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Vanilla Bean Creme Brulee

Vanilla Creme Brulee

Creme brulee is a classic and elegant way to end a meal. The best thing about it – besides cracking that crisp caramel crust to get to the delicate custard within – is the fact that it is actually easy to make at home!

Creme brulee starts off with a mixture of cream, milk, sugar and egg yolks. The cream gives the custard a lot of richness, while the yolks make it very tender and give it a good mouth-feel. I like to use a mixture of cream and milk for my creme brulees because I think it makes them a little bit lighter and silkier than a recipe that uses cream alone. Whole milk is a good choice for this recipe, but low fat milk will work out just fine. The custard is mixed up and strained into ramekins, which are placed in a water bath before being put in the oven to finish cooking. Baking in a water bath allows the custard to cook very slowly, ensuring a smooth finished product.

Since I wanted a lot of vanilla flavor, I took the time to infuse a vanilla bean into the heavy cream before adding it to the yolk mixture. This step only takes a little bit of time to do, but you are rewarded with a big vanilla flavor in the finished custard and you’ll get to see specks of vanilla bean inside of the custard when you dig in with a spoon. This recipe makes a small batch of creme brulee (just 4 servings), so I only used half of a large vanilla bean.

I use regular 6-oz ramekins for creme brulee. I like to have a high custard-to-crust ratio, so I use the regular 6-oz ramekins I have on hand in the kitchen, rather than the large, shallow ramekins that are often used for creme brulee in restaurants. Creme brulee can be baked a day or two in advance and stored in the refrigerator. Add sugar to the tops of the custard and brulee them – burn the sugar into a crisp carame – right before you want to serve them. Use a small kitchen torch to do this, and it is definitely worth picking up a small one at a kitchen supply store to have if you plan to make your own creme brulees.

Vanilla Creme Brulee, torched

Vanilla Bean Creme Brulee
1/2 vanilla bean
250ml heavy cream
100ml milk (pref. whole)
4 large egg yolks
6 tbsp sugar
additional sugar, for topping

Preheat oven to 300F.
Place four 6-oz ramekins in a 9×9 or 9×13 baking dish.
Split vanilla bean and add to cream and milk in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer and remove from heat. Let stand for 10 minutes, then scrape the vanilla bean seeds into the cream. Discard bean and bring the cream mixture just to a simmer again.
Meanwhile, whisk together yolks and sugar in a medium bowl. When cream comes to a simmer (and starts to steam), remove it from heat and slowly drizzle it into the yolk mixture while whisking constantly. Strain into a large measuring cup, then divide evenly into ramekins.
Pour very hot water into the baking dish so that the water comes about 3/4 of the way up the sides of the ramekins. Pour carefully so you don’t splash the custards.
Bake for 30-35 minutes, until custards are just set.
Use tongs to grip the edges of the ramekins, pull them out of the water bath and let them cool on a wire rack or the kitchen counter.
Refrigerate for at least 4 hours, or overnight.

When ready to serve, sprinkle 2-3 tsp sugar evenly over the top of each custard. Use a kitchen torch to caramelize the sugar. Allow sugar to set for about 1 minute before serving.

Makes 4.

Creme Brulee Setup

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  • Shauna
    February 15, 2010

    How funny – I actually just made creme brulee for dessert tonight (at the request of my husband for our anniversary)! I had never made it before, and found to be a lot easier than I expected. I do need to remember to let it chill in the fridge a bit longer next time, but it was otherwise deemed a rousing success by the husband and children. I didn’t use your recipe (didn’t see your post until just now!), but the one I used from my Williams-Sonoma “Essentials of Baking” cookbook tasted great. In any case, this is a timely post and one that I’ll bookmark for next time! 😉

  • Laura
    February 15, 2010

    I love that you used a real vanilla bean. Vanilla extract is yummy but you just can’t beat the smell and taste that comes from infusing a bean. And the specks are one of my favorite parts…they give it an authentic feel.

    The only part of this that is tricky for me is the blow torch. Dangerous! 🙂

    Thanks for the recipe…I’ll definitely give it a try!

  • Deanna @ Marzipan
    February 15, 2010

    Funny, I just made creme brulee the other night and my recipe (from Ina Garten) called for only heavy cream. I thought it a bit too rich, so I’m glad to see a recipe that calls for some cream, some milk. I’ll have to try that next time. Thanks!

  • pattyann
    February 15, 2010

    Oh, these look so good! I am going to give them a try. I have real vanilla beans and actually use them to make vanilla sugar for cooking. I am excited to try this as I love Creme brulee!

  • Maggie
    February 18, 2010

    Adding vanilla beans is a very great idea – best to forget it until Easter, but then it will be a lovely ending of our dinner. 🙂 Thanks a lot, Nicole.

  • Zuleyka
    April 20, 2013

    I’m not sure how I came across this. I was searching for recipes on creme brûlée though. I will have to try this. You provided great amount of information and answered all my questions I loved that. I have never baked creme brûlée but I love baking & I’ll have to give this a try. (:

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