TWD: Creme Brulee

When I read that this week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe would be Creme Brulee, I was seized with something close to dread. Not only had I never made Creme Brulee before, but I had never even tasted it before. I kid you not. Not a single spoonful of this iconic dessert had, to this point, passed my lips. After an unfortunate flan incident in my childhood, any dessert that consists chiefly of solidified egg yolk (ice cream, of course, being the sole exemption) was no friend of mine. So, no custard, no pots de creme, and no Creme Brulee.

But then there was Dorie. I trust Dorie. Dorie's recipes have never let me down. If Dorie could produce a decent Creme Brulee, maybe it was possible to love egg-based desserts. In any case, my curiousity began to get the better of me, and I was dying to try my hand at it. If I couldn't eat it, at least I'd learn to make it. Everyone else in the world seems to think Creme Brulee is a wonderful idea. It seemed wise to learn how to prepare it.

So, I bought some suitable custard cups, the heavy cream, the eggs. I spent many long moments trying to puzzle out how, exactly, I was going to caramelize the sugar on top. I didn't want to go out and purchase a chef's torch for a dish that might get made approximately once. Ultimately, I decided to go with a standard-issue propane torch, only to learn from my husband that we have no such thing in our household (which probably speaks volumes about how handy we are in the arena of home repairs). I made a mental to borrow a torch from my dad, who not only is an avid all-around handyman and has plenty of torches (I felt certain), but is also a professional chef and could act as my wingman.

Right before the weekend, as I was all set to make this, my sous chef (read: daughter) spiked a fever of 103.5 and her tonsils camouflaged themselves as Brussels sprouts. All my careful plans were derailed. No way was I going to try the flame-thrower approach to dessert with a child that sick at home. So I found myself making custard last night and thinking - hard - about how to caramelize that topping today and still get it written up and posted by the 11:59 p.m. deadline.

And then I read the TWD message board, and Sweet Charity suggested caramelizing the sugar separately and pouring it over the chilled custard. Brilliant! I'd caramelized sugar that way before, and not too long ago. That was my way out of this quandary; I threw some sugar, water, and a little corn syrup to bind it into a saucepot and cranked up the heat.

Caramelizing sugar on the stovetop may not be as action-packed as toasting a dish of custard with a blowtorch, but it's not for sissies, either. For starters, the sugar is boiling at a temperature of somewhere around 350 degrees F. Like melted plastic, it spins out into long strands when stretched, and if you get it on your skin, it burns until it cools down. (And speaking of melted plastic, the last time I made caramelized sugar this way, my spatula melted and stuck to the side of the saucepot, so I now use only metal or wood utensils when working with melted sugar.)

That said, if you're careful, it's a piece of cake to make your Creme Brulee this way. I combined 1/2 cup granulated sugar, 1 tablespoon light corn syrup, and about 11/2 tablespoons water in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Stirring constantly, once the sugar has caramelized - turns the color of honey and just begins to smell like a toasted marshmallow - remove it from the heat. Use a small ladle or gravy spoon to scoop about a tablespoon onto the surface of the well-chilled Creme Brulee in the ramekin. Carefully tilt and swirl the ramekin so the melted sugar coats the top of the custard. It will bubble up briefly, then cool into a glassy crust almost immediately.

Creating the Creme Brulee surface this way means you lose out on the roasty-toasty dark patches and end up with a fairly even topaz crust. It also means you lose out on the opportunity to set your oven mitts afire. So, it's a toss up.

When we sat down as a family to sample the Creme Brulee (I'm comforted by the fact that unlike their mother, my children won't grow to adulthood ignorant of the pleasures of Creme Brulee), I learned that I've been missing out on something really, really, REALLY good all these years. Now I see what all the fuss was about; this stuff is amazing. It's not like flan or custard or pudding. It's different. It's special. As everyone finished and spoons were scraping the bottoms of ramekins, I asked for comments.

"I think you're on to something here, Mom," said my son. "Maybe this can be the dish you start bringing to all those family gatherings." (Hmmm. Creme Brulee for the Super Bowl Party? I'll think about that one.) My husband offered, "It's good. Great. Really great." And my daughter, recovered of her sore throat, spooning up the last little bit, said, "I'm disappointed." "Really? Why?" I asked.

"I'm disappointed there's not more."

Recipe Notes:

  • You do not want your layer of caramelized sugar to be too thick, or it will be overly crunchy and unpleasant to eat - like a lollipop lying prone over your custard. Spoon just enough on to glaze the surface.
  • When you remove your custard from the refrigerator prior to adding the melted sugar, take a close look at the surface. If there is any moisture there - e.g., droplets of condensation - use a napkin to gently blot it away.
  • Serve your Creme Brulee immediately after you apply the caramelized sugar topping. Waiting will allow the sugar to soften and melt down into the custard. (It will still taste delicious, but you'll miss out on the signature crunch.)
  • I followed Dorie's recipe to a T except that I didn't have whole milk on hand, so I replaced the 1/2 cup of whole milk with 1/4 cup skim milk plus 1/4 cup cream.
  • The texture of this was soft, silken, and utterly smooth; mine wasn't runny at all. I LOVED that it did not require a water bath.
  • Make sure you use very good quality flavorings in this recipe as they'll really stand out. I used double-strength pure Madagascar vanilla extract from the Spice House, which was superb.

Thanks to Mari of Mevrouw Cupcake for choosing this recipe! I learned a lot from preparing it, most importantly that Creme Brulee and I have a lot of catching up to do.

If you'd like to prepare this one yourself, pick up a copy of Dorie Greenspan's Baking: From My Home to Yoursand get to work! You can find this recipe on pages 392-394.

To see what other TWD members created, check out the blog roll!


  1. I'm usually a chocolate dessert person but these look delicious! I like Creme Brulee when it isn't super-heavy but it sounds like this one was just right, since it left your hubs wanting more :)

  2. Yea! Good for you, for persevering in the face of difficulty and doubt! I personally think that caramelizing sugar on the stove top is scarier then wielding a blow torch, so I'm impressed! Glad that your whole family loved crème brûlée!

  3. I love the idea of caramel on top of the creme brulee. But what I don't get is what's wrong the old fashioned notion of putting them under the broiler?

  4. I don't know if my comment made it because I haven't used this venue yet but why not stick it under the broiler like everyone did before the advent of home blow torches?

  5. Your Crème Brûlée looks delicious! I'm glad the 'fake' burning worked well!!

  6. Well done! Very creative to do this an alternate way. And yes, you have been missing out! Glad you were able to finally try this decadent and delicious dessert!

  7. Beautiful!! How long did yours take to bake? I broiled mine, and it made them runny :( so next time I will try this boiling method, if I haven't bought a torch by then, lol.

    btw-these are delish without the brulee also.

  8. ~ Maris: This was extremely light for a custard-type dessert. It was almost like a very silky pudding. Delicious!

    ~ Mevrouw Cupcake: Caramelizing sugar period is a little fearsome, if you ask me! I have new respect for candy makers! Thanks, again, for picking this one!

    ~Laurelvb: There's nothing at all wrong with that method - in fact, it's discussed in the book itself as an alternative to the torch.

    Because I had no experience with creme brulee and others' comments had indicated that this was a particularly delicate variety, I was afraid of melting my custard under the broiler, and I didn't want to mess around with an ice bath.

    Incidentally, my dad also suggested the broiler method. I guess it was just easier for me to go with what I was familiar with this time around.

  9. ~Marthe: Thank you! Me, too!

    ~Kristen: Thanks! I'm glad too, but then not so much. Now that I know how good it is, it's yet another temptation to contend with!

  10. Beautiful creme brulee and great story!

    Good thing you found that suggestion to caramelize the sugar first!

  11. Your brulee looks fabulous. My mouth is watering.

  12. yay for discovering a new love :) your topaz sugar topping looks so perfect....makes me want to reconsider doing mine w/the torch!

  13. I like the golden color of your brulee tops and as long as it cracks and tastes good, who cares if it isn't 'burnt'

  14. Wow! What an idea to caramelize separately and then pour over! It looks delicious.

  15. ~Nate-N-Annie: Thank you! I was so happy to find that tip, believe me! I'd do it again and again, too. Hmm, like maybe right now . . .

    ~Molly Loves Paris: Thank you so much! I was really happy with how uncomplicated this turned out to be, relatively speaking! That means it can go into our "special dessert" rotation.

    ~Jaime: Yay, and nay . . . oh, the temptation!! Thanks for your kind words; it does look picture-perfect this way, but I really want to try the torch version. I'm the kind of girl who loves her toasted marshmallows burned, so there's so much appeal in the way the torch method comes out.

    ~pinkstripes: Thanks - my feelings exactly! :)

    ~Gretchen Noelle: I was jumping for joy when I read this tip on the message board at the TWD Web site! And the taste is really, really good too. But I still do want to try the torch method eventually.

  16. YAY! What great looking Brulee! And an ingenious idea for a caramel top. Fantastic Job!

  17. Thanks for the great idea of using caramelized sugar for the creme brulee! I made it today and it was SO good!

  18. ~Cruisingkitty: Thank you!

    ~Amy: I'm so glad it worked out for you! I was so happy that I found SweetCharity's suggestion on the TWD message board. Not sure I would have attempted this one otherwise!


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