Crème brûlée

Crème brûlée (/ˌkrɛm brˈl/; French pronunciation: [kʁɛm bʁy.le]), also known as burned cream, burnt cream or Trinity cream,[1] and virtually identical to crema catalana,[2] is a dessert consisting of a rich custard base topped with a layer of hardened caramelized sugar. It is normally served slightly chilled; the heat from the caramelizing process tends to warm the top of the custard, while leaving the center cool. The custard base is traditionally flavored with vanilla in French cuisine, but can have other flavorings. It is sometimes garnished with fruit.

Crème brûlée
Alternative namesBurned cream, Burnt cream, Trinity cream, Cambridge burnt cream
Region or stateEurope
Serving temperatureRoom temperature
Main ingredientsCream, sugar, egg or egg yolks, vanilla


The earliest known recipe of a dessert called crème brûlée appears in François Massialot's 1691 cookbook Cuisinier royal et bourgeois.[3][4] The question of its origin has inspired debate within the contemporary gastronomical community, with some authors suggesting that crema catalana, whose origins date to the 14th century, may have inspired chefs throughout Europe.[5]

Some authors mention Bartolomeo Stefani's Latte alla Spagnuola (1662) as describing crema catalana,[5] but it calls for browning the top of the custard before serving with sugar on top.[6]

The name "burnt cream" was later used to refer to the dish in the 1702 English translation of Massialot's Cuisinier royal et bourgeois.[7] In 1740, he referred to a similar recipe as crême à l'Angloise, or 'English cream', which further cast doubt on its origins. The dessert was introduced at Trinity College, Cambridge in 1879 as "Trinity Cream" or "Cambridge burnt cream", with the college arms "impressed on top of the cream with a branding iron".[1] No dessert by the name crème brûlée appeared again in French cookbooks until the 1980s.[3]

Crème brûlée was generally uncommon in both French and English cookbooks of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.[8] It became extremely popular in the 1980s, "a symbol of that decade's self-indulgence and the darling of the restaurant boom",[2][9] probably popularized by Sirio Maccioni at his New York restaurant Le Cirque. He claimed to have made it "the most famous and by far the most popular dessert in restaurants from Paris to Peoria".[8][10]


Crème brûlée is usually served in individual ramekins. Discs of caramel may be prepared separately and put on top just before serving, or the caramel may be formed directly on top of the custard immediately before serving. To do this, sugar is sprinkled onto the custard, then caramelized under a red-hot salamander (a cast iron disk with a long wooden handle) or with a butane torch.[11]

There are two methods for making the custard. The more common creates a "hot" custard by whisking egg yolks in a double boiler with sugar and incorporating the cream, adding vanilla once the custard is removed from the heat.[12] Alternatively, the egg yolk/sugar mixture can be tempered with hot cream, then adding vanilla at the end. In the "cold" method, the egg yolks and sugar are whisked together until the mixture reaches ribbon stage. Then, cold heavy cream is whisked into the yolk mixture followed by vanilla. It is then poured into ramekins and baked in a bain-marie.[13]

See also

  • Crème caramel, also known as flan (not to be confused with the English flan)
  • Crema catalana
  • List of custard desserts
  • List of French desserts


  1. Alan Davidson (21 August 2014). The Oxford Companion to Food. OUP Oxford. p. 230. ISBN 978-0-19-104072-6.
  2. Colman Andrews (3 December 2005). Catalan Cuisine, Revised Edition: Vivid Flavors From Spain's Mediterranean Coast. Harvard Common Press. pp. 247–. ISBN 978-1-55832-329-2.
  3. The Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets. Oxford University Press. 1 April 2015. pp. 383–. ISBN 978-0-19-931362-4.
  4. Jane Grigson (1 January 1985). Jane Grigson's British Cookery. Atheneum.
  5. Françoise Sabban & Silvano Serventi (1998). La gastronomie au Grand Siècle : 100 recettes de France et d'Italie. Oxford University Press. p. 272. ISBN 978-2234050426.
  6. Bartolomeo Stefani, L'Arte di ben cucinare, 1622, p. 97-98
  7. Harold McGee (20 March 2007). On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen. Simon and Schuster. p. 97. ISBN 978-1-4165-5637-4.
  8. Darra Goldstein, ed., The Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets, 2015, ISBN 0199313393, s.v. 'Crème brûlée'
  9. Richard Sax (9 November 2010). Classic Home Desserts: A Treasury of Heirloom and Contemporary Recipes. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. pp. 149–. ISBN 0-547-50480-2.
  10. Sirio Maccioni, Peter Elliot, Sirio: The Story of my Life and Le Cirque, 2004, ISBN 0471204560, p. 216
  11. Cloake, Felicity (19 September 2012). "How to cook perfect creme brulee". The Guardian. Retrieved 9 September 2016.
  12. "Vanilla-bean creme brulee". 25 November 2010. Retrieved 20 August 2018.


  • "Origin of Crème Brûlée", Petits Propos Culinaires 31:61 (March 1989).
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