Crème brûlée, also known as burnt cream, crema catalana, or Trinity cream is a dessert consisting of a rich custard base, topped with a contrasting layer of hard caramel. It is basically the type of dish better left to a swanky French restaurant.
To prepare at home would not be an easy task, but once you understand the common mistakes and how to avoid them, you will be preparing perfectly torched sugar crust in no time. These are the most common mistakes people make with this iconic dessert.
Using the wrong size ramekin: Crème brûlée is traditionally baked in a wide, shallow ramekin. If you plan on making it at home, you will need to invest in a few. The deeper 113 to 170 grams ceramic pots used for most other puddings and pots de crème are not an adequate substitution. Because they are deeper, the pudding takes longer to bake, meaning your crème brûlée base will be overcooked at the edges and undercooked in the center. Additionally, the whole point of this dessert is the expansive caramelized crust of sugar. The wide and shallow ramekin allows for optimal sugar-to-pudding radio, and a more impressive crust.
Using whole eggs: The pudding portion of crème brûlée should be trembling and tender, but still rich and creamy. That is why egg yolks, rather than whole eggs, are used. Whites help set pudding, giving it a firmer texture.
Getting water in the pudding: Puddings are baked in a hot water bath to retain their silky-smooth texture (the water conducts heat, baking them more gently and evenly). But a hot water bath is a danger zone for pudding: Getting water in the mix will ruin the texture, giving it a pebbled surface and soggy interior. Avoid this problem by wrapping the bottoms and sides of your ramekins with aluminum foil that reaches up higher than the ramekin. This ‘fence’ helps guard against any splashes as you transport the water bath. Additionally, you can wait until the ramekins are in a pan in the oven before pouring boiling water in the pan. This minimizes any potential for spilling.
Torching the wrong sugar: The only sugar you should use here is white granulated sugar. The small granules caramelize quickly, meaning the sugar will not get overly burnt and the pudding will not melt. Also, the white crystals provide a visual cue as you are torching it. As soon as the white sugar turns a golden brown, you know you are close. The crystals of raw sugar are already brown, making it harder to know if you are overshooting the mark.
Trying to broil the caramel: You will require a kitchen torch for this task. Do not consider trying to replicate the effect under a broiler. No matter how hawk-eyed you are, it is nearly impossible to get the perfect amount of color without burning it to a crisp. Besides, you will never get as evenly cooked a crust as you will with a torch.
¾ cup honey
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
3 cups heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
¾ teaspoon kosher salt
8 large egg yolks
3 tablespoons sugar
Eight 170 grams ramekins
Preheat oven to 148 degrees Celsius. Place honey in a medium saucepan and scrape in vanilla seeds; save pod for another use. Cook over medium-high, swirling pan occasionally, until honey darkens and smells almost burnt and bubbling begins to slow (5–8 minutes).
Gradually add cream, then milk, to caramelized honey, stirring constantly until combined.
Whisk salt into egg yolks in a medium bowl, then stream in honey-caramel mixture, whisking constantly. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a large measuring cup. Divide among ramekins.
Place ramekins in a large baking dish lined with a dish towel (it will keep them from sliding around) and pour in boiling water around ramekins so it comes halfway up sides.
Bake until edges of custards are set but centers still jiggle slightly (65–75 minutes).
Remove ramekins from water bath and let custards cool. Chill for at least two hours.
Just before serving, sprinkle custards evenly with sugar and heat with torch until sugar is melted and caramelized to a deep amber color. Your goal is to make a thin, smooth, brittle crust that shatters when broken.