There's simply no way to go wrong with this classic French dessert. It's all the joy of a day spent in Paris, wandering the galleries of the Louvre and the sunny streets along the Seine... encapsulated in one perfect little dessert.
Smooth, creamy vanilla custard contrasts with a crackling disc of caramelized sugar in this purely authentic recipe from Alton Brown. It's sweet without being cloying, and satisfying without being heavy – basically, the perfect dessert. Great for impressing dinner guests (with little effort required on your part), or for a sweet after-work indulgence that you can pop out of the fridge at a moment's notice.
Classic French Vanilla Crème Brûlée
1 quart (4 cups) heavy cream
1 vanilla bean
1 cup sugar*
6 large egg yolks
2 quarts hot water
*You can use vanilla-flavored sugar if you like.
1. Pre-heat the oven to 325°F. Cut the vanilla bean in half length-wise with a small, sharp knife. Scrape the back side of the blade down each half of the bean to remove its pulp.
2. Place heavy cream, vanilla bean pulp, and the scraped bean halves into a medium saucepan. Bring to a simmer. When it reaches a steady bubble, shut off heat and set aside. Remove the vanilla bean shells; you can throw them away, or pop them into a tupperware of sugar to make vanilla sugar for your next batch of crème brûlée (or whatever vanilla-flavored dessert you happen to bake next).
3. Place your egg yolks and 1/2 cup sugar in a medium-sized mixing bowl and whisk them until they're slightly lighter in color. Add cream, still hot (but not hot enough to cook the eggs) slowly, whisking as you go.
4. Place a tea towel at the bottom of a large roasting pan, one with enough room to comfortably fit your ramekins. Pour the liquid into six 7-8 ounce ramekins (6 ramekins holding 7-8 oz. each, in case that wasn't clear! Haha). Place them in the roasting pan. The tea towel will keep them from sliding around. Finally, pour enough hot water into the roasting pan to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins; this will help with even heat distribution.
5. Bake just until set, around 45 minutes. It might still seem raw, but it should be trembly in the center. Since it's egg-based, you definitely want it to seem "underdone" when you remove it from the oven; it'll continue to solidify as it cools. Remove ramekins from roasting pan, and refrigerate anywhere from 2 hours to three days. Take them out of the fridge at least 30 minutes before caramelizing.
6. Complete this step just before serving. Divide remaining 1/2 cup of sugar equally between the 6 ramekins, sprinkling sugar evenly over the custard's surface. Shake each ramekin a little to allow the sugar to ensure equal sugar distribution. Using a cooking torch, melt and brown the sugar until it forms that classic, gorgeous crispy top. Let sit 5 minutes before serving. Voilà!
Crème brûlée does require a few kitchen tools that you might not have laying around at your disposal – so I've saved you the hard work and hunted down a few low-cost, high-quality materials!