Crème brûlée is an impressive end to any meal. The ingredients—which mainly consist of eggs, sugar, and heavy cream—are simple, but the technique of brûléeing the top with a torch adds a dramatic flair. You may be intimidated by the idea of handling an open flame in your kitchen, but this recipe from the Institute of Culinary Education (ICE) is perfect for beginner cooks.
According to Roger Sitrin, ICE’s lead recreational chef-instructor, pulling off perfect crème brûlée at home isn’t as difficult as it looks. “It’s one of those things that’s so impressive when you bring it to the table, yet it’s so simple to do,” he tells Mental Floss. “You can do it well ahead of time, and it sits in the refrigerator well.”
To make crème brûlée in your kitchen, you need only four ingredients: heavy cream, granulated sugar, egg yolks, and vanilla bean. Start by simmering the cream, vanilla, and sugar together in a sauce pan. Temper the yolks in a separate bowl by slowly whisking in the hot mixture, being careful not to let them scramble. Finish the custard by straining it through a fine mesh sieve, pouring it into oven-safe dishes, and baking it in a water bath to set before chilling in the fridge.
The final step in the recipe is the part most home cooks dread. To top your custard with a golden-brown, crackable crust, cover it with a thin layer of sugar and caramelize it with a kitchen torch. The key to achieving an even color is to be constantly sweeping the flame across the surface. Your work is done when the top of the custard is brown and bubbling all over.
If wielding a torch makes you nervous, set the dishes on a sheet pan and remove anything flammable from your surrounding area before lighting up. You can also use your oven’s broiler, though it can be harder to achieve even caramelization this way.
The Institute of Culinary Education is one of the largest culinary schools on Earth, with campuses in Los Angeles and New York City. In addition to their course in the culinary arts, they also offer training programs in hospitality and hotel management. You can check out their curricula here.
How to Make Crème Brûlée
2 cups heavy cream
6 tablespoons granulated sugar
½ vanilla bean, split and scraped
4 large egg yolks
Granulated sugar for finishing
- Combine heavy cream, sugar and vanilla bean in a sauce pan and bring to a simmer. Whisk yolks in a bowl and temper with hot mixture. Strain through a fine mesh strainer and skim foam from surface if necessary.
- Pour the custard mixture into shallow, ovenproof dishes. Remove excess foam with a torch if necessary. Bake in a water bath at 350ºF until set. Cool and place in freezer about 1 hour or in refrigerator overnight.
- Cover tops of custard with ⅛-inch layer of granulated sugar then caramelize with the torch.