Crème brûlée

By popular request, here is the recipe that I use for producing delicious home-made crème brûlée, lifted wholesale from Anthony Bourdain’s Les Halles Cookbook. Seriously, if you haven’t already got this book on your kitchen shelf, you need to get it. Now. It totally encompasses my approach to the kitchen – big flavours, big foods, big cookery, big swearing and big drinking – and is the most-used cookbook on our shelf. This dish, by the way, scores 10 on the impress-your-guests scale, as do many in the book. Most of the recipes are easy or require only moderate skills, but quite a few of them require a fair bit of time.

Amazon link: Anthony Bourdain’s “Les Halles” Cookbook: Classic Bistro Cooking


  • 900ml double cream (we’re not calorie counting here, ok?)
  • 1 vanilla pod, whole (no vanilla essence, or else you’ll be shot)
  • 170g granulated sugar
  • 10 egg yolks
  • 85g brown sugar

You will also need 6 or 8 ramekins, a big deep baking pan (or some other ovenproof dish that is at least an inch deep – you’re going to make a bain-marie) and a propane torch. You’ll need an electric whisk, large mixing bowl, sharp knife and a saucepan. Pre-heat your oven to 150 Celsius/300F/gas mark a-bit-less-than-half-way.

First, put the cream into a large saucepan on the hob. Split the vanilla pod along its length using a very sharp knife. Scrape the insides of the pod into the cream and then dump the pod itself in as well. Add half the granulated sugar to the cream, stir thoroughly and bring the mixture to a gentle boil.

Whilst your mixture comes to the boil, place the egg yolks into a large mixing bowl and whisk in the remaining granulated sugar. Keep whisking until the mixture is pale yellow and slightly foamy.

Fish the vanilla pod out of the cream and throw the pod away. Remove the cream mixture from the heat and slowly, gradually whisk it into the yolk mixture. You must do it slowly and whisk constantly, otherwise the mixture will curdle.

Place the ramekins in the baking pan and fill the pan with cold water so that it comes half way up the sides of the ramekins. Divide the custard mixture evenly between the ramekins.

Bake in the oven for around 45 minutes (I sometimes find it takes a little longer – depends on your oven), until the top is set but still “jiggly”.

Remove the whole thing from the oven and allow to cool to room temperature (take the ramekins out of the bain-marie as soon as they are cool enough to handle). You can store them easily at this stage – I’ve found that, once cooled and covered in cling film, they keep in the fridge for a couple of days. If you are planning a dinner party, be canny and do everything up to this stage the day before.

Sprinkle a generous tablespoon of brown sugar over the top of each custard. Carefully run the propane torch flame over the top of each one, just enough to caramelize the sugar (I like to leave a little sugar un-torched around the edge). Allow to sit for a moment so that the sugar sets into a crunchy shell coating across the top and then serve to applause and hooplas from your guests.

Now, what do you do with ten egg whites?

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