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Vanilla Creme Brûlée

Made with just 5 ingredients, this Vanilla Creme Brûlée recipe turns a fine dining dessert into one you can enjoy at home whenever you’d like. Just follow the tips and tricks below for the perfect creme brûlée every time!

Creme brûlée topped with fresh berries on a white plate

A Decadent Custard Dessert

I’ve shared a handful of creme brûlée recipes in the past, in a variety of flavors, but today I’m sharing the base for all of them in this easy vanilla creme brûlée recipe. This vanilla creme brulee is an elegant dessert that is perfect for a dinner party and great for beginners. Below I’ll walk you through all the tips and tricks to making the absolute best creamy custard dessert.

As I mentioned before, I used to believe that creme brulee was a special dessert that should be reserved just for special occasion dinners out at restaurants, and not something that could be easily made at home. While there was a small learning curve with some trial and error, creme brulee is now something I make pretty regularly.

I tend to make different variations for the seasons but you can never go wrong with this vanilla creme brulee – plus once you master this, you’ll be able to make any flavor of creme brûlée that you want!

What You’ll Need

This classic creme brûlée recipe requires just 5 ingredients – most of which you probably have in the kitchen.

  • White granulated sugar – Used to sweeten the custard as well as on top of each dessert to be brûléed.
  • Egg yolks – The main ingredient in this custard dish. I like to use the egg whites to make another dessert, like meringue or pavlova.
  • Vanilla Bean Paste or Pure Vanilla Extract – Vanilla bean paste will give you a more intense vanilla flavor than vanilla extract. For an even fresher flavor, you can scrape the inside of a vanilla bean pod and use that in place of vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste.
  • Heavy cream or heavy whipping cream – The higher the fat content, the better for making this custard extra creamy and luscious.
  • Whole Milk – I use whole milk in addition to the heavy cream to lighten up the dish while still keeping the creamy texture. I don’t recommend using low fat milk.

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How to Make Vanilla Creme Brûlée

If you’re anything like me, you’ll probably be surprised at how easy this creme brulee recipe is to make!

  • Prepare the ramekins. Preheat the oven to 300ºF, adjust the oven rack to the center, and begin boiling water for the water bath. Place the ramekins into a baking dish. I like to use a 9″x9″ square baking pan.
  • Whisk together the ingredients. Whisk the white granulated sugar and egg yolks until it becomes a pale yellow color with a thick and creamy texture. Add the vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract and whisk to combine.
  • Temper the egg yolks. Heat the cream and milk, stirring occasionally. Do not let it boil. Slowly add 1/4 cup of the warm cream mixture into the egg yolk mixture, whisking constantly. Repeat with another 1/4 cup, then add the custard into the saucepan with the remaining milk and cream. Whisk to combine completely. Strain the mixture, discarding any lumps of cooked egg from the strainer.
  • Bake. Divide the custard mixture equally between the ramekins. Pour the boiling water into the baking dish until it’s halfway up the sides then carefully transfer to the oven. Bake for 30-35 minutes, until the centers are set. They should still jiggle like jello.
  • Cool. Remove the ramekins from the water bath and cool to room temperature. Refrigerate for at least 3 hours to cool completely.
  • Brulee the tops. Sprinkle the remaining granulated sugar on top of each custard in a thin layer. Brulee with a kitchen torch until the sugar is caramelized. Serve immediately.

What is Creme Brûlée?

Literally speaking, crème brûlée means “burnt cream”. You may see it also spelled creme brûlée or creme brulee, depending on the source. It’s a custard dish made with egg yolks, heavy cream, and white granulated sugar. Additional granulated sugar is placed on top and then “brûléed” with a kitchen torch. The idea is not to burn the sugar completely but rather to heat it until it melts making a sweet, crunchy caramelized sugar topping to contrast the creamy custard below.

Do I Really Need a Water Bath?

Yes! A water bath is essential to achieving the perfect texture in your creme brûlée, as it increases the moisture level in the oven. This helps prevent the custard from drying out and cracking.

Creating a water bath for single-serve creme brûlée is much easier than preparing one for most other desserts. Just place the ramekins in a metal cake pan and boil some water. I recommend using a tea kettle so it’s easier to pour the hot water. Unless you’re using an instant hot electric kettle, put the water on to boil when you begin the recipe.

Then, once the crème brûlées are assembled, just pour the water into the pan around them. Be sure not to pour any into the custard itself.

Using a Kitchen Torch to Brûlée Crème Brûlée

If this is your first time using a kitchen torch to brûlée your creme brûlée, here are a few tips for a perfectly crystallized topping.

  1. Use plenty of white granulated sugar. The granulated sugar is what caramelizes to create that delightful top layer. Spread a thin, even layer across the top of each custard.
  2. Constantly move the flame. You’ll want to keep the flame moving across the sugar as holding it in one spot can lead to excessive burning. While brulee means to burn, what we really want to do is caramelize.
  3. Hold the flame close. The flame should touch the dessert, as it takes a concentrated heat to melt the sugar.
  4. Don’t put the torch down. While most kitchen torches automatically turn off, many also have a switch that overrides this. Ensure that you turn the torch off before putting it down, as it’s a huge fire hazard.
  5. Be aware of fire safety. If you’re using a kitchen torch, be sure you will have easy access to a fire extinguisher if needed.
  6. Don’t worry about perfection. It will likely take a few tries to get this just right, so don’t worry if it’s not perfect on the first try. Practice makes perfect!
Overhead view of creme brûlées, one on a plate, another on a napkin

Tips for Success

For the perfect crème brûlée each time, here are a few things you’ll want to keep in mind.

  • Add the egg yolks slowly. Perhaps the most common mistake in making this dessert is adding the hot cream to the egg yolks too quickly. It’s essential to only add a small amount at a time and constantly whisk them. Tempering the egg yolks like this allows the eggs to come up to temperature slowly and avoids making scrambled eggs.
  • Always strain the egg mixture. It’s not uncommon to still have an occasional chunk or two of cooked egg in the custard. Simply pour the mixture through a mesh strainer to remove it.
  • Use hot water in the water bath. As described above, a water bath is essential to making creme brulee. However, make sure you use boiling hot water and not cold water.
  • Brûlée the topping just before serving. Avoid doing this in advance as it will lose it’s crunchy caramelized sugar texture.
  • Use more sugar. If you want a thicker, crunchy layer on top, just add a thicker layer of granulated sugar before caramelizing it.

Recipe Variations

Once you get this easy homemade crème brûlée recipe down, you can begin adding in other ingredients to add more flavors. Here are a few of my favorites:

Serving Suggestions

Creme brûlée should be served immediately after caramelizing the sugar. You’ll get the best contrast of both texture and temperature when the sugar is still warm and the custard is chilled.

I like to add a few fresh berries on top of my creme brûlées, though it’s not necessary. This dessert is perfectly decadent just as it is, no topping needed!

Side view of a creme brûlée on a white plate topped with berries

How to Store

Baked creme brulee can be stored in the fridge for up to 3 days, but DO NOT brulee the sugar on top until ready to serve them. Personally, I like to think of this foolproof recipe as a make ahead dessert. First, it takes all the stress off from making them in time for dinner and ensures I’m not worried about whether or not they’ll have enough time to chill. But, more importantly, it also improves the flavor.

While it’s common to be advised to cover tightly with plastic wrap or foil before placing it in the fridge, I find that simply placing the creme brûlée ramekins in a sealable container works just as well and reduces your single use plastic waste. Again, wait to brulee the sugar on top until just before serving.

Can I Freeze Crème Brûlée?

Yes, crème brûlée freezes nicely! I often make 4 or 6 at a time. My husband and I enjoy two and the rest go in the freezer for later. Just add a lid on each individual custard cup and freeze for up to 2 months.

The most important thing about freezing crème brûlée is that it MUST be thawed in the fridge. Do not place it in the microwave or try to defrost it in water as it will compromise the texture.

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Crème brûlée topped with fresh berries on a white plate

Vanilla Creme Brûlée

Yield: 4 Crème Brûlées
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 50 minutes

Made with just 5 ingredients, this Vanilla Creme Brûlée recipe turns a fine dining dessert into one you can enjoy at home whenever you'd like. Just follow the tips and tricks below for the perfect creme brûlée every time!

Ingredients

Custard

  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
  • 1/2 cup whole milk

Crème Brûlée Topping

  • 5 tablespoons white sugar - divided

Instructions

  1. 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 8x8 or 9x9 square pan. 
  2. Separate egg yolks from the whites, reserving the whites for another recipe.
  3. Whisk together white sugar and egg yolks in a medium sized bowl until it lightens in color and takes on a thick, creamy texture. Add the vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste and whisk to combine.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. Strain mixture, preferably into a large measuring cup with a pour spout. Discard any lumps of cooked egg from the strainer.
  7. Divide the custard mixture equally between the custard cups. 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.
  8. 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. 
  9. 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.
  10. 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. Serve immediately.

    Notes

    Creme brulees can be stored in the fridge for 3 days or in the freezer for longer storage. If frozen, do not use a microwave to defrost, place in the fridge instead. Brulee the tops just before serving. For thicker crackly tops, use more sugar on the top.

    Vanilla bean paste will give you a more intense vanilla flavor than vanilla extract. For an even fresher flavor, you can scrape the inside of a vanilla bean and use that in place of vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste.

    Nutrition Information:
    Yield: 4 Serving Size: 1
    Amount Per Serving: Calories: 489Total Fat: 38gSaturated Fat: 23gTrans Fat: 1gUnsaturated Fat: 13gCholesterol: 288mgSodium: 46mgCarbohydrates: 33gFiber: 0gSugar: 33gProtein: 6g

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

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