Vanilla Crème Brûlée
Updated: May 19, 2021
What is Crème Brûlée?
Crème Brûlée is a baked custard commonly served in ramekins with torched sugar on top. A good Crème Brûlée will have the crackle from the burnt sugar top, a smooth velvety texture in the baked custard and has a deep and rich flavour.
Tips and Tricks in making a perfect Crème Brûlée
One of the most common mistake in making Crème Brûlée is overcooked custard. Here are some of the tips and tricks I find can be helpful to achieve that ultimate Crème Brûlée.
Tempering the eggs
Often time you will see instructions to temper the eggs when making any type of custard. So, what does that really mean? Tempering custards generally refers to heating up the cream/milk over mere boil and then streaming in the warm liquid over the eggs that has been whisked together with the sugar while constantly stirring/whisking to slowly incorporate it in to the egg mixture. If hot liquid are added in a splash into eggs, what that is going to leave you are bits of eggs scrambled because of the sudden shock of heat.
Therefore, the reason to tempering is so that you do not coagulate the eggs that can cause it to have an eggy taste in your custard and a less than smooth texture.
One of the rule of thumb when tempering the custard mixture is to use only mere boiling and not hot boiling cream. The slightly hot cream is to ensure that you do not over cook the eggs too soon but enough to dissolve the sugar. The eggs will cook further during baking.
Do we need to heat the cream and temper the eggs before baking the Crème Brûlée mixture?
Technically speaking, you do not necessarily need to heat the milk/cream and temper the eggs before transferring custards into ramekins to be baked in the oven. In other words, you can simply just whisk all the main ingredients together and then bake the mixture in ramekins. To do that requires a longer baking time and that will only ever be the difference.
Do I use milk or cream when making Crème Brûlée?
It is always recommended to use Full Cream that have at least 35% fat to yield a rich and smooth custard. Full cream milk can be used as well but will give you a lighter texture and flavour and is more suitable for a dish that is quite similar to Crème Brûlée, which is called the Crème Caramel.
How do I know when my Crème Brûlée is done baking in the oven?
The most common mistake as mentioned earlier are over baking the custard. The thing you want to look for is a jiggly centre with the side just setting. The custard will cool further after being removed from the oven.
Baking in Water Bath
One of the rule of thumb to baking Crème Brûlée is through water bath. This simply means dipping the ramekins with your Crème Brûlée mix in them in hot water held on by a deep baking dish.
The water works to create steam and tone down the intensity of heat in the oven during baking which effectively minimise the risk of the egg protein from scrambling.
Use hot Water
It is recommended to always use hot boiling water when you are baking the Crème Brûlée over a water bath. This will expedite the baking process and allow the water to create steam instantly when it hits the hot oven.
If you use cold water, the intensity of the heat from the oven will over bake the Brûlée before the water can create any steam. Therefore, always hot water!
Use a thick ceramic baking dish for water bath
One of the common cause of Crème Brûlée getting over cooked at the base is mainly due to the baking dish that you use as water bath. The part that is in most direct contact to heat of the ramekins is the base. If you are using a thin walled baking dish for your water bath, as heat penetrates through the dish it usually hits the base first and overcook the base before the top.
The best kind of dish to use to hold the water bath in my opinion is a thick walled ceramic dish.
If you do not have a ceramic dish and is using a stainless steel dish instead, another option is to put tea towel at the base of the dish, place the ramekins on top then filled the hot water up to halfway on the sides of the ramekins. This will prevent direct heat penetrating through the bottom of the custard .
Go Low and Slow in Temperature
The best result Crème Brûlée I have made are always baked over low heat usually between the 150 - 160 °C mark over a period of 60 to 90 minutes over fan force. Also be conscious that the depth your baking ramekins and how much fillings you filled the ramekins can cause the baking time to vary. The trick is to always go by feel and look rather than the actual time. I would usually go with a minimum baking time of 30 minutes and then constantly check from that point.
Note that you you can bake the Crème Brûlée at a higher temperature sitting from 165 - 170°C for a shorter baking time.
Cool the Crème Brûlée for better texture
A typical Crème Brûlée are usually served cold. It is recommended that you allow time for the Crème Brûlée to cool at room temperature and then in the fridge, even better for overnight before serving. The resting and cooling time will allow the egg protein to settle a little and thickens further which gives a really deep creamy texture. The next day, simply remove them from the fridge, sprinkle with castor or granulated sugar and torch with the help of a blow torch just before serving!
When to take the Crème Brûlée out from the oven?
Well, this is always the tricky bit, how much jiggle is too much jiggle? You want the custard to be set but not solid set. The custard when ready should not be watery or wavy when gently shook. It should be something that resembles a thick wobble in the centre. If however you are paranoid about it being baked enough at all, just probe a thermometer into one of the custard as a sacrificial one and it should sit around 75 - 80°C and not below that. Anything above 85 °C will yield an over cooked custard.