This is the best Vanilla Bean Crème Brûlée recipe brought to you from the kitchen of a professional pastry chef. The custard is light and creamy and it has that satisfying crack from the caramel top!
I went through a Crème Brûlée phase in my earlier days as a Pastry Chef. This was a habit this from time to time, where I would get stuck on a particular type of dessert and then dive deep into it, not emerging until I had developed what was, in my opinion, the best of whatever it was. I would then take it broad: I made key lime Crème Brûlée, coffee Crème Brûlée with itty bitty poptarts, caramel chocolate Crème Brûlée, Pumpkin Pie Crème Brûlée, Banana Honey Crème Brûlée, and on and on.
Then I would create different components and create a special dessert around them.
Tips for the best Crème Brûlée
- Don’t boil your vanilla extract, it dampens the flavor.
- Skim your foam off with a spoon or plastic wrap to keep from having a weird texture on top of your creme brulee.
- Use any shape ramekin that your heart desires.
- You can hit the remaining bubbles with a torch before placing them in the oven. Is it magic? Is it science? (It’s baking!)
- Cover your roasting pan with aluminum foil (and make a peephole for yourself) so you can keep track of the water as you pour it in.
- You can tell that they're done when they jiggle a little bit but look cohesive.
- Let them cool slowly (I let them cool completely at room temperature and then pop them in the fridge)
- Be generous with your sugar but not too generous! You want a coating that is thick enough to see the sugar but not so thick that you can’t see any of the custard.
- You want to do your brûlée right before you serve it!
What makes the best Crème Brûlée IMO? It is easy to make a custard that sets quickly with a lot of eggs, but I don’t love eggy custards. I don’t want to bite into my dessert and taste caramel eggs. No, no I do not. I want a smooth, rich custard that has just enough eggs to set the custard but not to impart it’s own flavor. Keep your savor to yourselves I say! Or save it for a Moon Pie. Mmm moon pie.
Tips if you don’t have a torch for the brûlée in Crème Brûlée
- If you don’t have a blow torch for your brulee, never fear, you can pour a dry caramel you made in a pot on top to get an almost exact same effect!
- What I mean by that is put about 1 cup of sugar in a pot, heat over medium high heat until it starts to melt. You can gently stir it with a spoon to make sure it melts evenly. Take the caramel to a medium amber, remove from the heat then pour carefully over the top of the set, cold custards. This will be a thicker top because the caramel will begin to cool as you pour and the custard is cold. It will be a challenge to get a nice thin layer. You can always reheat the caramel as needed. Just be careful and always remember that nothing burns quite so fiercely as a caramel burn. Trust.
Vanilla Bean Crème Brûlée
- Preheat the oven to 325°F
- In a sauce pot combine cream, half of the sugar, salt, and vanilla bean. Bring just to a boil.
- When this comes close to boiling whisk together vigorously the egg and egg yolk then whisk in the sugar until it lightens slightly. (This technique is called blanchir for my fellow cooking and Francophile nerds out there!)
- When the cream comes just to a boil, slowly add a little hot cream to the eggs, whisking constantly. Continue adding slowly until all the cream has been added. This is called tempering. If you accidentally add a bit too much hot cream or add it a little too fast and you get those coagulated (cooked!) bits of egg, then just strain it through a fine mesh sieve or chinoise before adding to your ramekins. Skim off the foam.
- Divide between ramekins and set them in a large deep dish or roasting pan. To get the last little bubble off the surface, pass a kitchen torch over the top. This will pop them instantly.
- Cover the top of the entire larger dish with foil, then pull back a corner so you can see.
- Transfer to the middle rack in preheated oven. Carefully pour hot water into the dish just to come halfway up the outsides of the ramekins. Replace the foil over the corner and close the oven.
- Bake for about 20-30 minutes until the centers jiggle like jello and are no longer liquid. You can place a small spoon on the surface and it will hold the weight, though I prefer to rely on the jiggle test. The bake time will vary VASTLY by the actual heat of your oven and the size / shape of the ramekin you chose. A larger flat ramekin will bake much faster. Just keep checking. If you are a nervous nelly or you know your oven runs hot, you can bake them at 300°F. I initially did but then I turned it up because it was taking over 40 minutes and they still weren’t set!
- Remove ramekins carefully using some combination of kitchen tongs, a spatula and a towel.
- Allow to cool to room temperature and then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours but ideally overnight. The colder they are, the longer you will have to torch the top and get a nice thick crust!
- When you are ready to serve, place about half a tablespoon on the top (again this will depend on the surface area of the ramekin you choose) and then tilt the ramekin to coat the top evenly. You want a coating that is thick enough to see the sugar but not so thick that you can’t see any of the custard.
- Starting a little further away or with a lower flame begin melting the sugar with a kitchen torch. Gradually increase the speed and torch until a nice dark caramel is formed on the surface. Allow to set. This only takes about 3 minutes. Serve immediately!