Creme Brulee is often thought of as restaurant food, but it’s actually one of the easiest desserts you can make at home, with as few as 3 ingredients. This classic creamy custard can also be customized in many different flavors, and I also share how you can caramelize the top without a torch. 

Creme Brulee - in White Ramekin with Spoon Showing Caramelized Top

Few desserts can beat out the luscious creaminess that is creme brulee. Only Rice PuddingPeanut Butter PiePanna Cotta, and Baklava can compete as some of my other favorite holy-grail desserts. 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 the custards in the fridge until they’re ready to serve, and torch them right before serving. And bonus, people love watching creme brulee get torched, and a few brave ones will even do their own themselves!

There are really only three creme brulee ingredients that you need: heavy cream, egg yolks, and sugar. But personally, 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 in White Ramekin on Wooden Board

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! I’ll share all the flavor options below, or you can keep it simple with the classic cream, egg yolks, and sugar.

Tips for Best Results

Use premium heavy cream – It is astonishing how different dairy can taste among the various brands. Some dairy products have no flavor, while others have that quintessential sweet cream fatty dairy flavor. I’ve noticed that organic dairy products tend to have more flavor.

Bake in a water bath – It’s an extra step, but it is absolutely essential to bake the custards in a water bath in order to get the best results. The water bath keeps the temperature of the custards from rising too quickly, ensuring that you get a silky smooth texture instead of curdled eggs.

Allow plenty of time to chill – Warm creme brulee really isn’t very enjoyable. You will need to allow plenty of time for the ramekins to chill in the fridge, for the proper texture and also for the most enjoyable eating experience. This takes a minimum of 4-6 hours.

Step by Step Overview:

If you’d like to infuse your creme brulee with flavorings like citrus zest or lavender, begin with this optional step. Combine heavy cream and the flavoring of choice in a small saucepan (see suggestions below), and let it sit in the fridge for 2 hours. Skip this step if you’re not doing any infusion.

Infusing Orange Flavor in Cream with Orange Zest

Flavor Ideas

There are so many creme brulee flavors you can do that are truly incredible. Because there’s a high fat content in this dessert, it really allows the flavors and aromas to bloom on the palate. Here are some of my favorite flavor ideas.

  • Lemongrass – Whack a 2″ piece with a knife to bruise lightly, then steep in the cream for 2 hours.
  • Lavender – Steep 1 teaspoon of dried lavender in the cream for 2 hours.
  • Citrus – Instead of steeping 2 teaspoons of orange zest in the cream, you could swap in equal amounts of lemon zest, lime zest, meyer lemon zest, or grapefruit zest.
  • Vanilla – Add 1 tsp vanilla extract after mixing the egg yolks and hot cream together, or scrape the insides of a vanilla bean into the cream and let steep for 2 hours.
  • Coffee – Add 1 tsp coffee extract after mixing the egg yolks and hot cream together.
  • Teas – Add 1 tea bag of earl gray, chai tea, or green tea to the cream and steep for 2 hours.

In a medium bowl, combine egg yolks with granulated sugar:

Creme Brulee Ingredients - In Stainless Steel Bowl with Egg Yolks and Sugar

Whisk together for about 1 minute, until the two ingredients are blended well.

Whisked Egg Yolks and Sugar in Bowl

Place the heavy cream in a saucepan over medium high heat, and cook until the mixture reaches 180F:

Scalded Cream in Saucepan with Thermometer Verifying

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:

Orange Zest Creme Brulee Liquid in Saucepan

While whisking, slowly dribble the hot cream into the egg yolk sugar mixture over the course of about a minute:

Tempering Egg Yolk and Heavy Cream to Avoid Curdling

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:

Straining the crème brûlée liquid through strainer

Evenly divide the custard into six 4-ounce ramekins, then place the ramekins into a 9×13 pan. Fill the larger pan with boiling water until the water comes halfway up the sides of the ramekins:

Creme Brulee Ramekins Put into a Water Bath or Bain Marie to Prevent Curdling

What does the water bath do?

Creme brulee is a custard, and with pretty much any custard, you want to cook it slowly, and at a fairly low temperature. Water will never get hotter than 212F, so it does a good job of ensuring that your creme brulee doesn’t overcook and turn into scrambled eggs. The water bath will ultimately give you the most silky smooth, creamy end result.

Bake the creme brulee in the oven for 35-40 minutes, until they only jiggle slightly when shaken, and have set:

Citrus Creme Brulee Fully Cooked Without Curdling in Ramekins

Take the ramekins out of the water bath and let them cool to room temperature. Then cover the tops with plastic wrap and chill completely in the fridge. This will take at least 4-6 hours to completely chill through to the middle.

Make-ahead Option

At this point in the recipe, you can store the creme brulee in the fridge for up to 4 days, untorched. Then when you’re ready to serve, simply take the ramekins out of the fridge, add the sugar to the top, and caramelize.

When you’re ready to torch and serve the creme brulee, add 1 teaspoon of granulated sugar to the top of each one, giving it a shake side-to-side to evenly spread the granules out:

Adding Granulated Sugar for Creme Brulee Topping

Options for Browning the Top

You have two choices for browning the sugar topping: Using a handheld torch (affiliate), or using your oven’s broiler.

While both will work, 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 a little bit of its chill and firm texture (and becomes a bit soupy just underneath the sugar). To get around this a little bit, you can broil the top, then put the custards back into the fridge to firm up again. Or, use a torch so this is a non-issue.

Comparing Torched vs Broiled Tops

For a visual comparison, I browned a few of the ramekins using a torch, and a few using my oven’s broiler. Here’s what the oven broiler version looks like:

Creme Brulee Without a Torch - Broiled in the Oven to Caramelize Top

And here’s what the torched version looks like:

Creme Brulee Recipe - Served in White Ramekins with Orange Wedge

You can see that using a handheld torch gives you caramelization that’s a bit more even, and it also keeps the custard underneath cool so you can serve right away. But as I said, if you use the broiler to caramelize the sugar, you can just put the custards back into the fridge to firm it up again, for about an hour. The sugar topping will stay crunchy, though keep in mind that if it sits longer than that, the topping will likely soften as humidity and moisture are absorbed from the air.

A Spoonful Held Up Of the Best Creme Brulee to show Creamy Middle

How to Serve

A proper creme brulee is best enjoyed chilled, and it should have a luscious, creamy, pudding-like texture to it, with the contrasting crunch of the sugar on top.

This dessert certainly stands on its own, but if you’d like to pair it with a few other desserts for the table, I recommend small, relatively neutral and complementary nibbles like Candied Pecans, Shortbread Cookies, or Chocolate Covered Strawberries.

Creme Brulee is a good gluten-free option for dessert. You can also try using a sugar-alternative to make it keto-friendly. For a really unique variation, also try Sweet Potato Creme Brulee.

Peanut Butter CookiesCaramel Apple Crisp, and Chocolate Peanut Butter Cupcakes are a few of my other favorite desserts on the blog. Enjoy!

Recipe Tips and FAQ

How do you store leftover Creme Brulee?

Keep covered in the fridge for up to 4 days.

Can you freeze leftover Creme Brulee?

Yes, for up to 3 months, but know that there will likely be a bit of weeping liquid when you thaw it, and slight textural differences. To thaw, place in the refrigerator overnight.

How do you make Creme Brulee without a torch?

Set the oven rack as close to the broiler as possible, and preheat the broiler to high. Then place the creme brulees on a sheet pan, and set them underneath the broiler 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. If the custard melts, refrigerate the creme brulee for an hour to chill the filling again.

Did you enjoy the recipe? Please leave a 5-star rating in the recipe card below and/or a review in the comments section further down the page. Or, follow me on Facebook, Instagram or Pinterest!

Creme Brulee in White Ramekin with Spoon Showing Caramelized Top

Creme Brulee

This Orange Creme Brulee is a twist on the classic creamy custard, with aromatic and flavorful orange throughout. It's a great make ahead dessert!
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Ingredients

  • 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

Instructions 

  • 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. This is known as a scalding temperature. It's best to use a thermometer, but if you don't have one, you'll know the cream is hot enough when bubbles begin forming on the side, but it's not yet boiling.
  • While whisking constantly, slowly dribble the hot cream into the egg yolk mixture, gradually over a minute.
  • Add the vanilla extract, 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, to prepare for caramelization.
  • Torch Option: Ideally, use a handheld 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.
  • Oven broiler option: 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). If your oven's broiler isn't strong enough to caramelize the sugar without heating the filling, then place the ramekins back into the fridge for an hour before serving, to re-firm the custard. Serve and enjoy!

Notes

*The orange here is optional, but I absolutely love the vanilla and orange flavoring. See the blog post for more flavor ideas. If skipping the orange or other flavorings, no steeping time is needed and you should start the recipe with step 2.
Storing leftovers: Keep covered in the fridge for up to 4 days.
Freezing: Freeze for up to 3 months, but know that there will likely be a bit of weeping liquid when you thaw it, and slight textural differences. To thaw, place in the refrigerator overnight.
Make-ahead: Make the recipe all the way through fully baking the custards. Then let cool and keep in the fridge, untorched, for up to 4 days. When you’re ready to serve, simply take the custards out of the fridge, add the sugar to the top, and caramelize.

Nutrition

Calories: 458kcal, Carbohydrates: 4g, Protein: 5g, Fat: 48g, Saturated Fat: 29g, Cholesterol: 317mg, Sodium: 52mg, Potassium: 105mg, Sugar: 1g, Vitamin A: 1955IU, Vitamin C: 0.7mg, Calcium: 96mg, Iron: 0.4mg

Nutrition is estimated using a food database and is only intended to be used as a guideline for informational purposes.