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What is Creme Brulee?

By S. Mithra
Updated Jan 30, 2024
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The elegant dessert creme brulee has a thick pudding base of cream and eggs topped by a delicate layer of caramelized sugar. In French, "creme brulee" means "burnt cream," which refers to the process by which sprinkled sugar gets heated to a temperature that caramelizes it to a delicious brown. The traditional method of cooking this type of custard has evolved many flavored variations, but the simplest is often the best.

A basic recipe for creme brulee involves few fancy steps or specialized equipment. Boil cream in a saucepan over medium heat, then whisk in egg yolks. Over reduced heat, stir until thickened, such that it can coat the sides of the pan. Some people bake the mixture in a water bath, which protects the ingredients from uneven or harsh heat. Pour the batter into a set of ceramic ramekins until the middles are still loose but the border is firm. Chill them in the refrigerator for several days. When ready to serve, sprinkle them with a uniform layer of granulated white cane sugar. Quickly expose the tops to a hot flame, either a chef's torch or an oven broiler, so the sugar darkens to a rich brown but doesn't get charred.

Creme brulee combines minimalist flavors in a partly chilled yet partly heated dessert. Of course, there are many established variations on the flavor of cream and sugar that add spices, nuts, liqueurs, or toppings. For instance, some chefs mix in cinnamon, vanilla extract, coconut, pumpkin, melted chocolate, or concentrated espresso to make seasonal varieties. Others use rich, heavy liqueurs like creme de cassis, bourbon, or creme de menthe for a spicy flair. If decorative ramekins aren't fancy enough, you can add a sprig of mint, fresh berries, shaved chocolate, dried coconut, chopped hazelnuts, or an edible flower such as a nasturtium to entice guests to fully appreciate their first spoonful of decadent creme brulee.

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Discussion Comments
By anon172019 — On May 02, 2011

I want to taste creme brulee but haven't tried it. I don't really go to any french restaurants but it looks good. I need to try it one day.

By candyquilt — On Feb 17, 2011

@feruze-- I usually make the caramel of creme brulee using a torch but I was at my friend's house one time and she asked me to make creme brulee. She didn't have a blowtorch either so I caramelized the sugar in a pan and poured it over the creme after it cooled down. It came out pretty good but it does turn out even better with a torch. Why don't you try that and see? If you plan on making creme brulee often though, I think a blowtorch will be a good investment. Good luck!

By bear78 — On Feb 14, 2011

Do you have to use a torch to make creme brulee? All of the recipes I have seen say to sprinkle sugar on top of the creme and torch it until its brown. I don't have a torch! Is there another way to make the caramel? Please help!

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