Crème brûlée is one of those classic desserts that appears on any decent bistro or French menu.
Its origin is hotly contested with France, Spain and England all claiming rights.
After a bit of research, I’ve found that the first recorded recipe was in 1691 in a cookbook by French chef Francois Massialot.
However, Trinity College in Cambridge claim the recipe for “burnt cream” was invented there and appeared on menus from the late 1800s.
Whatever its origin, the combination of rich, just-set custard with a caramelised sugar topping is now a global dish.
According to Julia Child’s recipe, a classic crème brûlée is based on a crème Anglaise but uses cream instead of milk and adds corn flour to thicken.
Her recipe isn’t baked, and as such it is a fair bit wetter than crème brûlée you might be used to.
Other recipes call for a period of baking in a low oven, with the brûlées in a bain-marie, to ensure the custard is set. I ended up cooking the custard for 35 minutes at 150 degrees after only getting a runny custard base despite setting overnight.
In terms of flavourings, you may wish to add a citrus note with passionfruit, lemon or lime, chocolate, raspberries or even coffee.
Crème brûlée (adapted from Julia Child)
4 egg yolks
5 tablespoons caster sugar
1 teaspoon corn flour
1 3/4 cups heavy whipping cream
1 vanilla bean
Demerara sugar for topping
In a sauce pan heat cream and vanilla bean until bubbly, but do not boil.
In another bowl, whisk the egg yolks and sugar until it forms a thick ribbon. Add the cornstarch and mix for a further minute.
Pour the cream into the egg mix and whisk constantly to avoid cooking to eggs.
Return to the heat and slowly cook over a low heat until the custard coats the back of a spoon.
Pour the custard into four ramekins and refrigerate for 4-6 hours or overnight to set.
Place into a baking dish and fill three-quarters up the side with cold water. Bake in the oven at 150 degrees for 35 minutes. Leave to cool.
Sprinkle the Demerara sugar over the top of the set custards and using a hand-held torch to caramelise the sugar. If you don’t have a torch, place under the grill for 2-3 minutes.
Return to fridge until ready to serve.
Top tip – I just read a note that egg proteins begin to set at 160 degrees but curdle at 180 so there’s very little room to move when thickening your custard. Try using a candy thermometer to keep an eye on the temperature if you’re worried.