Learn how to make the best, easy vanilla creme brulee by following just 5 steps and some simple instructions for the creamiest french dessert ever (plus a sous vide method)
I’ve lost count how many vanilla creme brulee ramekins I’ve emptied during testing this recipe. Not that I’m complaining of course! This dessert is one of the greatest pleasures in life!
Just to be sure, and because I wanted to see if I can reduce some of the calories, I tested this recipe with half cream and half milk, with whole eggs instead of only egg yolks and with part yolks and part whole eggs (and a combination of the above). I also tested cooking it in a sous vide bath, something which you can read more about at the end of this post.
Even if all of the times this french dessert was very tasty and delicious, I have to admit that you’ll get the best results when you use a cream with 35% fat content (also known as heavy cream or whipping cream) and only egg yolks (something expected).
This creamy and velvety creme brulee may seem laborious but it’s actually a fairly easy recipe – it’s easier than a cheesecake (or a Crème Brûlée Cheesecake). It also doesn’t have many ingredients and that’s why my most important advice is to get the best quality cream you can find and the best vanilla. Like this Greek milk pie with phyllo (easy bougatsa), every recipe with few ingredients relies on their quality.
The vanilla can be vanilla extract, vanilla paste, vanilla sugar or a fresh vanilla pod. Whatever you choose, it should smell like something that fell from the heaven if you want your creme brulee to smell divine. Because the vanilla sugar, the vanilla paste, and the vanilla pod contain those black, tiny, fragrant seeds, they will create a nice speckled effect which will tell your guests that you used the real thing and not some imitation.
what is creme brulee
Creme brulee is a thick custard cream with a velvety texture which is baked in the oven. It is usually served in individual ramekins but it can also be prepared in a larger one. For the best texture, you will have to place the ramekins inside a baking pan which you will fill halfway through with boiling water (water bath).
Just before serving, the surface of the cream is sprinkled with white sugar and then gets burned with a torch (thus the french name “brûlée” which means burned). This process results in the caramelisation of the sugar, something that complements the vanilla flavor with intense caramel notes and creates a perfectly contrasting texture with the silky smooth cream.
creme brulee ingredients
You only need 5 ingredients to make this dessert. I almost can’t believe it myself that with just 5 simple ingredients you get a dessert this good, but it’s true!
- Heavy cream
- Egg yolks
- White sugar
- Vanilla bean (or vanilla extract)
The cream should have 35% fat content. The recipe will also work with half and half but you’ll need to add one more yolk. As for the leftover egg whites, keep in mind that you can freeze them for at least up to 6 months. The day before you plan to use them, transfer them in the refrigerator to thaw. Use them in omelettes, in this vanilla and white chocolate bundt cake or in these Italian almond cookies/amaretti.
How to make creme brulee in 5 easy steps
The whole procedure can be broken down into these simple steps:
- Mix the egg yolks with the sugar, the vanilla extract, and the salt.
- Heat the cream and slowly add it to the egg yolk mixture.
- Transfer the mixture to the ramekins, place them inside a baking pan, fill it with boiling water and bake in the oven.
- Chill in the fridge.
- Just before serving, sprinkle with sugar and burn it with a torch.
what does creme brulee taste like?
Creme brulee can be flavored in many ways but the authentic recipe is made with vanilla. Because it contains cream and egg yolks it’s basically a baked custard with vanilla flavor. Think of a good vanilla ice cream, but not frozen. But that’s not all.
The extra thing this dessert has, which makes it amazing, is the burnt sugar on top. This crunchy layer of caramel offers a complex bittersweet taste and creates a stunning presentation (especially if you torch the crème in front of your guests). Everyone who tries crème brulee has a hard time forgetting it!
You can also flavor your crème in many other variations using orange/citrus zest, cinnamon and cloves, lavender, bergamot, dried rosebuds, tonka bean or coffee. This coffee creme brulee from Martha Stewart surely sounds good!
why your crème brulee tastes eggy
This can happen when you over-bake it. If I had to choose between a slightly under-baked crème brulee and a slightly over-baked one, I would choose the first one. This is because the under-baked one will be just more loose but still creamy, whereas the over-baked will be curdled and eggy tasting. Fresh, good quality eggs will also help!
Creme brulee ramekins
Traditionally, crème brulee is served in individual ramekins. However, you can also make it into porcelain coffee cups or small heatproof glass jars if you don’t already have these ramekins. The usual capacity of the ramekins is 5-6 ounces (150-180 ml) but the most important thing for the best texture is to fill them no more than 2 inches (5 cm) in height. If you fill them higher than that, you risk the chance your crème brulee to be under baked in the middle.
Creme brulee torch – is it necessary?
In my humble opinion, you will get the best results by using a torch. My suggestion here is to divide the surface into smaller parts and torch every part moving the flame back and forth in very narrow movements. When one part is caramelized, move to the next one.
Don’t let the caramel stay just blond, you want some dark spots for that bittersweet taste which will balance the sweetness of the sugar. Remember that we caramelize the sugar just before serving because otherwise it can absorb moisture and become sticky and less crunchy.
If you don’t have a torch, I’ve seen a couple of different methods for making the caramel layer but I haven’t tried them.
The first method is to use your oven grill: To protect your crème from cooking further, I suggest putting the chilled from the fridge ramekins inside a baking pan and fill it halfway through with cold water (I remind you that we’re talking about the cooked and chilled crème brulee which we now want to caramelize). Sprinkle the tops with sugar and grill in the high rack of your oven until the sugar is caramelized.
The second method is to caramelize the sugar in a pan and carefully pour it over the surface of each crème brulee. This will probably give you a very thick layer of caramel which may be difficult to break (and you’ll also need more sugar). You can watch this video for how to caramelize sugar in a pan.
How to achieve an extra thick caramel layer
This is the simple trick for an extra thick caramel layer: sprinkle the top with an even layer of sugar and burn it with the torch. Repeat with another layer of sugar and burn it again.
I’m guessing you’re a fan of caramel since you’re reading this, so you may also want to check the recipe for this mocha caramel and peanuts mousse cake (it’s almost like a snickers bar but in the form of a cake)
Sous vide creme brulee
Sous vide is a cooking method where you seal the food in an airtight container/bag and cook it in a water bath under very precise temperature. Because you have absolute control over the temperature you always get consistent results, meaning your food is always cooked at the desired level, not under-cooked, not over-cooked.
To make sous vide crème brulee you will need small mason jars (5-6 oz capacity) or any other jars that can seal airtight. Don’t leave too much empty space inside the jars. The lids should be closed well but not very firmly. Why? Because when you submerge the jars underwater you’ll see some air-bubbles escaping from the inside. This is normal and it happens because the warm air is expanding inside the jar and it needs a way out or the jars may break.
Set the temperature at 176 °F (80 °C) and cook for 1 hour. Sous vide crème brulee will give you perfect results every time, even if you forget it inside the water bath for longer time.
- 2 cups (500 ml) heavy cream 35% fat
- 5 egg yolks (80 grams)
- 0.5 cup (100 grams) white sugar
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract or 1 vanilla bean
- pinch of salt
- 6-9 tablespoons caster sugar
Preheat your oven to 325 °F (160 °C) and set a pot with water over medium heat (for the water bath).
Mix the egg yolks with the sugar, the vanilla, and the salt and stir well.
Heat the cream until almost boiling and slowly add it to the egg yolk mixture whisking continuously until incorporated.
Divide the mixture between 6 ramekins (you don’t want them to be full), place them inside a baking pan and fill the baking pan with boiling water about 1 3/4 inches deep (this is the water bath). Bake in the middle rack of the oven for 30-35 minutes or until the surface of the cream is set and the middle is still jiggly.
Wait until the cream is cool and chill in the fridge (at least 4 hours or overnight).
Just before serving, sprinkle each ramekin with 1 – 1.5 tablespoons sugar and burn it with a torch.
- The amount of sugar is enough to give the cream a nice taste without being overly sweet. If you like things sweeter, you can add a couple of tablespoons more.
- If you use vanilla bean, scrape the seeds and add them to cream before boiling. If you use extract or paste, add it to the egg yolks.
- Add the hot cream to the yolk mixture gradually and slowly, othherwise you risk cooking the yolks.
- When pouring the cream into the ramekins, it’s best to pass it through a fine sieve. It will catch any lumps from the yolks and will reduce any air-bubbles that may end up on the surface of the cream. Break any remaining bubbles with a toothpick. Don’t fill the ramekins more than 2 inches in height.
- The leftover egg whites freeze very well. Use them for these italian almond cookies (soft amaretti) or this white chocolate vanilla bundt cake
Sous vide instructions:
For the sous vide, you don’t have to heat the cream, but if you use a vanilla pod instead of extract, heating it will infuse the custard better. Use small mason jars (5-6 oz capacity) or any other jars that can seal airtight. Don’t leave too much empty space inside the jars. The lids should be closed well but not very firmly. Cook at 176 °F (80 °C) for 1 hour.
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