Creme Brulee is often thought of as restaurant food, but it’s actually one of the easiest desserts you can make at home. This classic creamy custard can also be customized in many different flavors!
Few desserts can beat out the luscious creaminess that is creme brulee.
Besides being wildly delicious, Creme Brulee is an easy dessert that’s make-ahead friendly.
It’s one of the options I go to for dinner parties, because I can keep them in the fridge until they’re ready to serve, and torch them right before serving.
And bonus, people love watching the creme brulees get torched, and a few brave ones will even do their own themselves, hah!
The required creme brulee ingredients can be as minimal as heavy cream, egg yolks, and sugar, but I love infusing various flavors into the custard.
For the simplest option, add vanilla extract or a whole vanilla bean to the dairy.
But feel free to do some longer infusions of whatever ingredient you’d like, whether it’s citrus, lavender, coffee, or more unusual flavor infusions like basil or lemongrass (don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it).
Orange Creme Brulee happens to be one of my favorite flavor infusions after dining out at a restaurant called Va de Vi in the East Bay of California.
Their creme brulee bursted with orange flavor, but I noticed there was no orange zest actually visible. The waitress told me they infuse the zest into the cream, and I set out to recreate it at home. The flavor is amazing!
How to Make Creme Brulee:
Optional first step: If you want to infuse your creme brulee with flavorings like citrus zest or lavender, combine heavy cream and the flavoring in a small saucepan, and let it sit in the fridge for 2 hours. Skip this step if you’re not doing any infusion.
In a medium bowl, combine egg yolks with granulated sugar:
Whisk together for about 1 minute, until the two ingredients are blended well.
Place the heavy cream in a saucepan over medium high heat, until the mixture reaches 180F:
Be careful not to take it all the way to a boil. Using a thermometer (affiliate) is best, but if you don’t have one, you’ll know it’s at proper scalding temperature when bubbles are beginning to form on the side of the pan, but it’s not yet boiling:
While whisking, dribble the hot cream into the egg yolk sugar mixture over the course of about a minute:
We are tempering the mixture and raising the egg temperature very slowly, so the egg doesn’t scramble and coagulate.
Just to be sure there are no firm egg bits (and to strain out the orange zest), pour the custard through a sieve:
Evenly divide the custard into 6 4-ounce ramekins, then place into a large pan.
Fill the larger pan with boiling water until the water comes halfway up the sides of the ramekins:
The water bath will keep the creme brulee from curdling, and make sure the temperature rises slowly.
Bake the creme brulees in the oven for 35-40 minutes, until they only jiggle slightly when shaken, and have set:
Take the ramekins out of the water batch and let them cool to room temperature. Then cover the tops with plastic wrap and chill completely in the fridge. This will take 4-6 hours.
When you’re ready to torch and serve the creme brulee, add 1 teaspoon of granulated sugar to the top of each one:
To torch the top, you can either use a handheld torching device (affiliate), or broil them in the oven.
My recommendation is to use a torch, for a few reasons.
It will give you the most even browning on top, and you won’t risk overheating the custard while you’re torching.
Oven broilers vary, and I’ve noticed with mine that by the time I get proper browning on top, the broiler has heated the creme brulee beneath, and it loses its chill and firm texture (and becomes a bit soupy).
Here’s what the oven broiler version looks like:
Whereas the torched version is a bit more even, and keeps the custard underneath cool:
The Creme Brulee should have a luscious, creamy, pudding-like texture to it, with the contrasting crunch of the sugar on top:
How Long does Creme Brulee Last: You can store untorched creme brulee in the fridge for up to 4 days before serving. It can be made in advance very easily.
How to Make Creme Brulee without a Torch: Set the oven rack as close to the broiler as possible, and preheat to high. Then place the creme brulees on a sheet pan, and set them underneath for a minute or two, watching very closely, until the top has browned. Note that this method is not as good as using a torch, since often times oven broilers are not strong enough to quickly brown the top without melting the custard underneath too.
Creme Brulee is a good gluten-free option for dessert. You can also try using a sugar-alternative to make it keto-friendly.
Orange Creme Brulee
- zest of 4 oranges (about 2 tsp)
- 3 cups heavy cream
- 5 large egg yolks
- 1/2 cup sugar +1 tsp for each crème brûlée
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- Combine the orange zest and cream in a saucepan, and let it sit in the fridge for 2 hours.
- Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.
- Whisk together the egg yolks and 1/2 cup sugar for 1 minute, until well blended.
- Heat the orange zest cream over medium high heat until 180F, bringing it almost to a boil, but not quite. You’ll know when bubbles begin forming on the side, but it's best to use a thermometer.
- While whisking constantly, slowly dribble the hot cream into the egg yolk mixture, gradually over a minute.
- Add the vanilla, then pour the mixture through a sieve to strain out the orange zest and any coagulated egg.
- Pour the strained custard into six 4-ounce ramekins until nearly full (you may use other size ramekins, but you'll need to adjust bake time).
- Place the ramekins in a large baking pan and add enough boiling water to come halfway up the outsides of the ramekins.
- Bake for 35-40 minutes, until the creme brulees jiggle slightly when shaken, and have set. Take the ramekins out of the water bath and let cool to room temperature. Then cover the tops with plastic wrap and refrigerate until they firm up, 4-6 hours.
- When you’re ready to serve the creme brulee, sprinkle 1 tsp of sugar evenly on top of each one.
- Ideally, use a blowtorch to quickly caramelize the tops of each creme brulee, and serve immediately. This will give you the crunchy top layer you want, while keeping the creme brulee from getting warm.
- If you don't have a torch, you can use the broiler of your oven to caramelize the top. Set the oven rack as close as possible to the broiler, and preheat to high. Place the ramekins on a sheet pan, and broil for 1-2 minutes, until the top caramelizes, making sure you keep your eye on the browning (it's easier to burn the sugar using the broiler). Serve promptly and enjoy!
Post updated in July 2019. Originally published January 2011.