Crème brûlée

Time saver: silky smooth deliciousness, topped with crisp toffee – what’s not to love?

I’d had crème brûlée at restaurants a couple of times before, but it wasn’t until I made them myself that I really started to love them. My sister got me a butane gas torch for making brûlée a couple of Christmases ago, and not wanting it to go to waste I thought I’d better try it out. Ever since then I’ve been hooked.

This recipe is really an amalgamation of a few different recipes I’ve come across. I’ve tweaked and adjusted as I’ve gone, and the last time I made it was the best. I’ve tried making it with fewer egg  yolks – even as low as just using 3 – but it definitely works better with more, with a better texture and richer flavour. If you do use fewer egg yolks you’ll need to cook them for longer. I’ve also tried tricks like cutting open a vanilla bean and leaving it in the cream overnight before making it. It certainly didn’t hurt, but I still needed a lot of vanilla extract anyway.

Generally speaking you’d make these the night before you want to eat them. If you really can’t wait, then go ahead and eat them the same day, but make sure you’ve refrigerated them after cooking for at least an hour or so.

One final note: use natural vanilla extract – don’t use artificial vanilla essence, it just isn’t the same. (And since you’re going to the trouble of making this decadent dessert, you’ll want to do it justice.) You can buy it, or make your own by soaking vanilla beans in vodka.

Crème Brûlée – makes 4 custards (fills 4 ramekins of around 150 ml)

  • 500ml cream
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 3 Tbsp caster sugar
  • 1-2 Tbsp natural vanilla extract (depending on strength)
  • Additional caster sugar for topping (around 1½ tsp per rammekin)
  1. Pre-heat oven to 140°C.
  2. Heat cream in a sauce pan over medium heat, stirring constantly. Cream will eventually start to boil, getting very frothy and rising in pan. When this happens, remove the pan from the heat immediately, add the vanilla extract and stir well. (Have a quick taste test to determine if you need to add more vanilla. I typically use 2 Tbsp, even with bought extract.)
  3. While cream is cooling, combine the sugar and egg yolks in a separate bowl, and whisk well. After a couple of minutes the mixture should go a pale yellow.
  4. Pour the (still warm-hot) cream into the egg mixture, whisking as you pour, and mix well.
  5. Distribute the mixture evenly among the four ramekins, then place the ramekins in a small roasting dish, and half-fill the dish with hot water (being careful not to splash your cream).
  6. Put the dish in the oven and cook for around 25 minutes. The centres should be not quite fully set, but a skewer put into the custard about halfway to the centre should come out clean. (You kind of have to use your discretion, and a lot of it comes down to your oven, the size of the ramekins, prevailing wind conditions etc.)
  7. Remove the dish from the oven, and allow to cool. Once they’re cool enough to handle, you can remove the ramekins and put them in the fridge.
  8. When you’re ready to serve, take the custards out of the fridge. Sprinkle a little sugar evenly over the tops of each one (around 1½ tsp or so), then fire up your torch. Move the flame across the surface, melting all of the sugar and caramelising it a little to get a golden brown. It takes a bit of care to make sure you don’t end up burning it, but don’t be alarmed if it’s a little darker than you were expecting.
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