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Vanilla creme brulee is a simple yet indulgent French custard with a crisp sugar topping! Make this recipe for a classic holiday dessert!
Holidays are the perfect time to splurge on rich, indulgent and delicious desserts! While French Christmas desserts like a croquembouche tree can be challenging and labor intensive to make, there are plenty of impressive French desserts that don’t require much effort at all.
Finish off your holiday meal with delicious classics like chocolate mousse, French silk pie, or creme brulee.
Or make butterscotch budino, which is an Italian dessert that combines sweet pudding with brown sugar caramel. It captures similar flavors as a brulee, but is creamy from top to bottom.
Vanilla creme brulee
Creamy vanilla custard is just one part of the classic French dessert, creme brulee, which in English, means burnt cream.
Simply put, it’s a rich vanilla flavored custard topped with caramelized sugar, otherwise known as caramel. Half of the fun of the dessert is breaking through that thin, crispy layer of hard caramel get to the rich dessert beneath!
Creme brulee flavors
Vanilla is the classic flavor, but the custard can be made in other flavors, too. If you love chocolate desserts, make a chocolate creme brulee. In the summer, make a refreshing lemon brulee, or for a spicy-sweet flavor, try cinnamon creme brulee. The flavor variations are practically endless.
Video: How to make creme brulee
This classic dessert is extremely easy to make, and super rich in texture. Sometimes simpler really is better when it comes to dessert.
Check out the video located in the recipe card at the bottom of this post to watch us making vanilla creme brulee from start to finish.
One benefit of making this vanilla creme brulee recipe is that you only need 4 basic ingredients; eggs, sugar, cream and vanilla extract.
BONUS!! This recipe doesn’t require tempering cream and eggs together!
Instructions and tips
- Make the custard.
Using a whisk or an electric mixer, beat the egg yolks and sugar to dissolve the granules and incorporate air into the mixture. Add the cream and vanilla extract, then mix on low until combined.
- Pour vanilla custard into ramekins.
Next, divide the mixture evenly into your ramekins. Be sure to leave some space at the top for the sugar.
Tip: If you notice any foam or bubbles in the custard, pour it through a fine mesh strainer to remove them.
- Bake until set.
Place the ramekins in a roasting pan and set it on the middle rack of your oven. VERY carefully pour hot water into the pan, around the ramekins. This creates a water bath, which helps the custard to bake evenly and avoid cracking.
IMPORTANT: Do not let any water get into the custard-filled ramekins; it will prevent the vanilla creme brulee from firming up in the oven.
Bake until the edges are firm and the center jiggles just a bit.
- Chill, then create creme brulee topping.
Be sure to refrigerate the vanilla custard for at least 2 hours before adding the sugar.
Just before serving, sprinkle a layer of white granulated sugar over the top of each custard. You don’t need a thick layer, but be sure to cover the custard completely. 1 to 2 teaspoons of sugar should be plenty.
Then, use a kitchen torch to burn the sugar until it starts to bubble and turn a golden brown color.
Don’t have a kitchen torch?
If you don’t have a butane kitchen torch, place the entire tray of vanilla creme brulee under the broiler for a minute or two. Watch it closely, as the sugar can burn or catch fire if it’s left under the broiler for too long.
- Use room temperature ingredients: Using chilled cream and eggs will result in curdling, and the texture will be extra lumpy when baked. Yolks are more fragile at room temperature, though, so it may be best to separate them first before warming.
- Avoid splashes: If liquid from the water bath gets into the ramekins, it can create divots in the custard and prevent it from setting up properly. Pour slowly and carefully, or wrap a thin layer of foil around each ramekin to create a protective “fence.”
- Make ahead: The custard can be made up to 2 days in advance and kept in the refrigerator tightly wrapped in plastic. However, don’t add the sugar topping until just before serving, or the moisture from the custard will dissolve the caramel.
- Leftover egg whites: After separating out the yolks, store the whites in a sealed container and refrigerate for up to 4 days. Use them for omelets, meringue cookies, pavlova, or even candied nuts!
This recipe, first published on Kevin Is Cooking June 10, 2013, was last updated with new content on Dec. 10, 2021.
Vanilla Creme Brulee + Video
- Set oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 300°F.
- In a large mixing bowl, use electric mixer or whisk to combine the egg yolks and sugar, mixing until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is pale yellow in color.
- Add the whipping cream and vanilla extract, and beat on low speed until well blended, about 30 seconds.
- Pour custard evenly throughout 8 ramekins or custard cups, leaving 1/2 inch space below the rim. (See Note 1)Optionally, pour the mixture through a fine mesh strainer directly into the ramekins or custard cups, to remove any foam, bubbles, or cooked egg.
- Place the filled ramekins into a large roasting pan with sides (13×9") and carefully pour hot water around ramekins so that the water comes 3/4 way up the sides of ramekins.
- Bake until set, about 50 minutes. Carefully remove pan from oven and leave ramekins in the water bath until cooled.
- Remove ramekins from water bath, use paper toweling to dry off the sides. Place in refrigerator to chill for at least 2 hours, and up to two days. (See Note 2)
- Prior to serving, remove from refrigerator and sprinkle about 1-2 teaspoons of sugar over top of each vanilla custard. Using a small, hand-held butane torch, melt and caramelize the sugar. If you don't have a torch, place ramekins under broiler, 2 to 3 inches from the heat source. Turn on broiler and cook until sugar melts and browns or even blackens a bit, about 5 minutes. Optionally – Re-chill the creme brulee for 5 minutes to harden the sugar before serving.
- The size ramekins I use are 3 1/4″ in diameter, 1 1/4″ deep and hold roughly 1/2 cup.
- The vanilla creme brulee sugar topping will begin to soften after about 2 hours. If not serving right away, do not make the caramelized sugar topping. Instead, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 2 days. Just before serving, add sugar and torch/broil the sugar.
The information shown is an estimate provided by an online nutrition calculator. It should not be considered a substitute for a professional nutritionist’s advice.