• Kevin Chen

Crème Brûlée: Two Ways

Chef’s Note: Crème brûlée requires few ingredients to prepare but results in a smooth yet rich vanilla-flavored custard juxtaposed with the crackly thin crunch of smoky caramelized sugar, the grown-up, sophisticated version of a sweetly unrefined childhood pudding. Despite the deceptive number of accent marks in its name, crème brûlée is a simple recipe, its texture produced by a harmonious mix of cream and egg yolks. The fats of the heavy cream and egg yolk are what allow for the dessert’s soft delicateness, analogous to how the two ingredients also combine to form creamy yet luscious ice cream. With this in mind, I approached crème brûlée with two different methods, one based on the tried and true recipe using heavy cream, the other using ice cream that already contained the vanilla flavoring and cream. Both recipes use less than five ingredients but depending on what you have at home, one might be more accessible than the other.


Heavy Cream Method

(serves 4)

2 cups heavy cream

¼ cup sugar (plus one teaspoon for the topping)

3 egg yolks

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Ice Cream Method

(serves 4)

2 cup vanilla ice cream

4 egg yolks

2 teaspoon sugar


For both methods:

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.

Separate the eggs, keeping the yolks and saving the egg whites for another recipe.

For the heavy cream method:

Combine the cream and vanilla extract in a saucepan. Heat the cream and vanilla extract mixture over medium-high heat until it comes to a boil. Then remove from the heat, covered to prevent a skin from forming over the top, and let rest as you prepare the eggs and sugar.

Whisk together the sugar and egg yolks until well-combined and barely lightened in color. Gradually pour the slightly-cooled cream into the sugar and egg yolks, stirring constantly until they reach a homogeneous state.

For the ice cream method:

Melt the ice cream incrementally in the microwave until smooth and liquid.

Whisk together the melted ice cream and egg yolks until well-combined.

Heavy cream method on the left; ice cream method on the right

For both methods: Strain the mixture through a sieve to keep the custard smooth, then divide equally among your (2 for the ice cream, 4 for the heavy cream) ramekins. Place the ramekins into a larger pan and pour hot water into the pan until it reaches halfway up the ramekins’ sides.

Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, until the custard is just set. Let cool and refrigerate at least 2 hours.

Sprinkle an even layer of sugar over the crème brûlée. If you have a kitchen torch, use it to melt the sugar to form a crisp topping. Otherwise, place your crème brûlée on the highest rack of your oven and set the oven to broil. Broil for 5 to 10 minutes until the sugar has melted and parts of the surface are brown, but not burnt, and bubbling.

Wait for the sugar to cool and set into a hard shell before serving.

Chef’s Postscript: Both of these methods produce a satisfying and delicious crème brûlée. The ice cream method resulted in a less smooth and slightly gritty custard — likely due to extraneous ingredients in the ice cream — which may be preferable for those who like a bit more bite to their dessert. It was also faster to make, requiring only a quick blast in the microwave compared with the more time-consuming stove top heating of the heavy cream. It's simplicity makes it a great college dorm recipe! On the other hand, the slow and steady preparation of the heavy cream version resulted in a full yet silky custard, much more true to the quintessential French recipe. Regardless of their differences, both recipes have their advantages and are certainly worth a taste.

Written by Kristina Chen and photographed by Kevin Chen.

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