I was probably in my early teens the first time I tried crème brûlée, and felt SUPER fancy as I gingerly cracked through that layer of caramelized sugar on top. I fell in love with the dessert, and considered it a delicacy for only the fanciest, most special of occasions, so I only had it a small handful of times over the next decade.
Fast forward to my early twenties, when my mom had gone back to work as a Home Economics teacher at a middle school. She was disappointed that they didn’t have enough time in the 45-minute class period to make many really good foods, so she formed a very popular after-school cooking club. They met once a month after school to make something delicious and fun. I remember them making everything from homemade buffalo wings to Asian sesame chicken and homemade fried rice…you name it. At the beginning of one school year, when she asked the kids what they wanted to make that year one of them said, “Crème brûlée!” Crème brûlée?? With middle schoolers?! But being the awesome woman that she is, she said, “Okay!”
The kids loved it. In fact, one of them loved making it so much that his parents bought him his own crème brûlée kit, complete with ramekins and butane torch, and he’d make it for his family at home. (How cute is that?!) Yes, some parents bought their middle schooler a butane torch. Epic. That’s the power of an influential teacher.
Knowing how much I love both cooking and crème brûlée, my mom bought me a crème brûlée kit for Christmas a few years go. I was stoked! I’d never made the stuff, but was excited at the prospect of having it whenever the heck I wanted! I’ve tried several recipes over the years, all of them delicious, but most of them requiring you to do the whole double boiler thing to cook the eggs without scrambling them, etc. I hate double boilers. With a passion. Probably partially because I do it makeshift style, placing a metal mixing bowl over boiling water and hoping I don’t slip and spill boiling water or molten sugar-eggs all over myself/my kitchen. Maybe if I had a legit double boiling pot set, I wouldn’t mind it so much.
I doubt it.
So when I recently found a recipe that requires none of that nonsense, and still tastes amazing, I knew I’d found my go-to recipe for crème brûlée! I’m excited to share it with you! It’s easy peasy, and pretty “no fail”. And the ease of it doesn’t sacrifice any of the deliciousness; I think it’s the creamiest crème brûlée I’ve made – a perfect, silky smooth texture. You don’t have to be a gourmet chef to get this one right, folks. Get your “fancy” on and give it a try! Enjoy!
- 1 quart heavy cream
- 1 vanilla bean* (or 1½ tsp vanilla extract; see *Note below for modified instructions)
- ½ cup sugar
- 7 egg yolks
- Hot water
- Additional sugar (~1/2 cup) for topping
- Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Place your ramekins in a large baking dish or roasting pan (I use my 10x13 glass casserole dish; sometimes it requires 2 baking dishes to fit all the ramekins). Ensure that each ramekin is sitting level.
- Pour the cream in a saucepan; place over medium-high heat. Split the vanilla bean in half with a sharp knife (paring knives work great). Using the back of your thumbnail, scrape the seed paste into the cream, then drop the bean itself into the cream. Stir gently. Bring to a boil, then remove from heat and let sit, covered, for at least 15 minutes to allow the vanilla to steep into the cream. Remove the vanilla bean.
- In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and ½ cup of sugar until well-blended and just starts to lighten to a pale yellow color. Add the hot cream a little bit at a time, stirring continually. Once all the cream has been added, carefully pour the mixture into your ramekins. (If using 3.5 inch ramekins, it will fill ~10-12. If using 5 inch ramekins, it will fill ~6-8.) Next, carefully pour hot water into the baking dish around the ramekins until it's about halfway up the side of the ramekins. Bake until the center is just barely set but still jiggly. (Don't be afraid of the jiggle! Please don't overcook your crème brûlée!) For my smaller 3.5 inch ramekins, this took about 30-35 minutes. For my larger ones, it took about 40-50 minutes. Remove the ramekins from the baking dish and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
- Prior to serving, remove ramekins from the fridge. Pour about 1 tablespoon of sugar on top of each crème brûlée, and swirl/spread it around until it's equally distributed in a thin layer. Using a butane torch, melt the sugar until it forms a crisp, golden crust. (If you don't have a butane torch, you can do this under a broiler.) If desired, return the crème brûlée to the fridge for a few minutes until ready to serve (the top part can sometimes warm up a bit while being torched).
But if you don't have one and are in a pinch (or just don't want to drop the money for one), you can simply heat the cream by itself (no vanilla bean), add it to the eggs gradually as instructed above, then add in 1½ tsp vanilla extract before filling the ramekins.