. All you need are egg yolks, heavy cream, vanilla, salt and sugar to make this recipe. And don’t worry, you do NOT need a crème brûlée torch – I’ll show you how to make the solid caramelized sugar topping in your oven! This foolproof crème brûlée recipe includes step-by-step photos and tips for success so you can make the best crème brûlée recipe of your life. You will also love that this crème brûlée recipe is make ahead friendly!
Course Dessert
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Total Time 55 minutes
Servings 6 -8 servings

Ingredients

Custard

  • 2 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 5 large egg yolks at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar divided
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

ADD LATER FOR TOPPING:

  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar

Instructions

CUSTARD

  • Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
  • Add the heavy cream and salt to a medium saucepan and heat over medium heat just until simmering. As soon as it begins to simmer (don’t let it boil!), remove from heat and stir in the vanilla extract. Set aside to cool for 10 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, bring about 5 cups of water to a boil on the stovetop to use later in the water bath (I use a large saucepan so it boils more quickly). Place either (8) 4-ounce ramekins, (6) 5-ounce ramekins (my fav), or (5) 6-ounce ramekins in a roasting pan or two smaller baking pans; set aside.
  • Add the egg yolks and 1/2 cup granulated sugar to a mixing bowl. Beat on medium speed for 2 minutes.
  • Using a hand whisk and whisking constantly, slowly drizzle 1/4 cup (eyeball it) warmed heavy cream into the egg mixture; whisk until completely incorporated. Repeat with another ¼ cup warmed cream. Once combined, slowly whisk in the remaining warmed cream until combined, whisking constantly.
  • Pour the custard into a large liquid measuring cup (or pitcher)— this makes filling the ramekins much easier. Evenly divide the custard between the ramekins. Transfer boiling water to a separate (or cleaned) liquid measuring cup or pitcher.
  • Transfer the roasting pan with custard to the middle oven rack then immediately pour the hot water into the pan around the custard until it reaches about ¾ up the sides of the ramekins. (Place the spout on the corner of the roasting pan and pour slowly so water doesn't splatter onto the custard.)
  • Bake at 325 degrees F for 25-45 minutes or until the center registers 170 degrees F on an instant read thermometer. The custard should be barely set, not liquid, but still jiggly all over. The baking time will depend on the depth of the ramekins; shallow 1-inch ramekins (5-6 ounces) will take closer to 25 minutes, deep 2-inch ramekins (4 ounces) will take closer to 45 minutes).
  • Remove the custards using tongs to a cooling rack and let cool to room temperature, 1-2 hours. Cover custards with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 4 hours up to 3 days before adding the sugar topping.

SUGAR TOPPING PREP

  • For lukewarm crème brûlée (my preference) that is being TORCHED, remove the custard from the refrigerator 20 minutes prior to caramelizing the sugar on top OR wait 20 minutes after caramelizing to serve. Do not remove custard from the fridge earlier if oven broiling (the oven will sufficiently heat the custard up).
  • Dab the tops of the custards with paper towels to remove any condensation. Create the sugar crust by sprinkling 1-2 teaspoons over the tops of each custard. Use less sugar for narrow ramekins and 2 teaspoons for wide ramekins. Swirl the sugar then shake the ramekin from side to side until the sugar is evenly distributed.

TO TORCH BRULEE

  • Hold the torch about 4 to 5 inches from the sugar, and use a medium power flame. Maintain a constant, slow, side to side motion until the sugar melts and then becomes golden. Serve crème brûlée immediately for best results (crunchiest topping) or store in the refrigerator for up to 30 minutes before serving.

TO OVEN BRULEE

  • I suggest only broiling half of the custards at once so they are easier to rotate for more even caramelization. Arrange a rack in the oven in the highest position. Place the ramekins on a baking sheet then place on the rack and turn on the broiler (DO NOT PRE-HEAT BROILER).
  • Broil for 5 to 10 minutes, rotating the ramekins frequently with tongs so that they broil evenly. Watch closely towards the end so they don’t burn. Remove from the oven when the tops are golden brown and bubbling. Serve crème brûlée immediately for best results (crunchiest topping) or store in the refrigerator for up to 30 minutes before serving.

Notes

Tips for Success

  • Ramekins: I personally prefer 5-ounce ramekins (shown in this recipe). I find the ratio of topping to custard the most satisfying.  The wide surface area means more caramelized sugar without the custard being too thin.  I suggest these 5 ounce ramekins if you are purchasing them anyway.  They are an investment, but less expensive than purchasing multiple crème brûlée orders at a restaurant and you can use them again and again!   That being said, if you already have 4 ounce or 6 ounce ramekins, those will also work!    You will need enough ramekins to hold 30 ounces of liquid.
  • Crème Brulee Torch: I highly recommend a professional kitchen torch (I use this one) because you can control the heat source, which means you deliver perfectly uniform, golden sugar shells every time, plus it’s awesome for my s’mores molten lava pies, and s’mores Nutella pie!  A kitchen torch is an investment but it pays for itself if you make the crème brûlée more than once this year!  If you don’t have one, don’t worry, you can still oven broil, your crème brûlée will just look a little more rustic with spatters and clusters of dark sugar - but you will still be rewarded with that coveted hard candy shell! 
  • Don’t forget the butane:  If you invest in a kitchen torch, then it will also need butane which you can order online or pick up at Home Depot.  I don’t want you to be excited to unwrap and use your shiny new toy only to find it doesn’t have fuel!
  • How to bring eggs to room temperature:  Room temperature eggs combine easier with the sugar for a creamier filling.  To quickly bring eggs to room temperature, fill a large bowl with warm water (not hot) and carefully add eggs.  Let sit for 10-15 minutes.
  • Keep those leftover egg whites: Leftover egg whites can be stored in a sealed container and refrigerated for up to 4 days OR they can be frozen for several months. (Use an ice cube tray if you want to keep them in individual, easy-to-measure portions.) Use them for omelets, soufflé, angel food cake, pavlova, royal icing or candied nuts. 
  • For smooth crème brûlée, skim the foam of: This doesn’t affect the flavor,  just appearance, so it’s not crucial.  After whisking the cream and eggs together, your custard will be foamy on top.  Skim off the foam or these bubbles will rise to the top of the crème brûlée once baked and create a bumpy texture. 
  • Strain custard if needed:  If you slowly whisk in the cream to the eggs, you shouldn’t need to strain the custard.  If you notice that your custard isn’t luxuriously smooth after adding all of the cream, however, then you will want to strain it.   To do this, simply place a fine mesh sieve over a liquid measuring cup or pitcher  - whatever you are going to use to pour the custard into the ramekins.
  • Cover custard completely with sugar: You want to cover the top of each custard completely with a thin layer of sugar, because any exposed custard will curdle when you torch it. 
  • Remove torch before desired doneness: Take care to stop torching just before the desired degree of doneness is reached because the sugar will continue to cook for a few seconds after the flame has been removed.  If you remove the flame and still want deeper caramelization, then just go back over the surface again.
  • What if I burn my sugar topping? This is SO easy to fix.  A little burnt is passable and even pleasurable to some, but if your top is scorched, then you can fix it by scraping off the top layer, adding the top sugar layer again and repeating the brûlée process.

MAKE AHEAD TIPS 

Crème brûlée is a fabulous make ahead dessert because it can be prepared almost entirely ahead of time, or you can prepare it in stages.  Here are options for making ahead:
  • Uncooked custard: can be covered and stored in the refrigerator for 3 days before baking.   You can either store it in one container or go one step further and divide it between ramekins (make sure to cover all of the ramekins with plastic wrap as well).  
  • Baked custards WITHOUT brûléed sugar topping: can be covered and stored in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
  • Crème brûlée (baked custards WITH brûléed sugar topping):  If prefer more lukewarm crème brûlée, then let custards sit for 30 minutes at room temperature before serving. Alternatively, if you prefer chilled crème brûlée, store the them in the refrigerator for up to 30 minutes before serving. Do not refrigerate any longer after brûléeing the tops or you risk the sugar absorbing moisture and the brittle top softening. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work well to torch the top again to try crisping it back up.

Storage 

The baked custard will last up to three days in the fridge. Once torched, the crème brûlée is best enjoyed right away as the topping becomes less crisp over time, but it may be refrigerated for 30 minutes without losing the crunchy topping.