Help with Creme Brullee
January 1, 2005 8:54 AM   Subscribe

Creme Brulee: Any metachefs out there? How can I get the brulee to be properly bruleed? [MI]

In torching the brown sugar on a brulee I can't seem to get the sugar to melt properly. The torch doesn't seem to be the problem as it's just a hair short of a flame thrower - are there any specific sugars, or tips on torching methods that people know of? Also, what is the best process to add liquor to the brulee?
posted by dazed_one to Food & Drink (17 answers total)
Torching works for me. Perhaps it's not a heat thing, but a technique thing? Are you passing the flame slowly over the surface, or waving it all around? I've had the best luck starting slowly in a small area and gradually working a larger and larger surface.

Sugar does melt if you give it time and heat.
posted by majick at 9:41 AM on January 1, 2005

Here is the Cooking For Engineers writeup on Creme Brulee, if it helps.
posted by rfordh at 9:48 AM on January 1, 2005

Yes, work slowly over the surface, not quickly. Basically, hold the torch in one area until it begins to caramelize and then move to the area next to it. Don't try quick circular patterns and get the entire surface to glaze at the same time.

I occasionally mix 1 part regular sugar and 2 parts raw sugar for my brulees, and it works well.

Good luck!
posted by dfx at 9:53 AM on January 1, 2005

Take your time with the torch, keeping it stationary means you will scorch the sugar and burnt sugar tastes bad.

I'm still working on my technique but keeping the flame moving is a very, very important part of the process. But I've also got a really big and powerful torch so that's probably part of the trouble.

Also, go with a thin layer of sugar to start with.

rfordh, nice link!
posted by fenriq at 10:03 AM on January 1, 2005

Response by poster: Thanks for the help. I'll be sure to try out the torching techniques. I think perhaps I was going a bit too quickly with the flame. Also; good link rfordh.
posted by dazed_one at 10:23 AM on January 1, 2005

I've seen conflicting reports on what type of sugar to use. Many recipes I've seen -- and one that I recently tried -- called for turbinado sugar, which I'm pretty sure is just raw sugar -- and as such it has a larger crystal. Other recipes I've seen have called for superfine sugar, which is the smallest. Seems to be the superfine would carmelize more easily, so next time, I'm going to blend the two -- similar to dfx -- and see what happens. Can't make creme brulee too often or the ol' jeans have trouble.
posted by mrkinla at 11:42 AM on January 1, 2005

If you've got access to a library one of the latest issues of Cooks Illustrated had a really comprehensive article on exactly how to get your creme brule right. I have, of course, forgotten all of it.
posted by jessamyn at 11:49 AM on January 1, 2005

My wife is a chef. She uses a Bernzomatic torch (instant ignition, tons of heat) and regular old white sugar. Technique!
posted by fixedgear at 11:54 AM on January 1, 2005

It could be beet sugar.
posted by stavrogin at 12:35 PM on January 1, 2005

Using a torch is rather recent, I think. People used to just use the broiler and nobody seemed disappointed with the result. I like to avoid single-use kitchen gadgets when possible: turkey fryer, melon baller, pineapple slicer, ostrich egg poacher, etc. So here's a broiler recipe (even though I do have a torch in my toolbox):

By volume: 1/4 white sugar, 1/4 brown, 1/2 butter. Enough water to just dampen. Heat in sauce pan to a caramelish gloppy syrup. Pour over previously made creme (whatever recipe appeals to you) (cooled to room temp). Stick under broiler until bruleed. Add appropriate accents over first and last e (optional). Serve hot.
posted by TimeFactor at 1:28 PM on January 1, 2005

The problem with the broiler is that the brulee is supposed to remain chilled. Throwing it in a broiler therefore isn't the best idea. When I was a garde manger, I used cane sugar and nothing else. You just have to be really patient with the torch. It takes longer than you would imagine a direct flame would take to caramelize the stuff. Also, though, be careful not to under-torch the sugar. Nothing irritates me more than getting a creme brulee that has some half melted sugar on it. The end result should be a glass like, hard shell that is strong enough to need to be cracked with a spoon.
posted by spicynuts at 1:35 PM on January 1, 2005

If all you're using your melon baller for is balling melons, you're missing out on some of its usefulness. I most recently used mine in making chocolate truffles.
posted by jacquilynne at 1:40 PM on January 1, 2005

Following Jessamyn's suggestion, I went back through my shelf of Cook's Illustrated back to the beginning of 2003 and I could find nothing on creme brulee. A search of the site reveals that they did a Creme Brulee story in November 2001 but I do not have a membership so I couldn't read further. In her voracious reading she must have picked it up somewhere else and (reasonably) imagined that it was CI. If anyone does have an idea of where this magazine article might have been, I'd love to hear about it ... I feel a creme brulee phase of my own coming on.
posted by matildaben at 2:18 PM on January 1, 2005

Ha, you're right! A quick call to my sister the cooking fanatic tells me that it was in Cuisine At Home, December 2004 (p 47) a six pager called The Basics of Brule. Apparently not online. I also checked out the CI article from November 2001 and it says very little about the bruleing process "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... To caramelize the sugar crust, sweep the flame from the perimeter of the custard toward the middle, keeping the flame about 2 inches above the ramekin."
posted by jessamyn at 2:37 PM on January 1, 2005

My creme brulee is an all-time favorite and I only use turbinado sugar. I keep a secret stash of it just for brulees. As Jessamyn's quote would indicate, you need just the smallest possible amount: one of the problems with getting a good caramelization occur when the layer of sugar is just too thick. Scant sugar, gentle passes with the torch, patience = good brulee.
posted by Dreama at 5:02 PM on January 1, 2005

The Chris Kimball (Cook's Illustrated) tip is to use brown sugar and dry it in the oven. After it cools, crush it with a rolling pin and sprinkle it over the custard. Torch it and chill it for a couple of hours.
posted by donpardo at 6:34 PM on January 1, 2005

You needn't limit this to the little butane kitchen torches - a real propane torch will work just as well, and faster.

The real trick is even, steady heat.

I've always used white cane sugar.

I've never tried it, but I'd suspect that if you have a silpat and you're careful, you could practice melting sugar on that without running the risk of ruining a bunch of custards. I wouldn't torch the silpat directly, but it should be fine at way past the temperatures at which sugar melts. The silpats are safe to 480F, and sugar caramelizes at around 340F.
posted by Caviar at 11:38 AM on January 3, 2005

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