Three Ways to Create a Sugar Crust on Homemade Crème Brûlée

Crème brûlée seems to be a dessert locked in step with Valentine's Day: It's classic, easy, and impressive. But what is crème brûlée without its crisp top of just-burnt sugar? Just custard, that's what. Here are the three most common ways to melt sugar on crème brûlée, including one that's newer to us.

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Sprinkle a thin layer of sugar over the top of the custard, and shake the dish to distribute it evenly.

Crème brûlée is a baked custard (although it can be no-bake as well — I used a no-bake recipe for these photos. It's a recipe that will be in my new book on puddings and no-bake desserts — out next year).

THE SURPRISING METHOD: The Candle/Grill Lighter - Here's a new-to-me method that I spotted online recently. (Apologies! I lost track of where I first saw this! Anyone have a lead?) Not everyone has a brulee torch, but nearly everyone has a candle or grill lighter. This may or may not be practical, though; mine took forever to melt even a small amount of sugar. I think that this is a good option only when you have a small surface area, a thin layer of sugar, and a pretty powerful lighter. But expect to spend a long time melting the sugar.

THE CLASSIC METHOD: The Brulee Torch - Used in restaurant kitchens and home kitchens, this is the most classic and in many ways practical tool. I do recommend, though, buying a more hefty blowtorch, one that you can use around the house. These little brulee torches take a long time to do the job, and are essentially single-use tools. If using a torch, move it back and forth steadily across the surface of the sugar to melt and caramelize the sugar evenly and to keep from melting the custard by focusing too long on one spot.

THE PRACTICAL METHOD: The Broiler - You can also broil your crème brûlée, which is very practical. Heat your broiler up super hot, and put the rack just underneath. Make sure the custard is very cold and fully set — overnight, ideally. You have to be careful not to crack the dish, and you will get less even coloring and caramelization than with a torch, but this is still a very practical method.

And whichever method you use, remember the sugar has to set. After you've melted and caramelized the crème brûlée top, let it rest and harden for up to half an hour. You can do this before dinner, put them in the fridge, and then eat after you're done with your meal.

Do you have any good tips or tricks for making a fantastic crème brûlée?

Learn how to make crème crûlée: How To Make Crème Brûlée at Home: Without a Torch!

(Images: Faith Durand)

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