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How To Make Creme Brulee

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Making creme brulee isn't difficult, says chef Dieter Schorner of The Culinary Institute of America. He begins by heating 2 cups of heavy cream with a pinch of salt in a small heavy saucepan. In a bowl, he adds 1.5 ounces of sugar and whisks that together with 4 egg yolks until combined. He scrapes the seeds from half a vanilla bean and adds it to the cream, stirring until the flavors combine. (You don't want to boil the cream, so keep a close eye on it.) He slowly pours a bit of the cream into the egg yolk mixture (don't go too fast or you'll get scrambled eggs), then strains the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve.

Next, he transfers the custard to shallow ramekins set on a baking tray with sides. If you're using a conventional oven to bake them, you'll need to pour hot water halfway up the side of the pan to ensure proper cooking. He gives the following instructions for baking: If you're using a convection oven, set it at 200-225F (you don't need a water bath) and bake for 25-30 minutes. If you're using a conventional oven, set it at 300-325F and bake in a water bath for 30-37 minutes. In either case, turn the pan around 180 degrees about 15 minutes into baking to ensure the custards cook evenly.

Once the custards are finished, let them cool at room temperature, then chill for at least 2 hours before moving on to the brulee step. Once they're chilled, sprinkle a thin layer of sugar on the top, making sure it's nice and even. Though you don't want it to be too sweet, don't skimp on the sugar -- if you don't have enough, you'll just burn the skin of the brulee. Using a torch, caramelize the sugar, going over each custard cup twice to achieve the best color. Give the brulees at least 10 minutes to set up, then enjoy.

For 60 years, The Culinary Institute of America has been setting the standard for excellence in professional culinary education. In this video series, experienced chefs and educators show you how to tackle essential cooking techniques.

Video Transcript

Hi, I'm Chef Dieter Schorner from the Culinary Institute of America, and I'm going to show you this kitchen basic: how to make crème brûlée.

Crème brûlée is actually very easy to make. It doesn't take a long time, you need about five ingredients, and you can make a beautiful crème brûlée. First you have to heat two cups of heavy cream with a pinch of salt and half your sugar. This is about one and a half ounces of sugar here, and you keep the other half of the sugar for your four egg yolks. While that heats, you stir the egg yolks with the other half of your sugar, quite well, without foaming it up. You have to add half of a vanilla bean, which you scrape, into the heavy cream. The cream doesn't have to boil; it just has to be quite hot. Once your cream is hot, you temper your egg yolks with the hot cream, without stirring too much, so you don't make much foam. Then you need to strain the liquid, because you have the seeds of the vanilla bean here, some of which actually goes through but we have some of the residue left from when you scraped out the vanilla bean. Then you pour the mixture into your molds, which I have arranged all on a baking sheet. I fill the molds up about ninety percent so I can still carry them to the oven.

Now, the trick is in the baking. If you have a convection oven, you bake at between 200 and 225 degrees Fahrenheit, and you don't need any water bath. But if you have a conventional oven, you need to add water in your sheet tray, half full, and you bake at 300 to 325. Baking time in a convection oven is 25 to 30 minutes; in a conventional oven, five to seven minutes longer.

One of the most important things when you make crème brûlée is this: please, use shallow molds! Don't use the mixture to fill up deep molds; it has to cook very slowly and it has to be in a shallow mold. Now you add water here, in the base of pan your molds are resting on: warm water, and it just has to be half full, so it's easy for you to carry to the oven to bake. You see how shallow the water is: it doesn't need more than that. Then to put this in the oven, open the oven door first and move the tray in. The best thing is to put it on the bottom shelf. Put it in carefully, so you don't spill the crème brûlée, and leave it in for ten to fifteen minutes before you give the tray a turn.

Now the baking time is complete and I've taken out the crème brûlée. Do not take the molds out of the hot water; you'll get burned. Leave it in the hot water until it's cold. Never caramelize the crème brûlée when it comes out of the oven! It would just cook like pastry cream. You have to cool it down for at least two to three hours in the refrigerator.

After cooling, I sprinkle some sugar on the top like that. I make it nice and even all over the top of the crème brûlée. Don't add too much sugar, or it will taste too sweet, but you have to cover the top with sugar. If you do not have enough sugar, it just burns the skin of the crème brûlée. The best thing to use is a torch. You just turn it on and the best thing is to do it two times: you do the top, stop and do the next one, then go back again and it becomes a much nicer color. See, I go back again to finish this one. Now we have a beautiful caramel on the top. Don't eat it right now! It's very hot, and it's not caramelized, It has to be completely cold and then it has a beautiful crunchiness. After ten or fifteen minutes you are able to enjoy your crème brûlée.