Lemon creme brulee is one of my favorite desserts. It’s lusciously lemony, with a thick custard and a layer of perfectly bruleed sugar. It’s deliciously impressive, but not nearly as complicated as you might think. Follow my exact instructions below and you’ll get it right on the first time. These delightful little custards need to be topped and bruleed right before you serve them, but the custards themselves can be made in advance and frozen until you need them. Serve on it’s own for a decadent dessert or add strawberries and a glass of champagne for a special anniversary, birthday or even Valentine’s Day.
Creme brulee has always been one of those desserts that has mystified me. It’s the one dessert that can convince me to order dessert at a restaurant, even when I’m full. From the glasslike 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.
Somewhere along the way I convinced myself that creme brulee was a dish better left to the professionals. Something that tastes that good couldn’t be easy to make, could it? I’d never even had a homemade version, so I somehow thought it wasn’t possible. Wow, was I wrong!!
My first and second attempt included using the broiler. I learned that some broilers are much hotter than others and this only works with broilers that get really hot. If your broiler doesn’t have a tendency to burn things after 4 minutes or so, you may need a torch. My broiler works just fine for creme brulee, but I was lucky enough to receive a kitchen torch for Christmas. (Thank you Ele, Matty, and Caitlin!)
I can now say that I’ve made a few versions of creme brulee, including a spiked egg nog version for my family’s Christmas dinner. The version I’m sharing today is inspired by the lemon tree in my backyard. Our lemon tree is out of control this year. I’ve been brainstorming ways to use these lemons that doesn’t fully rely on giving them away to friends.
Limoncello, preserved lemons, crystalized lemon peel, lemon juice – which can be frozen for lemonade and popsicles this summer (and spiked with that lemoncello!), lemon poppyseed muffins, and the list goes on. Before we get to all those luscious lemony treats – and we will get to some of them – I want to share this masterpiece: Lemon Creme Brulee.
For Valentine’s Day this year we are going seafood, with Sage Browned Butter Seared Scallop Pasta. It’s deliciously simple dish that is perfect for a romantic dinner for two, but what good is a romantic dinner if it isn’t followed by a special dessert? Lemon Creme Brulee is the perfect compliment. With it’s light, lemony flavor it’s not too rich or heavy, and it’s much easier to prepare than you would ever expect.
You will need:
- a 9×9 inch pan
- four 4 ounce ramekins,
- either a kitchen torch or a very hot broiler.
Amazon carries the same refillable kitchen torch that I received for less than $25, which is well worth it for the accuracy it provides. Don’t forget to order the fuel for it as well.
I’ve lightened this lemon creme brulee recipe slightly, by using half & half for part of the creme. If you omit too much of the cream, there isn’t enough fat to create the thick creamy custard texture.
After you have heated the cream make sure you add it to the egg yolks very slowly, while whisking constantly, or you will cook the eggs. 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 in.
If your bowl won’t sit still while you whisk with one hand and pour with the other, take a wet a paper towel 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.)
I prefer heavy duty aluminum foil for covering these custards as they bake. It helps to lock in the moisture that is created by the steam resulting in quicker, more even cooking. To check if they are done, carefully lift the corner for the foil so that you can see the center of one of the custards then gently shake the rack. If the center of the custard looks like liquid continue to cook them. If the center looks set, but jiggles like gelatine then they should be done.
Make sure to cool them to room temperature before refrigerating for a minimum of 3 hours to cool completely.
This lemon creme brulee also 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 4 ounce ramekin it takes about a teaspoon and a half of sugar. If you are using a wider ramekin it will need more sugar, so adjust accordingly.
The topping should be fired up just before serving or it will turn soft. If using a broiler, use the back of the spoon to smooth out the sugar and ensure even coverage. You are not in control of where the heat is focused, so even sugar coverage is key. Check them every minute and rotate them as needed to prevent burning.
If using a torch on your lemon creme brulee, I find that getting the sugar perfectly even isn’t as important, but still make sure to cover the entire top with sugar. You can’t just heap it on and expect it to work. If one spot thinner it will melt a bit quicker, but you can move the heat away before actually burning that spot.
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. Here is a video of the torching process (don’t be too harsh, it’s my first video attempt!)
Caution: 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.)
This recipe makes 4, 5 ounce lemon creme brulees. When making the recipe for two people, you can cut it in half, or make it all and freeze two of the portions. To freeze, wrap in aluminum foil, then place in a freezer safe zip top bag. They should keep about 3 months in the freezer. When ready to use thaw in the fridge and brulee the tops just prior to serving.
At the end of the day, lemon creme brulee is a dessert. It’s a decadent, luscious, treat that you should enjoy on a special occasion. Creme brulee was not created for your health, but for pure enjoyment of every, single, delicious, bite. Go on, go for the full fat version and enjoy yourself. Afterall, if Valentine’s Day didn’t count as a special occasion, you wouldn’t be re-creating restaurant quality desserts at home to celebrate.
Now PIN this recipe, pop that bottle of champagne, kiss your lover, and fire up that torch!
Lemon Creme Brulee Recipe
This lemon creme brulee is an impressive dessert that can be made in advance and bruleed just before serving. It’s decadent. It’s dreamy. It’s easier to make than you may think.
If you like this recipe, give it a 5 star rating!
Lemon Creme Brulee
- 3 TBSP brown sugar
- 4 egg yolks
- zest of 2 medium sized lemons
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- pinch of salt
- 1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
- 1/2 cup half & half
- 5 TBSP white sugar - divided
- strawberries for garnish
- Boil hot water, preferably in a tea kettle for easy pouring.
- Heat oven to 300 degrees.
- Zest lemons and separate egg yolks from the whites.
- Whisk together brown sugar, egg yolks, lemon zest, vanilla, and salt in a medium sized bowl.
- Bring cream, half & half, and 3 TBSP of white sugar to a simmer over medium heat. Takes about 5 minutes. Stir occasionally and do not let it boil.
- Slowly pour the warmed cream into the egg yolk mixture, while whisking constantly. Pouring too fast will result in scrambled eggs.
- Allow to sit for 5 minutes to draw the lemon oil out of the zest.
- Strain mixture 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.
- Place your 4 ramekins into a 9x9 inch pan. Divide the custard mixture into the ramekins.
- Pour the boiling water into the pan until it's between 1/2 and 3/4 of the way up the side of the ramekins. Careful not to pour water into the custard.
- Cover with heavy duty aluminum foil and bake 30 - 35 minutes or until centers are set.
- Cool to room temperature then refrigerate for a minimum of three hours.
- Cover each ramekin with 1 1/2 tsp of white sugar, adjusting for ramekin width as needed.
- Brulee the tops with a kitchen torch or under the broiler - checking every minute or so.
- Serve with strawberries and champagne.