How to Caramelize Crème Brûlée

Creme brulee with berries
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  • 01 of 09

    Before You Fire up the Torch

    Creme Brulee with berries
    Danilo Alfaro

    Crème brûlée is an elegant French dessert with a creamy, often vanilla-flavored base and a crunchy, caramelized sugar topping.

    Once you've got the crème part down, it's time for the brûlée—which means "burnt" in French. You'll be using a butane culinary torch. Familiarize yourself with how your particular model works and be sure to follow the safety instructions. You're playing with real fire here!

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  • 02 of 09

    Bring Crème Brûlées to Room Temperature

    Bring Creme Brulees to Room Temperature
    Danilo Alfaro

    Your completed custards should have chilled for at least four hours, but overnight is best. About 20 minutes before you want to caramelize them, take them out of the refrigerator and let them sit at room temperature.

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  • 03 of 09

    Sprinkle Crème Brûlées with Sugar

    Sprinkle Creme Brulees With Granulated Sugar
    Danilo Alfaro

    If any moisture condensation has formed on the top, gently dab it away with a paper towel, being careful not to dent the custard.

    Sprinkle with granulated white sugar. Be generous—you'll pour off the excess in a moment. Cover the whole surface and swirl the ramekins to distribute the sugar evenly.

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  • 04 of 09

    Remove Excess Sugar

    Shake Off Excess Sugar
    Danilo Alfaro

    After coating the top of the custard with sugar, pour off the excess. If you're making more than one crème brûlée, dump the excess sugar into the next custard and repeat. Add new sugar with a spoon as needed until all the crème brûlées are coated but there are no loose granules remaining.

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  • 05 of 09

    Fire up the Torch

    Flame On!
    Danilo Alfaro

    Now the fun starts: It's time to use your torch! They all work differently, so follow the instructions for lighting your torch carefully and adjust the length of the flame to medium.

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  • 06 of 09

    Lightly Torch the Sugar

    Begin Lightly Torching the Sugar
    Danilo Alfaro

    Hold the torch a good distance away from the crème brûlée and slowly move it closer while rotating the flame. Keep the flame constantly in motion to keep from burning one area. Once it gets close enough, you'll see the sugar start to liquefy and form little droplets on the surface.

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  • 07 of 09

    Keep the Flame Moving

    Keep the Flame Moving!
    Danilo Alfaro

    As you continue cooking the sugar, you'll see little wisps of smoke puff up as the sugar begins to turn caramel-colored. You'll also smell the delicious aroma of cooked sugar, kind of like cotton candy.

    Keep the flame moving so that it isn't focused on any one spot for too long. Pull the torch away if the sugar smokes excessively. Be sure to get the sugar along the edges of the ramekin as well as in the middle.

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  • 08 of 09

    Form a Glaze

    The Sugar Will Darken and Form a Glaze
    Danilo Alfaro

    You'll be seeing a nice, caramel-colored glaze form on top of the crème brûlée. It's a bit tricky knowing exactly when to stop, but it's better to stop too soon than too late. If necessary, you can always fill in any underdone spots in a minute, once the sugar cools down a bit.

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  • 09 of 09

    The Finished Crème Brûlée

    The Finished Crème Brûlée
    Danilo Alfaro

    When you're finished you'll have a hard, glass-like glaze of caramelized sugar on top. Pop the crème brûlées back into the refrigerator for 10 minutes or so before serving them, just to re-chill the custard after it's been heated by the torch.

    You can serve the crème brûlées just as they are and they'll be absolutely delicious. A few fresh berries and a dusting of powdered sugar is also a nice, elegant touch.