One of the things I miss most about going out to eat — besides, you know, simply being with other human beings — is being able to order from a beautiful tray of desserts. My absolute favorite sweet treat is creme brulee and I miss it dearly because it’s not something I’m able to easily whip up at home.
The creamy custard requires a practiced pastry chef’s touch, patience … oh, and a blow torch to perfect the caramelized top. Since I don’t keep a blowtorch in my cupboard, I figured that I would have to wait until the stay-at-home order is lifted to once again enjoy my elegant dessert of choice. Right?
I was totally wrong.
Thanks to the glory of TikTok, this week I learned about a trending trick to making creme brulee at home with just a few ingredients and no special equipment. A user called @shefshaq posted the recipe and I was so baffled by its simplicity I knew I had to put it to the test.
Typically, creme brulee is made with about five or six ingredients. But this quick version requires just three: egg yolks, granulated white sugar and vanilla ice cream. OK, I admit that the last one is a bit of a cheat as it contains multiple ingredients — but it doesn’t have to be any special brand of ice cream to work and I’m always excited to learn new shortcuts.
Following the video’s instructions, I first melted a cup of vanilla ice cream in the microwave. Each serving (one ramekin) needs about a half cup of ice cream. Then I whisked in two egg yolks. Then I divided the mixture into the ramekins. I’ve got a family to feed, so I doubled this recipe to make four individual servings.
While I was whisking, I boiled some water in a kettle. Then I poured the hot water into a glass baking dish, about halfway to the top. This fancy-sounding trick is called bain-marie in French: It allows the delicate custard to cook evenly and basically just keeps the air in the oven moist so nothing gets too dry.
I put the ramekins directly into the water bath and baked them at 325 degrees for 50 minutes. Since everyone’s oven is a little different, it’s best to start checking the custard at about 40 minutes to see if it’s reached a nice golden color.
After letting the dishes cool to room temperature, I covered each ramekin in plastic wrap and refrigerated them for about two hours.
Now for the topping, which I found to be the trickiest part of this recipe. On the stove-top, I caramelized my sugar over medium-low heat, stirring quickly until it became a liquid. This part needs careful attention as the flavor of burnt caramel will ruin any spoonful of creamy custard.
To note, do not add water (I did this on the first try and it became too gel-like to form a hard crust). Instead, wait about four to five minutes and the sugar will begin to melt. As soon as it does, give it a quick stir and then pour a layer, as evenly as possible, on the top of each custard-filled ramekin. It hardens almost immediately, so you can’t really spread it.
The first one was a bit tricky to top, but I mastered getting the right amount of caramelized sugar on second one and had a beautifully golden crust that cracked with one hard whack of my spoon.
And the taste? I was thrilled to discover that it definitely rivaled creme brulee from any restaurant. The end result was a luscious, vanilla-flavored custard beneath a sweet and brittle sugar crust — a truly heavenly treat that’s doable any day of the week.