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Lemon Crème Brûlée

4.6 stars (56 ratings)

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Luscious and creamy, with a thick custard and a layer of perfectly brûléed sugar, this Lemon Crème Brûlée is a dessert recipe to impress. Perfect for anniversaries and Valentine’s Day, but easy enough for a special dessert anytime.

A dish of lemon creme brulee topped with a lemon slice

A Luscious & Creamy Lemon Dessert

Creme brulee has always been one of my favorite sweet indulgences. From the delicate sugar crust that tastes of roasted marshmallows at the top, all the way through the thick, creamy custard that leaves me scraping the bottom of the dish for more.

As my favorite dessert, I’ve been inspired on more than one occasion to make unique flavors depending on the season or event, including an eggnog version for Christmas dinner and a pumpkin spice one for Thanksgiving. However, it was this lemon creme brulee version that got me started. Originally inspired by our backyard lemon tree, creating this version of creme brulee taught me that a delicious creamy custard should not be limited to basic vanilla.

With the light, luscious, lemony flavor, it’s not too rich or too heavy and perfectly sweet. Easier than expected, this is the ideal dessert for lemon lovers everywhere. Serve it after your next date night, Valentine’s Day, or anniversary dinner.

What You’ll Need

Homemade creme brulee is made with just a handful of simple ingredients, like sugar, egg yolks, and whipping cream.

  • Granulated Sugar – White granulated sugar is used in the custard as well as sprinkled on top for the bruleed topping.
  • Egg yolks – Only the yolks are needed, the egg whites can be used in another recipe or added to tomorrow morning’s breakfast.
  • Lemon – Lemon zest infuses flavor into the custard while lemon slices make for a pretty garnish just prior to serving.
  • Vanilla extract – A splash of vanilla brightens the flavor and complements the citrus.
  • Heavy whipping cream – Whipping cream gives the custard a thick, creamy texture.
  • Whole milk – Many classic creme brulee recipes use all cream and no milk, but I prefer a slightly lighter version, so I swap a portion of the cream for whole milk. Do not use low fat or skimmed milk or your custard will not set.

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  • measuring spoons
  • microplane (for zesting the lemon)
  • medium saucepan
  • balloon whisk
  • mesh strainer or fine mesh sieve
  • large, 4 cup liquid measuring cup
  • baking dish or roasting pan for the water bath (9″ x 9″ is what I use, but adjust based on ramekin size)
  • four 6 ounce ramekins or custard cups

How to Make Lemon Creme Brulee

Contrary to popular belief, making creme brulee is not particularly difficult —you just need a little patience and attention to detail.

  • Prep your ingredients. Zest lemons and separate egg yolks. Set water to boil for the water bath and preheat the oven.
  • Whisk together sugar and egg yolks. Thoroughly whisk egg yolks with the granulated sugar until they turn pale yellow and have a thick, creamy texture. This should take about 5 minutes by hand. Add the lemon zest and vanilla.
  • Temper the egg mixture. Heat cream and milk until bubbles start to form. Stir occasionally and do not let it boil. Slowly add 1/4 cup of the hot milk mixture into the egg yolk mixture, stirring constantly. Repeat with another 1/4 cup, then add the custard mixture back into the saucepan. Whisk to combine completely. Let sit to draw the lemon oil out of the zest and infuse the custard, then strain mixture with a fine mesh sieve to remove lemon zest and any bits of cooked egg.
Lemon creme brulee ramekins cooling
  • Bake. Equally divide the mixture among the ramekins. Create a water bath by pouring the boiling water into the pan, halfway up the side of the ramekins. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until the centers are set.
  • Cool. Remove from the water bath as soon as possible. Cool to room temperature, then refrigerate for at least 3 hours.
Sugar being spooned on top of lemon creme brulee
  • Brulee the topping. Just prior to serving, cover each custard with a thin layer of granulated white sugar. Brulee with a kitchen torch until the sugar is caramelized. Garnish as desired and serve immediately.

How to Achieve the Perfect Brulee Topping

For a perfectly crisp creme brulee topping, follow these tips.

  • Use the right amount of sugar. Lemon creme brulee requires the use of real sugar to get the topping just right. The topping should be thick enough to shatter like glass when hit with the back of a spoon but not be so thick that it cuts your mouth or gets caught in your teeth. There isn’t anything romantic about picking candy out of your teeth after a meal. For a narrow six-ounce ramekin, it takes about a teaspoon and a half of sugar. If you are using wide, flat ramekins, they will need more sugar, so adjust accordingly.
  • Spread the sugar evenly. You can’t just heap on the sugar and expect it to melt into place. If the sugar is too thin, you can burn the custard itself. If the sugar is too thick, it can take too long to melt, causing blackened spots that taste burnt instead of toasted. To prevent this, use the back of the spoon to smooth out the sugar and ensure even coverage across the entire top of the custard.
  • Keep the torch moving to prevent burning. Keep the torch moving the entire time it is in contact with the dessert. The entire topping will melt and then burn together to create the finish. If it smells like roasted marshmallows, you are doing it right.
  • Use caution with the kitchen torch. If using the constant-on function of the torch, be sure to turn it off when you put it down. It’s a flame. It will catch things on fire if it comes into contact with them. I always make sure that my fire extinguisher is ready and working whenever I play with fire in the kitchen. (No, I didn’t have to learn this the hard way, and I don’t want you to either.) For more check out my Kitchen Safety Tips.

Tips for Success

If this is your first time making lemon creme brulee or any other creme brulee recipe, here are a few things that you may find helpful.

  • Heavy whipping cream is essential. I’ve lightened this lemon creme brulee recipe slightly, by using whole milk for part of the cream. If you omit too much of the cream, there isn’t enough fat to create the thick creamy custard texture.
  • Slowly combine the egg yolk and hot cream mixtures. After you have heated the cream, make sure to temper the eggs before completely combining the two together. To do this, slowly pour part of the hot cream mixture into the egg mixture while whisking constantly. This allows the cream to heat the eggs gradually without cooking them, leaving you with a smooth, creamy texture. Once you get about half of the warm cream into the egg yolk, the mixture should be tempered enough to speed up, but don’t just dump it all in.
  • Prevent the bowl from slipping. If your bowl won’t sit still while you whisk with one hand and pour with the other, take a wet paper towel or washcloth and place it under your bowl. It should hold it in place right where it needs to be. (This also works for cutting boards that like to slip around.)
  • Don’t skip straining the cream mixture. Straining is important in a citrus based creme brulee for removing the bits of zest, but it’s important in all creme brulees for removing any bits of scrambled egg that may have formed by improper tempering.
  • How to tell when creme brulee is finished baking. To check if they are done, gently shake the oven rack. If the center of the custard looks like liquid continue to cook them. If the center looks set, but jiggles like gelatin then they should be done.
  • Don’t skip the water bath. The water bath is an essential part of achieving the perfect texture in your custard, as it prevents it from drying out. Use boiling hot water for the water bath. Unless you are using an electric kettle that boils instantly, start heating the water when I begin the recipe. For the pan use anything that holds the ramekins and will allow water to come halfway up the sides of them. A roasting pan, baking pan, cake pan, or even a deep pie pan can work well. Anything too short can be dangerous to handle once filled with boiling hot water.
Overhead view of lemon creme brulee

Serving Suggestions

Lemon creme brulee makes the perfect decadent dessert for any occasion – but take it up a level by adding some strawberries or lemon slices and a glass of champagne for a special anniversary, birthday, or Valentine’s Day dessert.

The most important thing to remember is that you should only carmelize the topping just before serving – otherwise it will be soggy instead of crunchy.

Angled view of a ramekin of lemon creme brulee

How to Store

Since these custard desserts have to chill for several hours anyway, I like to make them at least a day in advance. It takes all of the stress out of making them before dinner so they have time to chill, and hopefully, you’ll have a moment to relax.

To store your creme brulees, place them in a covered airtight container and store them in the fridge. For longer storage, you can also freeze these single-serve desserts. Since this recipe makes four custards, I almost always freeze two.

To freeze, cool in the fridge as instructed. Then wrap in aluminum foil and place in an airtight, freezer-safe container. Freeze for up to 3 months and thaw in the fridge overnight. Again, do not brûlée the sugar topping in advance. Add the sugar layer and brulee it just before serving.

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A dish of lemon creme brulee topped with a lemon slice

Lemon Crème Brûlée

Luscious and creamy, with a thick custard and a layer of perfectly brûléed sugar, this Lemon Crème Brûlée is a dessert recipe to impress. Perfect for anniversaries and Valentine's Day, but easy enough for a special dessert anytime.
4.6 stars (56 ratings)
prep: 20 minutes
cook: 30 minutes
total: 50 minutes
servings: 4 Crème Brûlée



  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 2 teaspoons lemon zest*
  • 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
  • 1/2 cup whole milk

Brulee Topping

  • 5 tablespoons white sugar – divided
  • lemon slices or strawberries for garnish


  • Heat oven to 300ºF. Boil water for the water bath, preferably in a tea kettle for easy pouring. Place four 6-oz custard cups or ramekins into a 8×8 or 9×9 square pan. 
  • Zest lemons and separate egg yolks from the whites, reserving the whites for another recipe.
  • Whisk together sugar and egg yolks in a medium sized bowl until it lightens in color and takes on a thick, creamy texture. Add the lemon zest and vanilla, whisk to combine.
  • Heat cream and milk over medium heat until bubbles start to form at the edge and the cream gets hot. Stir occasionally and do not let it boil. About 5 minutes.
  • Temper the egg yolks by slowly adding about 1/4 cup of the hot milk and cream into the egg yolk mixture, while whisking constantly. Once incorporated repeat with another 1/4 cup of the milk and cream. Then add the custard mixture back into the saucepan with the remaining milk and cream. Whisk to combine completely. Adding the hot cream too quickly to the egg yolks will result in scrambled eggs.
  • Allow to sit for 5 minutes to draw the lemon oil out of the zest, then strain mixture, preferably into a large measuring cup with a pour spout. Squeeze as much of liquid as possible from the lemon zest with the back of the spoon.
  • Divide the custard mixture equally into the ramekins. Then, create the water bath by pouring the boiling water into the pan until it's half way up the side of the custard cups. Careful not to pour water into the custard.
  • Bake in the water bath for 30 – 35 minutes or until centers are set. To test lightly jiggle the pan. The centers should jiggle like jello. 
  • Remove from the water bath as soon as you can safely handle them, to stop the cooking process. Cool to room temperature then refrigerate for a minimum of three hours.
  • Cover each custard with 1 1/2 teaspoons of white sugar, adjusting for ramekin width if needed. Brulee the tops with a kitchen torch until the sugar is caramelized. Top with a lemon garnish or fresh sliced strawberries and serve immediately.

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*About 2 medium lemons of zest


Serving: 1Calories: 497kcalCarbohydrates: 30gProtein: 6gFat: 40gSaturated Fat: 24gPolyunsaturated Fat: 13gTrans Fat: 1gCholesterol: 296mgSodium: 87mgFiber: 1gSugar: 29g

Nutrition information is automatically calculated and is for general information purposes only. For the most accurate information, calculate using your select brands and exact measurements.

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About Renee N Gardner

I'm the recipe developer, food photographer, and mastermind behind Renee Nicole's Kitchen, where I help create kitchen confidence to inspire home cooks to become home chefs. No fancy fads here, just high-quality, homemade recipes featuring seasonal ingredients.

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35 Comments on “Lemon Crème Brûlée”

  1. Hi,
    Im just wondering… I have Meyer Lemon trees , would these work? I know the eureka lemons have the tart taste vs the meyers being a bit sweet.. Creme Brulee is my absolute favorite dessert.. I look forward to making this .. thanks for sharing

    • They would absolutely work! It will lead to a slightly sweeter creme brulee, but not enough that I would adjust the sugar. I’ve used the same recipe with limes and coconut extract to make a coconut lime version that I really do need to publish!

  2. Hi Rennee, I’ve just made the brûlée’s and they are they best, I used to use passion fruit but your recipe is much better. Thanks for sharing you’re a star. Best wishes from the UK.

  3. 5 stars
    Wow! So I’ll admit I don’t usually take the time to read all the commentary for recipies online. I just skip to the ingredients and listed instructions. Boy am I glad I read all your tips and tricks! I followed your instructions exactly and it was so perfect. I’ve made regular Creme brûlée’s twice before discovering your recipe and each time it was needing work. None of those recipies explained the egg getting too hot and cooking, the amount of sugar to use for the top, or even tonwalt to fire it until ready to serve. THANK YOU! This lemon version with a few berries on top was just delicious. I made it a week ago and still can’t belive it was perfect my first try. Seriously, way to hit the mark.

    • Lauren,

      Your comment made my day!! I do try to stay on topic and talk about the food and I’m so glad that the extra explanation helped. I hope you are able to check out some of my other recipes soon!

  4. 5 stars
    What a gorgeous lemon tree you have. I’ve always loved that crackle of sugar on the top of brulee’s. Along with the lemon, I bet it’s fantastic!

    • Yep, we actually trimmed out half the bulk on that tree this past fall. It then bloomed like crazy. I’m guessing there are close to 300 lemons on the tree right now. This weekend, most of them are coming down.


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