creme brulee (twd)

I love Dorie’s creative recipes, but I tend to turn to Cooks Illustrated for classics. So when I saw that Mari had chosen crème brulee for TWD, my first thought was to compare the two. But I’ve already compared Dorie and CI’s recipes a couple times, so instead, I decided I would play with some of the different flavors Dorie recommends.

I made vanilla, Earl Grey, and ginger variations. I thought I could combine some of the steps for the variations, but that didn’t work out, so it was really like making the recipe three separate times. I didn’t have enough of the right sized ramekins, so I put the custard mixes in mini-tart pans instead. I was worried that the custard would leak because the tart pans have removable bottoms, but it worked out okay. Until I dropped the baking pan with the six full tartelette pans on it and everything spilled. Being clumsy is a pain in the ass.

Frustrated with that, I went back to my original plan to compare Dorie’s recipe to CI’s. (My freezer is full of egg whites now.) I was curious about this comparison anyway, because the recipes were significantly different. Dorie uses almost half the number of egg yolks compared to the amount of dairy, and she also uses a combination of heavy cream and milk instead of just heavy cream. That makes CI’s recipe much richer.

Whoa. Dorie’s also makes tiny servings. I wouldn’t expect that from her.

I assumed we’d like the richer crème brulee better, but Dave and I both preferred Dorie’s softer custard. However, Dave liked the flavor of CI’s better, which may be the pinch of salt added, or the lower amount of sugar used in CI’s, which could bring out the flavor of the other ingredients more. I used vanilla beans instead of vanilla extract in both recipes.

This is my most successful brulee job. (That goes for Dave too – this is the only kitchen task he’s excited about helping with.) I used a mixture of brown sugar and granulated, and in the past I used pure granulated. Apparently the mixture is more forgiving, because I used to end up with a combination of charcoaly burned areas and raw areas.

It’s crème brulee, so you really can’t go wrong. Unless you spill it all over the oven. Check Mari’s blog for Dorie’s recipe.

Classic Creme Brulee (from Cooks Illustrated)

Serves 8

CI note: Separate the eggs and whisk the yolks after the cream has finished steeping; if left to sit, the surface of the yolks will dry and form a film. A vanilla bean gives custard the deepest flavor, but 2 teaspoons of extract, whisked into the yolks in step 4, can be used instead. The best way to judge doneness is with a digital instant-read thermometer. The custards, especially if baked in shallow fluted dishes, will not be deep enough to provide an accurate reading with a dial-face thermometer. For the caramelized sugar crust, we recommend turbinado or Demerara sugar. Regular granulated sugar will work, too, but use only 1 scant teaspoon on each ramekin or 1 teaspoon on each shallow fluted dish.

4 cups heavy cream, chilled
⅔ cup granulated sugar
pinch table salt
1 vanilla bean, halved lengthwise
12 large egg yolks
8 – 12 teaspoons turbinado sugar or Demerara sugar

1. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 300 degrees.

2. Combine 2 cups cream, sugar, and salt in medium saucepan; with paring knife, scrape seeds from vanilla bean into pan, submerge pod in cream, and bring mixture to boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally to ensure that sugar dissolves. Take pan off heat and let steep 15 minutes to infuse flavors.

3. Meanwhile, place kitchen towel in bottom of large baking dish or roasting pan and arrange eight 4- to 5-ounce ramekins (or shallow fluted dishes) on towel. Bring kettle or large saucepan of water to boil over high heat.

4. After cream has steeped, stir in remaining 2 cups cream to cool down mixture. Whisk yolks in large bowl until broken up and combined. Whisk about 1 cup cream mixture into yolks until loosened and combined; repeat with another 1 cup cream. Add remaining cream and whisk until evenly colored and thoroughly combined. Strain through fine-mesh strainer into 2-quart measuring cup or pitcher (or clean medium bowl); discard solids in strainer. Pour or ladle mixture into ramekins, dividing it evenly among them.

5. Carefully place baking dish with ramekins on oven rack; pour boiling water into dish, taking care not to splash water into ramekins, until water reaches two-thirds height of ramekins. Bake until centers of custards are just barely set and are no longer sloshy and digital instant-read thermometer inserted in centers registers 170 to 175 degrees, 30 to 35 minutes (25 to 30 minutes for shallow fluted dishes). Begin checking temperature about 5 minutes before recommended time.

6. Transfer ramekins to wire rack; cool to room temperature, about 2 hours. Set ramekins on rimmed baking sheet, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until cold, at least 4 hours or up to 4 days.

7. Uncover ramekins; if condensation has collected on custards, place paper towel on surface to soak up moisture. Sprinkle each with about 1 teaspoon turbinado sugar (1½ teaspoons for shallow fluted dishes); tilt and tap ramekin for even coverage. Ignite torch and caramelize sugar. Refrigerate ramekins, uncovered, to re-chill, 30 to 45 minutes (but no longer); serve.


  1. thanks for the side by side comparison! as a fellow clumsy person, i salute you.

  2. wiah.. you actually did a side by side comparison of the classic. Impressive! i’ll try that next time! still the brulee looks wonderful!

  3. Aaah! That pic of the spilled custard breaks my heart 🙁 Ha ha, I’m crying over literal spilled milk 🙂 With a whopping 12 egg yolks, it’s no mystery this is so rich (and so good)!

  4. Well you learn something new everyday! I had no idea you could freeze egg whites… very handy. If I have left over egg whites I always make macarons- trying to perfect them (not working). I like how ‘light’ Dorie’s creme brulee’s were too. Yum!

  5. OOPS! …time for meringue pie!
    You managed to come with your head high, though!
    CONGRATS on well done crème brûlée! …and BRAVO for your perseverance!

  6. Ooooh thanks for the side by side comparison–very useful! PS I love the torching picture!

  7. Dropping the pan sounds like something I’d do. I halved my recipe so I had to carry only two ramekins to the oven. 🙂 Yours looks good!

  8. bunnies4buddha says:

    Next to s’mores this is one of my top deserts! I hope you still make the ginger & Early Grey varieties.

  9. Nice job! That’s too bad about the spilled ones, I bet the little fluted ones would have been adorable. Glad you forged on though, it seems to have turned out wonderfully.

  10. Sad! I was looking forward to hearing what the best variation was, but it’s still really neat to hear how different methods and ingredients for the same thing change the end result. I think a melding of the CI and Dorie recipes might just be the ticket.

  11. Looks great and what a great comparison!

  12. Great comparison and looks delicious!

  13. I thought it made tiny portions because mine boiled over all over my stove! 🙂 Yours looks lovely!

  14. I literally gasped when I read that you dropped it! Yikes! Props for getting up and trying again and even doing a comparison! Talk about persistence. Love all the notes between the 2 recipes. I might have to give CI a try although Dorie’s recipe is a winner in my book right now 🙂
    Clara @ iheartfood4thought

  15. Wowsa! You really put some effort into this week’s challenge! I think I like the more egg yolk and cream heavy versions, but I still enjoyed Dorie’s, and I’m glad I picked it.

  16. It is funny how I manage to turn a relatively simple recipe into several hours of work, isn’t it? I considered scrapping the whole thing after the first spill, but I still wanted creme brulee!

  17. pinkstripes says:

    Oops! I probably would have dropped the tray too! When I made mine, I dropped and broke an almost full bottle of really good quality vanilla extract. 🙁

  18. Your photos are so wonderful! I love CI too so I appreciate the comparison!

  19. Kelly D says:

    Thanks for the comparison. You are an over achiever!

  20. Great comparison! I understand the clumsy part! I am super accident prone in the kitchen! Your creme brulee looks great!

  21. i appreciate all you went thru to get to the bottom of this one! i agree that dorie’s portion size was small (esp considering her cake and pie portions are gigantic!). your brulee looks lovely!

  22. Wow! What an effort. I’ve been there on the spillage part! Your brulee looks amazing – perfectly crisp and yummy.

  23. d’oh, sorry about the spill!! your end result looks great, it was interesting that you liked dorie’s lighter texture better!
    you should make some macarons with the egg whites 🙂

  24. Wow! That was some serious effort! Nice work!

  25. Please spell this dish correctly. The name comes from France, not from the U.S.

    Nice photos, though!

  26. Lisa – Microsoft Word doesn’t add the accents (or whatever) to brulee automatically, and I’m too lazy to add them in.

  27. I love comparing recipes. It’s so interesting to learn about the different variations and interpretations there are. I compared Dorie’s to Sherry Yard’s, but I think I want to try CI’s version as well. I love the color of the caramelized sugar on yours- I also will have to try mixing brown sugar and white sugar next time.

  28. Lovely looking brulee!

  29. Nice experiment, I’m glad you liked Dorie’s version!

  30. I bet you’re not too lazy to spell English words correctly! haha You could always copy and paste the title from the other sites that have spelled it correctly or wikipedia?

  31. The letters in English words are all on my keyboard. I suppose I could copy and paste. Maybe next time.