Make-Ahead Creme Brulee
The name is French, and you find it at fancy restaurants. So it must be fussy and difficult to make, right? Wrong! You’ll be amazed at how easy this three-star dessert is to make. And what can be more fun than making food using a blowtorch?
Why this recipe works:
With a lot of testing, we discovered the keys to the perfect crème brûlée recipe: lots of yolks for richness, turbinado sugar for a crunchy crust, an instant-read thermometer for judging the custard’s doneness, and a final chill for the best texture.
- 1 vanilla bean, slit lengthwise with a paring knife
- 4 cups heavy cream, chilled
- 4 2/3 ounces granulated sugar, (2/3 cup)
- 1 pinch salt
- 10 large egg yolks
- 8 teaspoons turbinado sugar or Demerara sugar, up to 12
1. Adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position and heat the oven to 300 degrees. Place a kitchen towel on the bottom of a large baking dish or roasting pan and arrange eight 4- to 5-ounce ramekins (or shallow fluted dishes) on the towel; set aside. Bring a kettle of water to a boil over high heat.
2. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean following the illustrations below. Combine the vanilla seeds, vanilla bean pod, 2 cups of the cream, granulated sugar, and salt together in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar. Remove the pan from the heat and let steep to infuse the flavors, about 15 minutes.
3. After the cream has steeped, stir in the remaining 2 cups cream to cool down the mixture. Whisk the yolks together in a large bowl until uniform. Whisk about 1 cup of the cream mixture into the yolks until loosened and combined; repeat with 1 more cup of the cream. Add the remaining cream and whisk until evenly colored and thoroughly combined. Strain through a fine-mesh strainer into a 2-quart measuring cup or pitcher, discarding the solids. Pour or ladle the mixture evenly into the ramekins.
Note: If you have no vanilla bean, whisk 2 teaspoons of extract with the egg yolks in this step.
4. Gently place the baking dish with the ramekins on the oven rack. Pour the boiling water into the baking dish, being careful not to splash any water into the ramekins, until the water reaches two-thirds the height of the ramekins. Bake until the centers of the custards are just barely set and are no longer sloshy, and a digital instant-read thermometer inserted in the centers registers 170 to 175 degrees, 30 to 35 minutes (25 to 30 minutes for shallow fluted dishes). Begin checking the temperature about 5 minutes before the recommended time.
5. Transfer the ramekins from the baking dish to a wire rack and let cool to room temperature, about 2 hours.
6. To Store Wrap each ramekin tightly in plastic and refrigerate for up to 4 days.
7. To Serve Unwrap the ramekins; if condensation has collected on the custards, place a paper towel on the surface to soak up the moisture. Sprinkle each custard with about 1 teaspoon turbinado sugar (1 1/2 teaspoons for shallow fluted dishes); tilt and tap the ramekin for even coverage. Ignite a torch and, following the manufacturer’s instructions, caramelize the sugar by holding the end of the flame about 1 inch from the surface of the custard until the sugar melts, then burns to a golden brown, proceeding the same way until the entire surface is deeply golden brown and hard. Refrigerate the ramekins, uncovered, to rechill, about 30 minutes (but no longer).
8. To Serve Right Away Chill the baked custards as directed in step 6 until they are set, about 4 hours, before serving as directed in step 7.
9. Removing seeds from a vanilla bean 1. Cut beans in half lengthwise with a small, sharp knife. 2. Place the side of a knife at one end and press down to flatten the bean as you move the knife away from you.
Separate the eggs and whisk the yolks after the cream has finished steeping; if left to sit, the surface of the yolks will dry and form a film.
Two teaspoons of vanilla extract, whisked into the yolks in step 4, can be substituted for the vanilla bean. The best way to judge doneness is with a digital instant-read thermometer. The custards, especially if baked in shallow fluted dishes, will not be deep enough to provide an accurate reading with a dial-face thermometer. For the caramelized sugar crust, we recommend turbinado or Demerara sugar. Regular granulated sugar will work, too, but use only 1 scant teaspoon on each ramekin or 1 1/2 teaspoons on each shallow fluted dish. If your oven has a history of uneven heating, the custards may finish at different rates, so it is advisable to check each one separately rather than take the whole lot out at once. This recipe was published in our cookbook The Best Make-Ahead Recipe.
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