Crème brûlée is such an elegant, tasty, and difficult dessert to make! And if you have an uncooperative oven (like me), it makes it even harder. Making crème brûlée can seem intimidating, but with the right techniques, it is actually quite simple! I'd like to share my tips with you so that everyone can make and enjoy it!
Before we get started, you'll need a good recipe. My favorite go-to is the vanilla creme brûlée from NYT Cooking. It's so simple and delicious! I'm going to use this recipe to walk through my tips on making this dessert.
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Step 1: Heat the cream, vanilla, and salt
I never have vanilla bean on me so I always prepare this using the vanilla extract option (adding it after heating). The first thing I do is heat the cream and salt in a saucepan over low heat until it just about starts to boil. I like to mix and scrape the sides occasionally so it doesn't build up around the pan. Once it's close to boiling, I turn the heat off, mix in the vanilla extract, and move onto the next step.
Step 2: Beat yolks with sugar, combine mixtures, prepare dishes, and bake!
Like the recipe says, beat together the yolks and sugar. Then, you're going to slowly pour a little bit of the hot cream into the egg mixture while stirring constantly. It's important not to mix these too quickly and without stirring because you don't want the hot cream to cook the yolks! Once you've mixed in about ¼ of the cream, slowly pour the egg mixture into the pan with the remaining cream (also while stirring gently). That's it for the custard part! Now onto the most difficult part (in my opinion).
Before I get started on my crème brûlée, I put a pot of water on my stove let it boil while I'm making it. I also preheat my oven with the baking dish I'll be using in it. I use four of my 4.7oz ramekins and my 9x13 inch ceramic baking dish - the ramekins fit perfectly in this.
To prepare the dishes, carefully take the hot baking dish out of the oven and place the ramekins in it. Then, fill all the ramekins and pour the boiling water around them. The water should be about ½-2/3 of the way up the sides of the ramekins. Quickly place the baking dish in the oven (but remember it's hot so use oven mitts!)
All of this preparation ensures that everything baking the crème brûlée is hot from the beginning, which helps limit the temperature fluctuation in the oven. I don't completely trust my oven, so I still like to check the temperature on my oven thermometer every 5-10 minutes to make sure it's staying consistent. The baking temperature will make or break your crème brûlée, so this is really important! Take the crème brûlée out of the oven when the centers are "barely set", so they'll be a little jiggly in the middle. Don't worry, they'll solidify more when you chill them.
Step 3: Crystallize the tops and enjoy!
Once the crème brûlée has cooled completely, sprinkle a layer of sugar evenly around the top and carefully blaze using a culinary torch. If you don't have a torch, your broiler can work too! Just put them on the top layer of your oven under the broiler and carefully let the sugar brown. If your oven is like mine, the broiler might take a bit longer and could possibly heat the crème brûlée a bit, so I highly recommend using a torch!