Simplest crème brûlée

Posted on September 4, 2006 by Aun

One of my all-time favourite desserts is crème brûlée. It’s also a dish that I’ve found challenging to perfect. As many of you know, my wife S and I have an insane number of cookbooks, close to 400 at last count. We’ve tried a huge host of crème brûlée recipes written by some of the world’s best chefs. Most fall into two categories, i.e. two cooking methods. The first, most common method is to prepare a custard on your stovetop that you pour into ramekins and then cool until set. The other way is to combine your ingredients, divide them into ramekins and then bake them in a water-bath. Both work, but I’ve always found that the crèmes made with the first method tend to be a tad heavy. And because I tend to be a bit of a klutz, I get a tad nervous working with preparations that require me to not only balance large trays of water but also put them in and pull them out of an oven.

Recently, however, I’ve discovered what may be the easiest way of preparing a perfect crème brûlée. Over the past year, my wife S has been helping Chef Justin Quek write his first cookbook, which is being released later this year.


the cover of Justin’s first cookbook

Justin is an icon in Singapore. For almost a decade, he was the head chef of Singapore’s top French restaurant, Les Amis. Trained in France and England, Justin is today considered one of the world’s best chefs by both his customers and by many of his peers–including Tetsuya Wakuda, Michel Roux Jr, Ferran Adria, Neil Perry, Charlie Trotter and Pierre Hermé, all of whom contributed glowing endorsements to Justin’s book. Currently, Justin is based in Taipei, where he runs a small, very well-reviewed restaurant called La Petite Cuisine. At the end of the year, he’ll be embarking on his most ambitious project to date, a super high-end, fine-dining restaurant in Shanghai, near Xintiandi, called Le Platane.

Justin’s crème brûlée recipe is notable because it follows neither of the two preparations described above. It’s closer to the second method but doesn’t call for a water-bath. His secret is that he bakes his crèmes on very low heat for an hour. The resulting custards are sinfully silky and delicious.

S and I have tested Justin’s recipe a few times, with fantastic results. The recipe that apears in Justin’s book includes wild blueberries. We tried this one first and when it worked perfectly, we started experimenting, using different fruits and then eventually infusions. My latest favourite version was made with cream and milk that had been infused with Gryphon Tea Company’s delicious Straits Chai tea.

One thing that you may notice from the photographs above is that S and I have also been playing with unmolded crème brûlées. We’ve found that serving a crème brûlée that’s been released from the confines of the usual ramekin surprises and delights our guests. Pulling this off is actually pretty easy. Follow the recipe (below) but instead of using ramekins, bake your crème brûlées in small, non-stick silicone molds. When the custard has cooled sufficiently, pop the molds in your freezer. At least 6 hours before you serve them, unmold them onto the plates you intend to serve them on. Put these into your refrigerator so that the custards defrost slowly. The custards should hold their shape, even when you blowtorch them.

Justin Quek’s crème brûlée
Serves 10 to 12

8 egg yolks
600 millilitres fresh cream
100 millilitres milk
100 grams sugar
150 grams fine brown sugar

Preheat the oven to 100 degrees Celsius.

Combine the egg yolks, cream, milk and sugar in a mixing bowl. Whisk and pass through a fine sieve into a jug. Pour the egg mixture into small ramekins.

Bake in the oven for 1 hour. Remove, cool and refrigerate for a minimum of 3 hours.

Just before serving, sprinkle the top of each portion with a thin layer of brown sugar. Caramelise the sugar with a blowtorch and serve immediately.

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About Aun Koh

Aun has always loved food and travel, passions passed down to him from his parents. This foundation, plus a background in media, pushed him to start Chubby Hubby in 2005. He loves that this site allows him to write about the things he adores--food, style, travel, his wife and his bouncing baby boy!

What Others Are Saying

  1. Kat in the Hat September 4, 2006 at 12:40 am

    Can’t wait to try this. Did you use plain single or double cream? Australian or English? sorry I’m a Barnes-ian pedant esp. after a few disasters with creams of different provenances.

    Justin’s creme brulee was a first ever personal culinary revelation for me. Passing thru’ Sing back in the mid 1990s, a friend took me to Les Amis where we had the most perfect lunch and finished with the creme brulee which Ignatius I think it was – advised us to pair with a glass of muscadet. It was a moment of such perfection – the taste of burnt sugar, cream and the muscadet. Sublime. Those were the good ol’ Les Amis days.

  2. matt September 4, 2006 at 1:47 am

    FANTASTIC photo and an unmolded creme brulee? That is simply amazing, I had no idea it could be done and now I want to try it. Several times :)

  3. Jennifer Klinec September 4, 2006 at 4:44 am

    What a great idea! I can’t wait to try this. I love your idea of using non-stick molds in the freezer and then ‘unmolding’ them – I think this would look really elegant on a plate and be nicer to eat this way than out of ramekins.

    Chai-infused ice cream is delicious, so creme-brulee with a chai infusion would be equally wonderful.

    I wonder if you could attempt this with a splash of Pedro Ximenez sherry in the custard or boiled down to a syrupy reduction and included as a layer underneath the sugar on top?

    Roll on experimentation!

    Eat Drink Talk

  4. ilingc September 4, 2006 at 8:25 am

    mmm creme brulee..
    chubbyhubby, that looks heavenly.. sigh

  5. ana September 4, 2006 at 10:04 am

    pretty good idea to have it unmolded…

  6. L September 4, 2006 at 12:04 pm

    Getting a kitchen blow torch has been on my list for some time now… I think the priority has just moved up after seeing this recipe! And, I can’t wait to see teh cookbook when it comes out! Thanks so much for sharing!

  7. san san September 4, 2006 at 1:31 pm

    Wow. And wow to 400 cookbooks too. I really enjoy the fact that you post so regularly of late – it is like having a wonderfully informative and tasty food newsletter every few days :) Thanks!

  8. siewyuk September 4, 2006 at 3:52 pm

    Thank you SO much for sharing this. love your vintage tray and delicate plates. can’t wait to try this recipe :-)

  9. Mae September 4, 2006 at 6:37 pm

    I wanted to make this too. How lovely this has turned out. I can’t wait to try it now… thanks for the push :-)

    The photo is absolutely incredible. As if i was looking at a magazine’s front cover. Brilliant!

  10. Anonymous September 4, 2006 at 6:38 pm

    Book signing on the 14th October at Kino or Borders?? Do you know??

  11. Fanny September 4, 2006 at 7:56 pm

    when you sent me the ebook i immediately spotted this lovely berry creme brulée.

    regarding yours – you call it ‘simple’ i call it ‘stunning’. i love the upside-down trick. will try as soon as possible

    fanny

  12. J September 4, 2006 at 8:01 pm

    hi, i for one cannot wait for s’s magnum opus (apart from the thesis of course ;)) to be out :)

  13. nekochan September 4, 2006 at 8:31 pm

    Slightly off topic but I’m visiting Singapore at the end of the month and will have 4 evenings to enjoy Singapore’s culinary delights. Can you recommend the best place for ribs??

    Nekochan

  14. Vivilicious September 4, 2006 at 10:57 pm

    Hey CH,

    This method is the one I learned at Les Ormes, the 1 Michelin star restaurant I staged at in Paris. Sublimely creamy and unctuous, eh?

  15. tabehodai September 4, 2006 at 11:18 pm

    delish! question… low-fat or regular cream?

    saw this post, did u have your PH’s macarons lately? :P http://mymuzingz.blogspot.com/2006/09/im-dreaming-of-macarons.html

  16. Chubby Hubby September 5, 2006 at 12:13 am

    Kat: We used normal whipping cream. Les Amis when Justin and Iggy were there certainly was a great place.

    Matt: Good luck with it. I hope it works for you, again and again ;-)

    Jennifer: Ooh, S is a huge PX fan. Good idea. The Straits Chai tea is based on a Marsala tea blend, so the creme was lovely. It was French and Indian at the same time.

    ilingc: Thanks.

    Ana: Thanks. We tried unmolding it unfrozen first… that was messy.

    l: Email me your mailing address and I’ll make sure you get onto the press preview list for the book ;-)

    San San: Thanks for noticing. I’ve been trying to get up at least 2-3 posts a week these days.

    Siewyuk: Thanks. Would you believe the tray is wood and not metal?

    Mae: Well, I think I was subconsiously hoping some magazine publisher with a pile of extra cash might be inspired to fund me a la Donna Hay. heh heh…

    Anonymous: Hmmmm… how did you know? Who are you? Tentatively, book signing with free food is at Kino on the 14th. :-)

    Fanny: Hiya, review copies are ready in a week and a half. We’ll make sure you get one.

    J: Yah, who would have imagined that the cookbook would be finished before the doctoral thesis.

    Nekochan: Ribs? Um… sorry, can’t help ya.

    Viv: Yah, very sublime. Yum.

    Tabehodai: Single cream is fine. PH Macarons? Nope. Haven’t had a fix in a while. You sharing?

  17. Riana September 5, 2006 at 3:34 am

    You always have great pictures! It’s an honor to know you.

  18. Dani September 5, 2006 at 7:08 am

    This is one of my favorites although, sometimes depending on who makes it its a little too heavy for me with the heavy cream.

  19. Anonymous September 5, 2006 at 8:39 am

    hellooo, my 1st comment here though I’ve been lurking for quite some time :)

    On one of my trips to Florence some years ago, I had a scrumptiously silky creme brulee at a little vineyard/farmhouse. The chef, the wife of the vineyard owner, told me the secret was in the low heat used during baking. I was thrilled to see JQ and you shared this recipe. Mmmmm :) Can’t wait for the book to be out, and to see what other secrets Justin shares. I’ve marked down 14 Oct!

    Orangeblossom

  20. Anonymous September 5, 2006 at 8:57 am

    Thanks for the recipe! Is there a way of caramelizing the sugar without a blowtorch?

  21. M September 5, 2006 at 10:56 am

    Lovely post for creme brulee, one of my fav desserts! I for one haven’t dared operate a blow torch for the sugar topping so am reduced to eating this in restaurants! I recently had a yummy chocolate brulee at Healesville Hotel Dining Room (Melbourne – Yarra Valley) – check out their website at http://www.healesvillehotel.com.au

  22. Fanny September 5, 2006 at 5:34 pm

    oh yeah, i’d love to have a review copy. will send you my mailing adress asap.
    fanny

  23. Tiara September 5, 2006 at 6:22 pm

    Why should I want to freeze a perfect custard/creme brulee? That’s when the art of serving becomes more important than the product itself.

  24. tabehodai September 7, 2006 at 8:48 pm

    Sure, I’ll bring you some the next time I return to sg via Tokyo.

    Eh… review copies? I want too!

  25. Ian May 18, 2007 at 12:34 am

    Your description sounds great and I can’t wait to try the recipe. But is it missing vanilla? (And isn’t that why you strain the mixture – to catch any large vanilla bean scrapings?)

    Thanks again for a great site.

  26. S May 22, 2007 at 4:56 am

    Hi Ian, Justin’s recipe doesn’t call for vanilla, but you certainly could add it in if you wish. If you do add the vanilla pods, gently heat the milk with the pods to allow the vanilla to infuse ahead of time. Let it to cool down to room temperature before proceeding with the recipe. The mixture is actually strained so that the tiny bubbles in it are removed, resulting in a silky smooth dessert.

  27. Ryan March 27, 2009 at 1:23 pm

    dang! does anyone know where i can find a blowtorch off the shelf pls?

  28. S March 29, 2009 at 2:53 pm

    Hi Ryan, I am assuming that you’re in Singapore. You can buy the blowtorch attachment at Sia Huat on Temple Street (I think it’s also available at Shermay’s Cooking School). You just attach it to the same kind of gas cassette/canister that is used to power small portable gas stoves (the some ones used for steamboat).

  29. nat April 16, 2009 at 10:53 am

    Hi, i just made this creme brulee recipe. Its nice but its seems a little too soft, it tastes like melted ice cream. Was just wondering whether i made it correctly?

  30. joelle May 1, 2011 at 11:01 pm

    Hello, chanced upon this wonderful recipe and tried it today. But having some problems… there seems to be some water inside the brulee, although the surface seems to have set. What seems to be the probem? Thanks!

  31. Kat March 16, 2012 at 2:21 pm

    Hi, you mention instead of using ramekin , use non stick silicon mould, is every silicon mould safe for oven use? or i have to find microwavable silicon mould ? thanks

  32. S March 20, 2012 at 11:07 am

    Dear Kat, not all silicon moulds are oven safe. Please check that they are designed to go into the oven.

  33. Yukie December 26, 2012 at 2:52 pm

    My brulee was watery. I tried to set them inside the fridge for 8 hours and when I tried to unmold them, they just flow out like running water. I did baked for an hour at 100 deg Celsius. I wonder what went wrong?

    Could it be…… setting in the freezer? Instead of fridge.

    • S December 26, 2012 at 5:50 pm

      Dear Yukie, I’m so sorry your creme brûlée didn’t work out. If you want to unmould them, you need to cool them after baking and then freeze overnight. But whatever the case, the brûlée should not be watery. What kind of cream and milk did you use? It’s also worth double checking the temperature in your oven with an oven thermometer to ensure that they are baking at the right temperature. Most ovens are not accurate. I use a thermometer inside my oven to confirm temperature.

      • Yukie December 26, 2012 at 9:51 pm

        I was using dairy whip cream n full cream milk. My oven temp shld be ok, usually is higher than normal so shldnt be too low. Whatever it is, I freeze my stuffs and turn them into yummy milk tea creame brûlée ice cream instead ;) nice dessert

        • S December 27, 2012 at 11:53 am

          Dear Yukie, I’m not quite sure what went wrong :( But I love your inventive spirit. Tea-infused creme brulee ice cream sounds delicious. I would never have thought of turning it into that! Thanks for the tip :)

  34. Ginny January 7, 2013 at 8:08 pm

    Made this on Saturday. It was awesome. Silky smooth and so delicious served with berries. Thanks for sharing.

    • S January 7, 2013 at 10:04 pm

      Dear Ginny, you’re most welcome! I’m really glad that the recipe worked for you.

  35. Pan January 27, 2013 at 1:16 am

    You may want to try a true upside down method since you’re already free standing the custard..My dad has done this for years and its wonderful.. mix butter and light brown sugar and press in the bottoms of an oven safe custard dishes.. pour in your custard mixture and bake at the temps and times according to your recipe.. when done, let cool 10 minutes and cover top of custard dish with serving plate n turn upside down and your dessert will transfer beautifully onto the serving plate with the sugar slightly dripping down the sides partway.. this is tasty and gives a fancy touch to an easy dessert..

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