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Easy Vanilla Crème Brûlée

This Easy Vanilla Crème Brûlée is a simple yet elegant dessert that’s sure to impress. It’s made with just a few basic ingredients and doesn’t require any pre-heating or tempering of the eggs and cream!

Silky-smooth, cold and creamy vanilla custard topped with a hardened layer of caramelized sugar that cracks delightfully when you tap it with your spoon…it’s a delicious combination of textures and flavors that’s pretty hard to beat!

I think that’s a much better description than “burnt cream” (that’s the translation from French). Don’t you agree?

And if you only ever enjoy this classic dessert when you go out to a restaurant, it’s time to skip the reservations because it’s actually very easy to make at home!

Sure, it takes a little time, so you’ll want to plan ahead. BUT the hands-on prep and finishing time is only about 20 minutes total. The rest is hands-off time for baking, cooling and chilling.

Besides all the deliciousness, I love this particular recipe because you don’t have to preheat the cream and temper the eggs, which can sometimes be a little tricky (and who needs that?).

Instead, all you do is mix, pour and bake. Then just let it cool and chill before you add that special finishing touch – the pièce de résistance – the caramelized sugar topping.

This recipe for easy crème brûlée is the perfect desert for dinner parties, special occasions, holidays, and more. I think it would be an excellent choice for Valentine’s Day, which is right around the corner!

a spoonful of turbinado sugar being sprinkled onto the top of a creme brulee custard surrounded by 3 other custards topped with sugar

Ingredients You Need

  • Egg yolks – from 6 large eggs
  • White granulated sugar – to sweeten the custard
  • Salt – just a pinch to enhance the flavors
  • Heavy cream – or heavy whipping cream (but no other substitutes)
  • Pure vanilla extract – you’ve got to use the real stuff for the best flavor
  • Turbinado sugar – for the caramelized sugar topping; it’s also called raw cane sugar (Sugar in the Raw is a popular brand); demerara or white granulated sugar will also work

Note: Ingredient amounts are in the recipe card at the bottom of the post.

Special Equipment Needed

  • Fine-mesh sieve
  • 4 oven-safe, 6-ounce round ramekins
  • 8x8x2-inch baking pan (9x9x2-inch or larger is also okay)
  • Kitchen/cooking torch

How to Make Easy Vanilla Crème Brûlée

1: Preheat the oven to 300°F.

2: In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, white granulated sugar and salt until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture is lighter in color and slightly thick.

2 numbered images; number 1 is a graphic of an oven with text that says 300 degrees Fahrenheit. and number 2 is of egg yolks, sugar and salt in a bowl and then the mixture being whisked together

3: Add the heavy cream and vanilla extract; whisk just until everything is combined.

4: Using a fine-mesh sieve, strain the mixture into another medium bowl or into a large liquid measuring cup.

2 numbered images; number 3 is of heavy cream and vanilla added to the egg mixture and then the mixture being whisked together, and number 4 is of the custard mixture in a bowl with a strainer on top of the bowl

5: Using a spoon, skim off any foam/bubbles from the top of the custard mixture.

6: Place the ramekins into the baking pan. Evenly divide the custard mixture between the 4 ramekins.

2 numbered images; number 5 is of foam being skimmed off the top of the custard mixture with a spoon, and number 6 is of the custard in 4 ramekins set inside a square baking pan

7: Pour hot water into the pan until it is halfway up the sides of the ramekins, being very careful not to get any water into the custard cups.

8: Bake on the center rack of the oven for 50 to 60 minutes or until the edges of the custard are set and the centers are still just slightly loose.

2 numbered images; number 7 is of water being poured into the baking pan. and number 8 is a graphic of an oven with text that says 300 degrees Fahrenheit

9: Take the pan out of the oven and place it on a wire cooling rack. Leave the water and the ramekins in the pan and cool to room temperature, about 1 to 1½ hours.

10: Remove the ramekins from the water and dry them off. Cover with plastic wrap, put in the refrigerator, and let chill for at least 4 hours (longer is okay).

2 numbered images; number 9 is of the cooked custards in the baking pan with the water on a wire cooling rack, and number 10 is a graphic of a refrigerator

11: When ready to serve, remove the chilled custards from the refrigerator and uncover. If needed, gently blot off any moisture with a paper towel.

12: Evenly sprinkle the top of each custard with turbinado sugar, making sure to go all the way to the edges of the ramekin.

2 numbered images; number 11 is of a paper towel blotting the top of a custard, and number 12 is of the 4 custards topped with turbinado sugar

13: Using a kitchen torch, caramelize the sugar on each custard by heating the sugar until it melts and turns golden brown. Let sit for a minute or two to allow the sugar to cool and harden.

14: Serve immediately and enjoy!

2 numbered images; number 13 is of the 4 custards with the caramelized sugar topping and a kitchen torch in the background, and number 14 is of one finished custard with a spoonful being taken out and text that says enjoy

Note: This is just a brief overview of the steps. For the full printable recipe with ingredient amounts and detailed instructions, scroll down to the recipe card at the bottom of the post.

Do You Have to Use a Kitchen Torch to Caramelize the Sugar?

The short answer is no. The broiler is another option, but I don’t recommend it.

Believe me, I tried using the broiler lots of times. I really, really wanted it to work so that I wouldn’t have to tell you to go out and get a torch just to make this recipe. But sadly, it just didn’t work.

The broiler didn’t heat the sugar evenly at all, which resulted in some areas being almost burnt while some spots still had sugar that hadn’t melted. Even worse, it took so long to get any sort of caramelization going on that the custards ended up warm and even slightly overcooked.

The kitchen torch, on the other hand, works like a dream. It’s quick, you control the flame, and it keeps the custard cold (the way it should be). You can get a small hand-held torch for less than $20, and it’s totally worth it even just to make this one recipe!

close up of a kitchen torch being applied to sugar on top of a ramekin of creme brulee

Recipe Tips & Tidbits

  • To easily separate eggs, I use my hands!
    • I crack an egg into a bowl then very carefully scoop up the yolk out of the bowl with my hand, keeping my fingers very slightly separated. The white falls through my fingers, and I put the yolk in a separate bowl and repeat with the rest of the eggs.
    • Store the whites in an airtight container for up to 3 to 4 days. Use them in another recipe or (my favorite) make an egg white omelet.
  • Cooking the custards in a water bath helps ensure even baking and helps prevent cracking. Don’t skip this step! Just don’t get any water in your custard (they won’t set up properly if you do).
  • Be careful not to overbake, which can cause the custards to break, curdle or become too firm. The edges should be set, and the center should have a slight jiggle when you gently shake the pan (it will finish setting up as it cools).
    • If you want to go by temperature, the center should be 165°F.
  • I prefer to use turbinado sugar for the topping because it has a deeper, richer flavor. You can also use demerara sugar (which is similar) or even regular white granulated sugar; the flavor will just be slightly different.

Substitutions & Variations

  • You can halve this recipe if you only need crème brûlée for two.
  • To make chocolate crème brûlée: Add 1 tablespoon of cocoa powder when you are whisking the egg yolks, sugar and salt. Other than that, the recipe stays the same.
4 ramekins of vanilla creme brulee with spoons on the side

Make Ahead & Storing Leftovers

Make Ahead

One of the great things about crème brûlée is that you can make it (mostly) ahead of time!

After the custard has fully chilled, you can leave it in the refrigerator for several more hours and up to 2 days. I recommend always waiting until right before serving to do the caramelized sugar topping.

That being said, you can put the finished crème brûlée in the fridge for a very short time if needed – about 30 to 45 minutes – without any ill effects. Longer than that, and you risk losing that crack from the hardened sugar turning soft (it will still taste good, though!).

Storing Leftovers

Store leftover crème brûlée, covered tightly, in the refrigerator for up to 2 to 3 days (count from the day you made the custard). Remember, the sugar topping will become softer the longer it is in the fridge, so enjoy sooner rather than later!

close up of a spoonful of vanilla creme brulee being held over the ramekin

When it comes to serving my crème brûlée, I don’t add anything. Its simplicity is what makes it so incredibly good. If you’d like a bit of a fancier presentation, you can garnish it with a few fresh berries and maybe a sprig of fresh mint.

I hope you try this Easy Vanilla Crème Brûlée recipe and love it as much as I do. Thanks for visiting today!

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If you make this recipe, I’d love to know how it went! Please leave a star rating and comment below. Thanks!

vanilla creme brulee in a white rameking with a spoonful taken out and placed in front of the ramekin

Easy Vanilla Crème Brûlée

This Easy Vanilla Crème Brûlée is a simple yet elegant dessert that's sure to impress. It's made with just a few basic ingredients and doesn't require any pre-heating or tempering of the eggs and cream!
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Author: Michelle / Now Cook This!
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 55 minutes
Cooling & Chilling Time: 5 hours 30 minutes
Total Time: 6 hours 45 minutes
Servings: 4
Estimated Calories: 450

Ingredients

For the Custard

  • 6 egg yolks, at room temperature (use large eggs)
  • ¼ cup white granulated sugar
  • teaspoon salt, scant
  • cups heavy cream, at room temperature (or heavy whipping cream)
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

For the Caramelized Sugar Topping

  • 6 teaspoons turbinado sugar, divided (see Notes below)

Special Equipment

  • fine mesh sieve
  • 4 oven-safe, 6-ounce round ramekins
  • 8x8x2-inch baking pan (9x9x2-inch or larger is okay)
  • kitchen/cooking torch

Instructions

  • Preheat the oven to 300°F.
  • In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, white granulated sugar and salt until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture is lighter in color and slightly thick.
  • Add the heavy cream and vanilla extract. Whisk just until everything is combined.
  • Using a fine-mesh sieve, strain the mixture into another medium bowl or into a large liquid measuring cup (I like to use a measuring cup because it allows you to easily pour the custard into the ramekins later).
  • Using a spoon, skim off any foam/bubbles from the top of the custard mixture and discard.
  • Place 4 oven-safe, 6-ounce round ramekins into an 8x8x2-inch baking pan (a 9x9x2-inch or larger pan is okay). Evenly divide the custard mixture between the 4 ramekins.
  • Pour hot water into the pan until it is halfway up the sides of the ramekins, being very careful not to get any water into the custard cups (which would cause the custard to not set up properly).
    I just use very hot tap water.
  • Bake on the center rack of the oven for 50 to 60 minutes or until the edges of the custard are set and the centers are still just slightly loose (there should be a slight jiggle in the center if you gently shake the pan).
    If you want to use a kitchen thermometer, the center of the custards should be 165°F.
  • Take the pan out of the oven and place it on a wire cooling rack. Leave the water and the ramekins in the pan and cool to room temperature, about 1 to 1½ hours.
  • Remove the ramekins from the water and carefully dry them off. Cover with plastic wrap, put in the refrigerator, and let chill for at least 4 hours (longer is okay).
  • When ready to serve, remove the chilled custards from the refrigerator and uncover. If needed, gently blot off any moisture with a paper towel.
  • Evenly sprinkle the top of each custard with 1½ teaspoons of turbinado sugar, making sure to go all the way to the edges of the ramekin.
  • Using a kitchen torch, caramelize the sugar on each custard by heating the sugar until it melts and turns golden brown. Keep the flame moving around consistently; don't keep it in one spot for too long to avoid burning. Let the custards sit for a minute or two to allow the sugar to cool and harden.
  • Serve immediately and enjoy!

Notes

  • Cooking the custards in a water bath helps ensure even baking and helps prevent cracking. Don’t skip this step!
  • Be careful not to overbake, which can cause the custards to break, curdle or become too firm.
  • I prefer to use turbinado sugar for the topping because it has a deeper, richer flavor. You can also use demerara sugar (which is similar) or even regular white granulated sugar; the flavor will just be slightly different.
  • Be sure to follow all of the manufacturer’s instructions for properly and safely using your kitchen torch.
  • Please refer to the post for additional tips, variations and information on making ahead and storing leftovers.
Did you try this recipe? I’d love to see it!Share it on Instagram, tag @nowcookthis and use the hashtag #nowcookthisrecipes. Thanks!

Recipe adapted from Chicago Metallic.

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