Basic Crème Brûlée Formula

There’s a lot of tittering going on in elite pastry circles about crème brûlée these days. Just like molten chocolate cake, it’s an item most restaurants put on their menus solely out of obligation — something for country rubes and tourists who want to feel sophisticated dining in the big city. Right this very minute snotty waiters all over Manhattan are traipsing back to the kitchen with their dessert orders, muttering to themselves. I’ll be right back with that, Mr. Clampett.

But me, I never get sick of crème brûlée, NEVER. It’s just too simple, too perfect. Add a little vanilla, a pinch of cinnamon, maybe a couple gratings of nutmeg and I’m a stone-cold goner. So snicker away, Helmut, I’ll remember you in silky burnt cream paradise.

What follows is a basic formula for a light crème brûlée. It has just enough egg yolk to hold the sugar and cream together, and not much more. It can be enjoyed plain, but makes an elegant medium for just about any flavor you’d care to infuse into it. It will accommodate a couple of tablespoons of liqueur, citrus zest or instant coffee. You can add up to 1/4 cup of thicker ingredients like pumpkin, mango or passion fruit pulp, melted chocolate or peanut butter, but you’ll want to fortify the custard with two more yolks in that case.

2 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup sugar
4 large egg yolks

Preheat your oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Also, set a small saucepan of water (or a teapot) over low heat.

Pour the cream into a small saucepan, along with any flavoring you’d care to infuse (vanilla, cinnamon stick, citrus peel) and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Immediately remove the cream from the heat and allow it to steep for 10-20 minutes, then strain through a fine sieve.

Meanwhile, whisk the sugar and yolks together in a medium bowl until they’re light in color. Add the cream in a steady stream, whisking all the while. Pour the mixture into four 6-ounce ramekins. Place the ramekins into a roasting pan or baking dish.

When ready to bake, put on an oven mitt and open the oven door. Slide a middle rack half way out and gently place the baking dish containing the ramekins on it. Carefully pour in enough hot water to come half way up the sides of the ramekins. Slide the rack back into the oven and close the door.

Bake for 25-35 minutes, until the custard is just set (firm but slightly jiggly in the middle). Cool on a wire rack, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for several hours or up to three days.

Half an hour before you want to serve, remove the ramekins from the refrigerator. Take off the plastic wrap and spread a healthy tablespoon of sugar evenly over the top of each custard. Using a salamander or a blow torch, melt and lightly brown the sugar. Let the crème brûlée sit for 5 minutes, and serve.

11 thoughts on “Basic Crème Brûlée Formula”

  1. I read the Chef’s comment on the CIA Chef. When I was in school at I.C.E we had a short pastry class (about 6 weeks) and the Chef, Gerri Sarnataro, taught us to sift a layer of white sugar over the brown sugar that we torched.

  2. Hi Joe! Thankyou for the lovely creme brulee recipe. Could I Make a larger version using 8egg yolks, and if so what kind of dish measurement and oven temperature would be suitable? Best wishes, Zakki x

  3. I was a prof chef for 20 years before my current profession. I now travel a lot, and eat out a lot. I will never tire of Creme Brulee, and order it whenever I see it on the dessert menu. Believe me, many restaurants make a substandard Creme Brulee, use inferior ingredients, or have no shame in serving them overcooked. It’s really sad when you get a crappy one, or one that has egg whites in it to save money.

    1. Amen, Lia. There are far too many lame creme brûlées in the world. Nice to know you’re out there helping to keep standards up! Have a Merry Christmas and a happy New Year, Lia!

      – Joe

  4. I love creme brule — I always order it for dessert if it’s available and it is generally pretty good (always better, usually, that chocolate cake, which I’m REALLY picky about!) and once in a great while is outstanding! My mom used to make it when I was growing up, only calling it burnt cream and made in shallow metal dishes. Good memories!

  5. This creme brulee recipe is the best I’ve used. I only add vanilla and just can’t imagine adding anything else because it’s so simply perfect as is, though mine does a bit longer to bake. Everyone I feed it to refuses to talk or focus on anything other than their ramkin while eating it (including good wine and espresso!) and then swears they’d die happily after. Thanks Joe, you rock 😀

    1. Wow, great to hear, Caterina! Very glad you’re having fun with this recipe. Thanks for getting back to me about it!


      – Joe

  6. Hey Joe,

    Curious about this statement, “It will accommodate a little extra sugar or a small amount of fruit pulp, liqueur, ground nuts, ground coffee or citrus peels.”.

    Regarding liquid, in the given basic recipe how much liquid can you reasonably add. For example juices. I’ve seen recipes that uses juices but recommend reducing them by some random amount. Is there any formula or ratio?


    1. Hey there Tim! Sorry about the ambiguity, I’m usually not so nebulous. I fixed the post, adding measurements.

      When it comes to liquid I’d try to keep it to a couple of tablespoons. Where fruits are concerned, pulp and zest are more desirable since they don’t thin the custard as much. Also you don’t run the risk of the acid curdling the custard.

      Hope this helps!

      – Joe

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