Here's a question from reader Donna. She is just learning to use a kitchen torch to caramelize sugar, and it's not going well. She writes:
I have a kitchen torch and CANNOT burn the sugar. I tried brown sugar, granulated and raw sugar and it does not burn. Is it the torch? Should I use turbinado sugar?
Donna, the key to getting a good caramelized top is actually using a very thin layer of fine white sugar. The finer the better, especially since kitchen torches usually aren't very strong. (I have one too, and I wish I would have gotten a real blowtorch from the hardware store instead!)
You want the finest, most consistent grain of sugar possible so that it melts evenly and quickly. Brown sugar has extra moisture in it, so it's not ideal. Raw and turbinado have crystals that are too big. They'll take too long to melt, and they'll melt unevenly so some will burn before the others are golden.
I would suggest pulsing a half cup of regular white granulated sugar in a food processor or blender until it's ultra-fine, then sprinkling a very thin, even layer on the top of your custard or pie, then trying to brulee that.
It usually takes a little while, too; just keep the torch at an even distance from the sugar and carefully pass it back and forth in an even motion until the sugar bubbles then crusts.
Here is a very good and helpfully illustrated post on the proper technique for caramelizing sugar with a torch on crème brûlée:
Any more tips for Donna?