Creme brulee is the perfect sweet ending to your Valentine’s Day meal or to any special meal you make at home. It’s one of our favorites! Creme brulee looks and tastes complicated with the sinfully rich, velvety-smooth custard and crusty, caramelized sugar topping, but it’s easy to make yourself.
Some special pieces of equipment that will help you accomplish this restaurant-quality dessert are two 6-ounce ramekins or other small, shallow baking dishes and a kitchen or culinary torch. A regular propane torch can be used, as can the broiler in your oven, but a butane kitchen torch is ideal. You can find one at any gourmet kitchen store for around $30. While that seems like splurge, a kitchen torch can be used for numerous tasks such as fire-roasting tomatoes or peppers, melting cheese atop a dish or toasting and melting marshmallows for s’mores.
Vanilla beans are available in the spice section of most grocery stores. While those too are a splurge, using the actual bean delivers a true, intense vanilla flavor. However, feel free to substitute one teaspoon of a good quality vanilla extract instead. If using vanilla extract, you won’t need to heat the cream–just add it when you whisk the cream into the beaten egg mixture.
The custards are done baking when they are set but still slightly loose in the center. After cooling completely, you’re ready to top with the sugar and caramelize it. Use turbinado (raw sugar) for best results. If any condensation occurs on the surface while it cooled, carefully dab it off with a paper towel. Sprinkle the surface the surface of the custards evenly then guide the flame of the torch back and forth until it is caramelized. Let cool until the topping hardens.
If using your broiler to caramelize the sugar, place the ramekins in a pan and add cold water and ice to halfway up the side of the ramekin. This helps keep the custards as cold as possible while the top browns. Place the pan under the broiler and watch it carefully–the sugar can burn quickly.
1 cup heavy cream
1/3 of a vanilla bean
3 large egg yolks
1/4 cup granulated sugar
turbinado sugar (or granulated sugar) for topping
Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Bring cream to a simmer over high heat in a small saucepan. Cut the vanilla bean in half lengthwise and scrape the seeds into the cream, then add the vanilla bean pieces. Remove from heat and let stand for 30 minutes. Bring a saucepan of water to a boil.
Combine egg yolks and sugar in a bowl and beat until pale yellow and thick. Place a fine mesh sieve over the bowl and strain the cream mixture into the egg mixture. Whisk until smooth.
Place a paper towel (this keeps the ramekins from slipping) on the bottom of a baking pan large enough to hold the two ramekins. Set the ramekins on the paper towel then fill each ramekin with even amounts of the custard mixture. Pour the boiling water into the pan to come halfway up the side of the ramekin, being careful not to splash any water into the mixture. Bake until custards are set but still slightly loose in the center, about 25 minutes. Allow to cool in the pan for 15 minutes then transfer to a wire rack to cool to room temperature. Place in the refrigerator for 2 hours to cool completely.
Once the custards have cooled, sprinkle the top evenly with sugar. Using a blow torch or kitchen torch, carefully brown the top to caramelize the sugar to form a hard candy coating. Allow to cool before serving.