Vanilla Creme Brulee Recipe – Olivia’s Cuisine

Vanilla Creme Brulee is the quintessential French dessert! It’s a rich, creamy custard topped with a crackly caramel topping made from caramelized sugar. Despite the fancy French name, it is easy to make and requires only 5 ingredients!

Love classic French recipes? 🇫🇷 Then you’ll also like my recipes for Coq au Vin, Boeuf Bourguignon, Gougeres, French Onion Soup and Poulet à la Moutarde.

Vanilla creme brulee in a ramekin, with a spoon showing the creamy custard. The creme brulee is garnished with mint and blueberries.

Creme Brulee is one of my favorite recipes to order when dining at a restaurant. I just can’t resist it!

But that also means that I’ve had my fair share of “meh” creme brulee. Runny, bland, brulee topping not crackly enough, different flavor twist gone wrong (I’m looking at you matcha), you name it! So I decided it was time to learn to make it homemade and I braced myself to something incredibly difficult, complicated and… well, French!

To my surprise, this was one of the easiest dessert recipes I have ever done. Yes, it requires planning ahead because the custard has to chill in the fridge for at least 4 hours. But, apart from that, making creme brulee is a walk in the park!

In a way, I’m kinda glad I didn’t learn this earlier in life, or I’d be even more overweight than I already am! 😂

A closeup of the creme brulee, showing the vanilla custard.

What is Creme Brulee?

Crème Brûlée (pronounced krem-boo-lay), which means “burnt cream”, is a French dessert that consists of a rich custard topped with caramelized sugar. The classic version is flavored with vanilla, but nowadays you can find lots of different creme brulee flavors, such as chocolate, lemon, matcha (🙄), and even lavender!

Earlier versions of this dessert in France had the brulee topping presented as a previously prepared caramel disc. It is only in modern versions that the sugar is burnt with a torch.

Where did it originate?

France, England and Spain all claim to be the ones that created the first version of this dessert.

The first recording of creme brulee in its French form happened in 1691, in François Massialot’s cookbook called Le Cuisinier Royal Et Bourgeo. However, since custards have been popular across Europe since the Middle Ages, it’s impossible to pinpoint the creme brulee’s roots.

The crema catalana, which is the Catalan dessert the Spanish claim inspired the creme brulee, dates back to the 14th century. It is very similar to creme brulee, but made with milk instead of cream, and flavored with orange (or lemon) zest and cinnamon. It is traditionally served on Saint Joseph’s Day.

Then there’s England’s claim, a similar custard dessert with a caramelized topping, called “Trinity Cream” or “Cambridge Burnt Cream”. It was introduced at Trinity College, in Cambridge, in 1879, and the blistered sugar topping was embossed with the college arms via a branding iron. Legend has it that it was an undergraduate that offered the recipe (from an Aberdeenshire country house) to the college cook. The cook initially turned it down but later, after the student became a fellow, started serving it. That dessert is still served at the school today!

That all being said, it wasn’t until well into the 1980s that the creme brulee gained the popularity it has today, probably after Sirio Maccioni introduced it at his New York restaurant “Le Cirque”. According to food writer Colman Andrews, it became “a symbol of that decade’s self-indulgence and the darling of the restaurant boom”.

A photo of all the ingredients needed to make this creme brulee recipe.


To make this Vanilla Creme Brulee recipe, you will need:

  • Sugar – You will need white granulated sugar to make the custard and also to make the brulee topping.
  • Egg Yolks – For a creamy and rich custard, we’ll use just yolks. Save the whites to make meringue or pavlova!
  • Heavy Cream – I have seen recipes call for milk or half and half in addition to, or instead of, heavy cream. I imagine the custard would be lighter, but since I like my creme brulee as French as it can be (as in very creamy and flavorful), I always make mine with heavy cream.
  • Vanilla – I strongly recommend you use vanilla beans to make this creme brulee recipe. If you must substitute, vanilla extract is okay but the vanilla flavor won’t be as pronounced.
  • Salt – A small pinch of salt enhances flavors.
The ramekins in a baking sheet.

How to Make Vanilla Creme Brulee

Is it difficult to make creme brulee? No. Can it go terribly wrong? Yes, if you try to skip some steps or under/overcook it.

These are some common creme brulee problems and the reason they happen:

  • Soupy or Runny Creme Brulee – Is your yolks to cream ratio correct (3 yolks per cup of liquid)? If using my recipe it is, so you, most likely, undercooked it. It also needs at least 4 hours in the fridge to finish setting.
  • Grainy/Scrambled Creme Brulee – If you don’t temper the egg yolks, the eggs can scramble and you will end up with a sweet omelette instead of a custard.
  • Curdled Creme Brulee – You probably overcooked it. Creme Brulee will curdle if its internal temperature goes above 175ºF. That’s why it is highly recommended to bake the custards in a water bath.

If you encountered the problem of an unset custard, you can fix it if you don’t mind the extra effort. I have not tested this method, but according to my research, it works. Just scrape off the custard into a strainer and press with a rubber spatula, into a bowl. That should leave you with a smooth custard base. Place the custard in a double boiler and slowly heat it, then transfer to ramekins and bake in a water bath in a 300ºF oven, until set.

But if you follow my recipe and tips, you will not have to fix anything as your creme brulee will come out perfect every time!

Recommended tools and equipment: saucepan, mixing bowl, whisk, ramekins, baking sheet, torch.

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