Creme Brulee is a baked custard with a crackly burned sugar crust. Custards are egg and cream based mixtures that prepared on the stove top can be the basis for ice creams and sauces, or baked in the oven for decadent creme brulees (“burned cream”), flans, and pots de creme (“pots of cream”).
Creme brulee can come together simply in about ten minutes, don’t be intimidated by its fancy name. Most of the time I serve them in ramekins without the sugar crust, more like a pot de creme. You can bake the whole recipe in one large (1 quart) gratin dish or shallow baking pan. This is a classic and versatile dessert with endless flavor variations; coffee creme brulee (add 1 1/2 tablespoons of instant espresso powder into the hot cream), lemon (add a few tablespoons of freshly grated lemon peel), and chocolate (melt 6 ounces of chocolate with the cream).
The first creme brulee recipe I ever tried was Ina Garten’s version in her book, Barefoot in Paris: Easy French Food You Can Make at Home. Her version uses one whole egg- the first time I have seen any egg whites included in a creme brulee. The classic preparation uses only the yolks (usually 3 cups cream to 6 egg yolks). I have since tried both versions and have not noticed a significant taste or texture difference (the inclusion of an egg white may result in a slightly firmer custard). It’s worth trying both ways to decide which you like best.
I recently made a non-dairy version with whole coconut milk. The non-dairy custard is just as creamy as the original though I did not like the burned sugar crust as much on the coconut milk version. The caramel flavor from the burned crust did not pair well with the flavor of the coconut custard. Next time I may try a different sweetener and add more vanilla extract.
Adapted from Ina Garten’s recipe in Barefoot in Paris. If you think you may have lumps in your custard, pour it through a fine mesh strainer before baking. This can be made up to 3 days in advance before preparing the caramel crust (crust will soften if prepared more then an hour in advance).
1 large egg
4 large egg-yolks
1/4 cup maple syrup
3 cups organic cream (not ultra-pasteurized) or whole coconut milk
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
turbinado or coconut sugar
1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
2. Scald the cream in a saucepan (do not boil).
3. Whisk together the egg, egg yolks, syrup, and vanilla extract. Slowly add the cream, whisking constantly. Skim off any foam with a spoon that may have formed on the surface.
4. Pour the custard into six ramekins. Place ramekins in a baking pan and pour enough boiling water in the pan to reach halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake for 25-30 minutes until the custard sets. Do not over bake; it should be a little soft in the center. Cool in the refrigerator to firm up (at least 4 hours).
5. Before serving, evenly spread 1 tablespoon of sugar on top of each custard and either caramelize with a kitchen blow-torch or place under the broiler for 2-3 minutes.
Have you tried any interesting creme brulee variations? If you have prepared a coconut milk version please share any tips and suggestions.
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