How to make crème brûlée

Crème brûlée is a luxuriant mixture of just-set vanilla custard and crisp caramelised sugar. Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you make this recipe for yourself.

How to make crème brûlée

You will need

  • 600ml double cream
  • 6 large free-range eggs
  • 2 tsp vanilla bean paste (we like Nielsen-Massey)
  • 6 tbsp caster sugar

This recipe serves five people and takes 20 minutes to make, 45 minutes to cook, plus cooling time.

Know-how

  • We used larger 175ml ramekins. With 100ml ramekins, this recipe will make around 8 puddings. For the smaller ramekins, reduce the cooking time by around 10 minutes in step 4 and keep an eye on them so the custard doesn’t overcook.

Food team tips 

  • Save the egg whites for another recipe, such as meringues. Whisk lightly, then label and freeze in an airtight container for up to 3 months.
  • We used vanilla bean paste as it helps distribute the seeds evenly (some will sink to the bottom of the ramekins in any case). If you want to use vanilla seeds from the pod, use 2 pods. Scrape the seeds into the egg yolks and use the empty pods to flavour the cream (step 1).

Make ahead

  • At the end of step 4, wrap the ramekins in cling film and chill for up to 2 days. Continue from step 5.

The golden rules for success

  • You can increase or decrease the amount of sugar used to make the custard by 1 tbsp, according to taste. Traditionally, crème brûlée requires less sugar than we’ve used here, but we think the flavour of the custard is improved with a little extra sweetness.
  • Many recipes suggest making a bain-marie with hot water, but we found the custards keep more stable and are less likely to split if the water is cold, heating up with the custards in the oven.
  • Cooks’ blow torches vary greatly in quality and it’s worth paying extra for one that will work more than once! We like Master Class blow torches (available for about £20 from cookshops and amazon.co.uk). As well as for caramelising crème brûlée, you can use them to melt flavoured butter over steaks, release parfaits and terrines from metal or cast-iron moulds, or run a low flame over chilled chocolate puddings to gloss before serving.
  • We tried several kinds of sugar for the caramelised top, but a blind taste test confirmed unanimously that caster sugar was the best. The small crystals melt easily, meaning you get an even, crisp caramel without the sugar burning too much. Golden caster sugar was a close second but didn’t give such crisp, clear results.
  • While the timings here worked for us in tests, it’s worth keeping an eye on the custards from 30 minutes onwards (or 20 minutes for smaller ramekins – see Know-how). The size of the yolks, amount of water in the bain-marie or variability in oven temperature can influence the way the custards cook. Don’t worry if yours take more or less time than stated. Just take them out of the oven when they have an enticing wobble.

1. Preheat the oven to 130°C/fan 110°C/gas ¾. Heat the cream in a saucepan over a low-medium heat until it steams. Meanwhile, separate the eggs and set the whites aside.

2. In a large bowl, whisk the yolks with the vanilla bean paste and 4 tbsp of the sugar until well combined.

3. When the cream steams, remove it from the heat and strain it through a sieve into the egg mixture.

4. Whisk to combine.

5. Strain the vanilla custard into a jug. Put 5 x 175ml ramekins in a roasting tin, then divide the mixture equally among the ramekins.

6. Pour cold water into the roasting tin until it comes two thirds of the way up the sides of the ramekins (this is called a bain-marie). Gently lift the tin into the bottom third of the oven and cook for 40-45 minutes until the custards are set but have a good wobble when nudged. Remove the ramekins from the bain-marie and set aside to cool, then transfer to the fridge to chill for at least 3 hours (see Make Ahead).

7. When ready to serve, remove the ramekins from the fridge and scatter over the remaining sugar in an even layer. Using a cook’s blow torch on a medium-high setting, blast the sugar quickly and evenly until caramelised and dark – stop heating it a few seconds before you think it’s ready as it will keep cooking. Put the crème brûlées back in the fridge for another 4-5 minutes, then serve straightaway.

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